March 31, 2010

To Live is Christ — in peace or at war

The adults in our church just completed study and discussion classes based on a video series about peacemaking and how to deal with conflict. This series is popular and sound in its concepts. Secular workplaces as well as Christian churches use it to help their people when friction causes problems.

One of the many concepts presented included knowing when to stand for something and when to walk away. In other words, I continually need to decide what hills I want to die on. What do I believe so strongly that I would risk my life for and refuse to compromise?

Some conflict has deep personal preferences at the root. Others are based on principles. For instance, if someone attacked my child, any resulting conflict within me would be rooted in personal desire — that is my child at stake. However, if I saw a stranger hurting a child in a public place, my response would be less about personal preference (like walking away) and more about principle such as justice, fairness, etc.

In Christian circles, there are a million opinions about how to live the Christian life, just as there are as many opinions about living life to the full outside the kingdom of God. We could argue over them, but this film series directs us to live in peace and find ways to settle our differences. The principles set forth came directly from Scripture. All have biblical examples and were illustrated with real life stories. I learned much.

I was also reminded that some people love to fight and others will avoid conflict at all costs. Depending on the situation, both methods could be right or wrong. I learned that there are occasions I should back down, but also times that I need to fight for either a principle or a way of acting because it is the right thing, not just something that I want but something that God wants.

For instance, a situation came up in our church where a sinning member needed to be disciplined. Some thought that this person should be tossed out of the church because the sin was so terrible. Others were of the opinion that we pray for that person and give God time to change things. In my mind, this was not a time to abstain from voting. Others may have been more concerned about our reputation as a congregation, but I strongly believed this person’s eternal well-being was at stake. I’d been praying about this for weeks, but it was a young woman who stood up and went to bat for the other person. She tearfully asked everyone to give God time to change that person’s heart.

As she spoke, my heart rejoiced. She said the right words in the right way. God used her as a peacemaker and the congregation voted to hold off, to wait on God for His Spirit to work. Within a week, we saw evidence of that being the right decision.

Blessed be the Lord my Rock, Who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle. (Psalm 144:1)
God knows what battles need to be fought. Most of mine are spiritual battles against my own sinful tendencies, against Satan’s lies, and against a myriad of temptations from the world. Sometimes some battles seem to be against other Christians, but that is never the case. Our conflicts always come from sin within, and from those other sources. For discerning the bottom line, I need the Spirit of God. I also need Him to show me when to fight and when to flee. Then, as the above verse says, I need Him to show me how to fight.

I’m thankful that Christians are always united because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I’m thankful that God shows us how to be at peace with each other. I’m also thankful that when we disagree, God also shows us how to clarify the issues, get our sinful I-wants out of the way, and do what He wants us to do rather than what we would do apart from Him. I’m also glad that when necessary, He shows us how to take up our spiritual weapons and fight for what is right. Praise be to God who is our Rock!

March 30, 2010

To Live is Christ — knowing how to fight

David was given the position of king long before he was able to actually sit on the throne. King Saul before him had lost the leadership role, but rather than give it up, he repeatedly tried to kill David.

Besides that, other enemies tried to kill David. The Philistines wanted him dead. Rebels of his own people wanted him dead. He was largely popular, but even popular people are hated by some and David had to be on guard all the time.

The Old Testament battles, David’s and others, were real physical battles of various sizes and for various reasons. People died. Territories were taken. Women and children suffered. I don’t understand all of the reasons why God told His people to rage war against their pagan enemies, but I do know that the physical battles in those days serve as patterns for the spiritual battles God’s people fight now.

Some Christians think that the followers of Jesus should be pacifists. Many struggle with the Old Testament wars and wonder if this was even the same God as the one revealed in the New Testament. Maybe I oversimplify, but in my mind, God hates evil. This was expressed differently before and after Jesus came, but He never changes; He still hates evil.

Because of this, when I read verses about enemies and battle from the Old Testament, I think about the spiritual battles that I fight. Some of them are against the evil and sin in my own heart. I am forgiven and have new life, but that old nature still tries to overrule all the good that God has done in my life. To win this battle, I need to stop fighting God and obey Him.

Some of my battles are against forces outside of me. For sure, Satan is the big enemy. He is subtle with his lies as he attempts to corrupt the truth about God and the way I should live. He even goes at me physically and mentally. To make him flee, I need to resist his tactics. I also need to constantly focus on the truth.

A third arena is enemies with skin on, people who hate God, hate the gospel, and want to discredit everything that Christianity believes in and stands for. While the big enemy is behind their actions (they have fallen for his lies), these people are willing participants in what is called persecution. For these battles, I need to pay careful attention to God. Each situation is different. Only He can tell me what to do.

If I lived in OT times, God might send me into hand to hand combat with such people. However, Jesus’ tactics are usually not like that. For some, He may ask me for verbal responses. For others, it is a simple, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

As I walk with Him, I can vouch for the words of King David in this psalm, “Blessed be the Lord my Rock, Who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle” (Psalm 144:1). I must add that He also trains my mouth to both speak and be quiet, my feet to both stand firm or just walk away, and above all, He teaches my heart to listen to what He says and to trust Him with the outcome.

March 29, 2010

To Live is Christ — whose judgment is righteous

There is a New Testament principle illustrated by the adage: “When you point a finger at another person, three are pointing back at you.” This principle comes from the words of Jesus. 
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1–5)
On March 24, I posted a list of characteristics of the self-life. One description relates to Jesus’ words. It says that sin expresses itself with “stirrings of anger or impatience which, worst of all, you call . . .  holy indignation. . . .”

A person who is zealous for the things of God could justify being angry about the sins of others by saying that Jesus got angry. He was irked with the unbelieving Pharisees, their hypocrisy, and their harsh attitude toward others. He responded with violence toward the money changers who defiled the temple. Cannot I also be indignant about the sin of others? Would that not be like Jesus?

There is danger in that. While the Spirit might be at work stirring me to action against someone’s sin or unjust acts, more often my indignation is anger at those who sin in the same way that I sin. When I look at them or point a finger at them, I am actually seeing my own attitudes and actions. While seeing the evil in my own heart is a good thing, blame-shifting is not. Putting the heat on someone else for that which I am also guilty violates another principle, the one that I’ve been reading for several days.

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart — These, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:16–17)
God is always more interested in my contrite repentance than He is in me pointing out the sins of someone else — as if He needed my help in discerning other people’s sins. When I get on my high horse about something someone else is doing, or even about the behavior of society in general, I need to remember that a broken and contrite heart is first willing to look at itself. God may ask me to act after my heart is right, but more often He asks me to pray and leave the sins of others in His capable hands.

To live is Christ means that I’m allowed to judge righteously (“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” John 7:24), but finger-pointing is out of the question.

March 28, 2010

To Live is Christ — the object of God’s delight

John Piper wrote a wonderful book called, The Pleasures of God. In it, he shows that God delights in being God. When we are delighted with ourselves, this seems like vanity, but Piper explains that for God to delight in anything else but Himself would make no sense. Only God is perfect and only God is worthy of honor, glory and praise. Yet He also delights in other things. He is delighted with Jesus Christ and with His people. The Bible says this:
The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
That verse dumbfounds me. Perhaps my mother sang over me when I was a small child, but I don’t remember. Maybe a young girl’s boyfriend would do it, or a romantic husband with a singing voice, but God? Singing over me? With joy in His heart?

The idea is astonishing, but as I think about the delight of God, I also have to remember that He says a broken and contrite heart also please Him. 

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart — these, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:16–17)
I’m humbled to realize that I cannot do any good deeds or nice things to warrant God rejoicing over me with singing. I’m saved by grace, not works (Ephesians 2:8–9). He sings over me because He loves His creation and sent Jesus to die for us. If there is anything in me that makes Him happy, it is not me — it is His Son who lives in my heart.

I’m also humbled to realize that Christlike obedience pleases Him, but also one other thing I can do that gives Him joy — I can respond to His Spirit when He shows me my sin. I can embrace the sense of being exposed and crushed. I can let Him break my stubborn will and produce in me a contriteness of heart. I can say yes to conviction and respond to it with repentance.

These things delight God, not in themselves for it never delights a parent to inflict painful discipline on a rebellious child, but He is delighted because discipline “yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

God finds pleasure in His own righteousness, and so He should. However, He also finds pleasure when He sees that righteousness reproduced in His twice-born children. It makes Him sing! But first comes brokenness and a contrite heart — which He also does not despise.

March 27, 2010

To Live is Christ — uncluttered

When we put new flooring in our kitchen, hall, living room and dining room, those areas were stripped of all furniture and accessories to minimize the cleanup after the job was done. We liked the simplicity and decided to not put it all back.

When we were in Arizona for a month, we stayed in a fairly new condo, simply furnished and decorated. The cupboards held all the essentials, no more or no less. We enjoyed the simplicity and freedom of being uncluttered. When we got home, we determined even more to get rid of those things that take up space but are not essential or even used.

Before this, I had little idea that I’d feel such a sense of freedom from paring down. I am an “information collector” with full book shelves. While my house is clean, all the storage areas tend to be filled to capacity. Besides that, I am a detail person who suffers from an easily distracted attention span. As we de-clutter, I notice that with fewer things to distract me, I feel more focused, more prepared to work at those tasks at hand. I’m also enjoying my home more as it contains less.

This works in my spiritual life too. The past few days I’ve been going over the characteristics of the self-centered life posted on March 24. As I consider each one, the Holy Spirit brings to mind things that I’ve been guilty of  and that I need to confess to God. As I do that, and as He produces in me a sense of remorse, He also forgives me, as promised. My guilt is taken away. Not only that, He is cleaning up attitudes and working to pare down my life. This passage from Psalm 51 is like a whirlwind going through my heart.

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart — these, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:16–17)
The results have been amazing. Just like I didn’t know a cluttered room put pressure on everything else I did, I also didn’t know how much a burdened heart affected my sense of well-being. Even though I didn’t fully realize that I was carrying a big load, God did. He wanted to clean house, but I also needed to pray that He would show me what needs “fixing” in my life. This is a scary prayer, but definitely worth praying. I feel lighter, literally, and more able to focus on the essentials.

To live is Christ means being unfettered by sinful and selfish attitudes. Going through the motions of the Christian life is not what God wants. Instead, He wants me to see the stored up shelves of “me, me, me” and realize that it is clutter. He will sweep it away if I ask Him to do it.

However, Christ is polite. He only moves into spaces that are otherwise unoccupied. By clearing the storage shelves of my heart, He is free to refill them with Himself. He brings into my life a great freedom, even a sense of being organized and purposeful, and far more energy. Like my home, I am enjoying life more when it contains less — less of me and more of Him.

March 26, 2010

To Live is Christ — without a headset

Contrite is an interesting word. The Oxford dictionary says it means to feel or express remorse. The Hebrew word used is dakah, and literally means “bruised.” This word is sometimes translated “humbled” or used with that word to convey the idea of a person who not only knows they are sinful, but feel great humility and remorse because of it. Like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, they are head bowed and contrite.
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart — these, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:16–17)
Several other verses use the same word. All of them show that God is pleased with humble contrition.
For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isaiah 57:15)
The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,” says the Lord. “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” (Isaiah 66:2)
In his well-known book, Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis stresses spiritual disciplines as vital toward a life that is like that of Jesus Christ. The author says about the discipline of solitude:
No man deserves the consolation of heaven unless he persistently arouses himself to holy contrition. If you desire true sorrow of heart, seek the privacy of your cell (referring to the room of a monk, but also any space where I can be alone) and shut out the uproar of the world, as it is written: “In your chamber bewail your sins.” There you will find what too often you lose abroad.
Earlier, the author of this classic book says that being with people and in the world drains our spirituality. We need to spend time alone with God to regain our sense of His will. In that solitude, we can open ourselves to His Spirit and allow Him to produce in us a true remorse for sin. This must lead to confession and repentance, and then, true to His promises, He cleanses us from that sin and changes our lives.

I know this is true. Over and over, I find my attitude reworked as God gets me alone and works in my heart. In the solitude of my home or on a long walk, He does not have to yell at me, as if He would anyway. He wants me to put myself in a place where I am better able to hear Him.

For that reason, I seldom have any background noise happening. If I picture Jesus coming to this world, I can see Him enjoying some of our conveniences, but when it comes time to tune into God, I cannot imagine Him praying with an earpiece attached to His head!

For that reason, my radio and television are usually turned off. I don’t own an I-pod and my cell phone is off too. These absences don’t make me contrite, but their presence would easily distract me. How can I hear His still small voice with other voices loud and blaring?

I know that His words will bruise. That is okay. It is not self-flagellation but a desire to be holy. I know that being first broken by the Word of God always leads me closer to Him and to a more Christ-honoring life.

March 25, 2010

To Live is Christ — not checking off a list

Busy people need to keep track of their responsibilities. I’m a busy person with a to-do list that helps me remember everything from watering the plants to sending a card to a cousin in Oregon. Without my reminders, I would forget to wash windows until I couldn’t see out of them, or neglect dusting until I could write my name on the furniture. I’m not sure how other people keep track of what needs to be done, but I know that I cannot rely on taking notice of things because I can focus on one thing and be oblivious to everything else. I also cannot rely on my memory. Besides, some of these chores are just chores that never will hit the top of my “favorite occupation” lists.

However, Christianity is not a “check-list” religion. Pleasing God goes deeper than writing down a to-do list and marking things when completed. Today’s devotional reading included the following thoughts:

Lord, life would be easy if all I had to do to please You was to go through the motions. But action without conviction is like a black hole that robs us of Your pleasure. Instead, shattered pride and a broken heart keeps our relationship with You honest and our acts of worship true.
After being a Christian for nearly forty years, going to church easily becomes a habit instead of a glorious opportunity to worship God with His people. Prayer can also deteriorate into rote phrases filled with “God bless so-and-so” without even thinking about what I am saying or asking. As the devotional reading says, my heart needs a whack now and then to keep me from empty ritual.
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart — these, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:16–17)
I took that list from yesterday’s post to God in prayer. Countless memories filled my mind as I prayed through it. They say confession is good for the soul. Whoever “they” are, they are right.

To live is Christ means never taking God or my relationship with Him for granted. He has saved me from the penalty of sin, but salvation does not stop there. Sin still needs to be routed out. I will always need Him to expose my deadness of heart and my pride. I need Him to challenge that smug sense of having my life in order. As long as I walk this earth, there will be things true of me that are not pleasing to God, things that do not look like Jesus.

To live is Christ also means being sculpted and whittled at until self is gone and He takes preeminence. I’ve a long way to go before that happens. Thankfully, He will never stop working at this business of saving me, not just from sin’s penalty, but also from it’s power and its very presence.

Photo credit

March 24, 2010

To Live is Christ — contrite of heart

A slow start today was compounded when I turned on my computer Bible program and it offered updates. These took another thirty minutes, but during this delay, I asked the Lord to speak clearly this day and show me my needs and His will for me. For the past few days, I’d been convicted of wasting time and not giving the Lord the best of both hours and effort. To do so means personal sacrifice because my “I wants” always divert my attention from doing the will of God.

Finally the program was updated and opened. Today’s devotional reading gave me a deeper look at God’s will. These verses point to an easily overlooked flaw in the idea of sacrificing personal wants to serve God. 

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise. For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart — These, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:15–17)
Serving God can become an empty ritual. Self-sacrifice can be self-serving — when I think I am serving God, but my heart is full of pride or has any trace of self-righteousness. He isn’t interested in those things or that kind of service. He wants brokenness and a contrite attitude.

A broken spirit and contrite heart are difficult to describe. I’m trying to think that this attitude does not feel good, but in reality, it seems when these are true of me, I am not really aware of it. It is sort of like humility which is as fleeting as a shadow. As soon as I think I have it, it disappears.

I’ve an old tract that is titled “Characteristics of the Self-life.” It is about the opposite of having a broken spirit and a contrite heart. It is also very convicting. (Each point has Scripture references to go with it, but for space they are left off.)

Reading this list does a number on my heart. It begins by asking if I am conscious of these things:

•    A secret spirit of pride or an exalted feeling in view of your success or position—because of your good training or appearance — because of your natural gifts and abilities—an important, independent spirit?
•    Love of human praise; a secret fondness to be noticed; love of supremacy, drawing attention to self in conversation; a swelling out of self when you have had a special open door in speaking or praying?
•    The stirrings of anger or impatience which, worst of all, you call nervousness or holy indignation; a touchy, sensitive spirit; a disposition to resent and retaliate when disapproved of or contradicted; a desire to throw sharp, heated remarks at another?
•    Self-will; a stubborn, unteachable spirit; an arguing, talkative spirit; harsh, sarcastic expressions; an unyielding, headstrong disposition; a driving, commanding spirit; a disposition to criticize and pick flaws when set aside and unnoticed; a peevish, fretful spirit; a disposition that loves to be coaxed and implored?
•    Carnal fear; a man-fearing spirit; a shrinking from reproach and duty; reasoning around your cross; a shrinking from doing your whole duty to those of wealth or position; a fearfulness that someone will offend and drive some prominent person away; a compromising spirit?
•    A jealous disposition; a secret of envy shut up in your heart; an unpleasant sensation in view of the great prosperity and success of another; a disposition to speak of the faults and failings, rather than the gifts and virtues of those more talented and appreciated than  yourself?
•    A dishonest, deceitful disposition; the evading and covering of truth; the covering up of your real faults; leaving a better impression of yourself than is strictly true; false humility; exaggeration; straining the truth?
•    Unbelief; a spirit of discouragement in times of pressure and opposition; lack of quietness and confidence in God; lack of faith and trust in God; a disposition to worry and complain in the midst of pain, poverty, or at the dispensations of Divine Providence; an overanxious feeling whether everything will come out all right?
•    Formality and deadness; lack of concern for unsaved neighbors; dryness in your devotional life; indifference to a living relationship with Jesus Christ; lack of power in prayer?
•    Selfishness; love of ease; love of money?
The tract ends with the challenge to hold my heart open to the searchlight of God until I see the very inside, and to ask Him to . . .  
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24)
Just as God always answers a request to reveal my needs, He also always answers the request to lead me in the way of Christ, knowing that following is made possible when my spirit is broken and my heart is contrite.

March 23, 2010

To Live is Christ — in simplicity

Today’s devotional reading again uses the verse from Revelation that says God chastens those He loves. It also asks if I’ve ever experienced God’s discipline. This is the same as asking if God loves me.
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:19)
My entire Christian life has been about God whittling away at my sinfulness. He uses His Word, other people, and circumstances to show me where I am not like Jesus, what I need to confess, and when I need to repent. Examples abound.

One of them concerns self-discipline. This is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Self-discipline might use the word ‘self’ but it is not something I can do properly apart from God’s input. This type of discipline is less about coercion from God and more about decisions and determination. If I do not practice this kind of discipline, God eventually says something to me in the form of a rebuke.

For example, yesterday I made a renewed vow to rid my space of clutter. Another Christian questioned me. Was this something that pleases God or not? I explained my actions using this passage.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, 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. (Hebrews 12:1)
For me, clutter is one of those weights that keeps me from running with endurance. I’m a detail person and every object in my house is noticed and can easily become a distraction from doing something more important. Being attention-deficit doesn’t help. I need to focus, but also lay aside those weights.

I didn’t realize the power of clutter until our month vacation in Scottsdale. We stayed in a clutter-free condo. Part of the freedom I felt had to do with being away from home, but a larger part was being without the distraction of stuff. This week the Lord is reminding me that I need to keep working at the spiritual discipline of simplicity in regard to possessions. I do not use or need all that is in my house.

Sometimes knowing what to toss is difficult. We turned our closet hangers backwards this year to help us know which clothes are not being worn. Once worn, the hanger is turned the other way. At the end of the year, it will be easy to see what has not been used.

It is not as easy with books. I’d rather spend money at Chapters than at a ladies wear. Sometimes I go to my book shelves for reference, or even to reread a fiction book, but many of them have dust on top. Do I turn my books backwards too? Or are they as big a distraction as other things in the house?

If I look at this with eternity in mind, I’m reminded that someday all of the ‘stuff’ will be left behind. Most of it is not necessary in serving God. Some of it even grabs me around the ankles and pulls me into neutral, even reverse. Those things are weights I do not need to lift, but practicing the discipline of simplicity is far from simple.

Another rebuke was about time-wasting. I could be writing instead of watching television, folding laundry instead of doing crossword puzzles. A little R&R might be important. I have trouble drawing the line at little. Once it becomes selfish indulgence, I immediately start to drift away from God’s will.

Jesus Christ actively involved Himself in ministry for a bit more than three years. During that time, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book” (John 20:30). He accomplished more in those short years than many do in a lifetime, yet His life was as simple as it could be. He owned nothing, carried nothing with Him, and did only as the Father asked Him to do. To live is Christ might not mean those same extremes, but I know that I can do much better than I’m doing.

March 22, 2010

To Live is Christ — it is not about me

When I was in grade nine, the most popular girl in school passed me a note that said something like this: “I really envy you and your sister. Your parents discipline you and have rules. Mine don’t. Because of that, I do not feel like they love me.”

This note changed my attitude about love, popularity and discipline. Love means someone cares enough to correct me if I am doing something wrong. Few “friends” will do that, and perhaps that is why I am drawn to this verse that Solomon wrote, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Proverbs 27:6).

The Bible reminds me over and over that the love of God includes correction. God is a faithful friend. He says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”  (Revelation 3:19)

Even though I know these things, a rebuke sometimes hurts deeply. When done for reasons other than love and concern for my well being, I generally defend myself. Yet when God does it, His way is usually so gentle and so thoughtful, that I feel hugged and booted at the same time. I know I’m safe in bringing my concerns about my own life to Him. He will tell me the truth and reminds me often to remember His faithfulness and not get upset when He corrects me.

And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5–11)
God never corrects because I am an embarrassment to Him. His rebuke is for my sake that I might be more like Jesus.

Last weekend I went to a writer’s workshop. The main speaker said much about the tendency to hesitate when we hit rough spots. If our work isn’t going well, we feel like quitting. If our manuscripts are rejected, we feel like quitting. If someone says anything negative or critical of our writing, we feel like quitting. However, he rebuked that attitude in much the same way as the author of The Purpose Driven Life began his book — It isn’t about me.

Writing is for others. God demonstrates that in His own communication. He speaks to us through a book, actually sixty-six books. His Son became a man to tell us what He is like. Jesus is called the Living Word. Christian writers have a message of hope and grace that can be conveyed in story, parables, Bible studies and a host of other written methods of communication. So what if some do not respond or some are critical of the message? It isn’t about me.

This was a rebuke from God. I sit on lots of manuscripts. They take up space on my computer when they could be out there. God could use them — but He cannot use idleness or blank pages. My devotional verses tell me to repent, to turn from my fears and negativity to obedience. God isn’t saying this to make my life miserable. He says it that I might yield fruit, not for me but for Him and for those whom He speaks to through my writing.

To live is Christ means changing my schedule, dropping useless and time-wasting activities, and doing what He gives me to do without any concerns. If He gives me something to say, He will also find ears to hear it. As the speaker said, I will be criticized if I write, and criticized if I do not write. Rather than be concerned about the critics, I need to listen to Him and give Him whatever I can. It is not about me. God can use (or not use) my words to make a difference in the world — but only if I produce them.

March 21, 2010

To Live is Christ — zealous for holiness

If anyone wants a quick and visible answer to prayer, I would tell them, “Ask God to show you what is wrong with your life and attitudes — and then duck.”

I don’t pray like that very often. In fact, I’m as guilty as the next person of going to God with my shopping list asking for all sorts of things that would make life easier and make me feel better. But when those prayers seem like they are bouncing off the ceiling, I know that I have somehow lost touch. It might be just the selfishness of my prayers, but usually it goes deeper than that. I need His to show me where I have stepped out of His will.

God is happy to answer a prayer for correction, not because He is a meanie just waiting to jump all over me, but because He loves me. He wants me to be free from the bondage of sin and selfishness. He says,

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:19)
In this verse, zealous means to be as eager about getting rid of my sin as He is, having the same holy indignation whenever I do something that violates His will as He does. To have that zeal, I also need another kind of zeal — a zeal to know His will in the first place.

Peter wrote this, “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, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 2:1–3).

One look at a hungry baby and I know how intense a zeal he is talking about. A baby will die without milk. If I don’t read the milk of the Word, my spiritual life will shrivel. If I don’t know what God says about sin, I’m apt not to recognize it, or if I do, will find it easy to rationalize away or make excuses for; either way, I keep sinning.

Reading the Word of God produces growth as Peter says, but it also rebukes and chastens me because it shows me the high standard of God and where I fall short. I need that kind of food too.

When I see it, I’m supposed to repent. Repentance is turning from sin to God, changing direction. If I didn’t read the Bible, I might be afraid of doing that. What will God want from me? Will He ask me to do things that I don’t want to do? The Word of God helps me know what God is really like. As I read about Him, I know I am safe to make this choice. I don’t need to be fearful about correction and change. He loves me and does what He does for my good.

Way back when the first sin was committed, Satan disguised as a serpent hinted to Eve that God really didn’t want the best for her, that eating the forbidden fruit would be a good thing, a better thing than God’s will. Satan’s tactics have not changed. He still tries to get me to think that God’s dealings with me are not as good for me as what He forbids, and that sin is a better choice. Of course, he doesn’t call it sin.

My only weapon of defense against such nonsense is the truth from Scripture. Jesus used Scripture this way also. When Satan threw things at Him to get Him to sin, Jesus used Scripture in response. Each lie was doused with the Word of God.

To live is Christ means to use His tactics against the enemy, but it also means to have a zeal for holiness in the first place, a zeal that makes me want to defeat sin as much as He does. To do that, I need the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to produce in me that deep desire to be like Jesus.

March 20, 2010

To Live is Christ — wanting what God wants

I used to tell my children that if I didn’t love them, I would let them do as they pleased. Of course they couldn’t see past the discipline or restrictions to that reality. In their minds, love meant allowing them total freedom to make their own choices. Somewhere in there, I am sure they thought love also included protecting them from any negative consequences.

Am I like my children when it comes to the love of my Heavenly Father? Do I chaff under His discipline and assume He doesn’t love me when He restricts my freedom? Do I forget that the Bible says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19)?

I remember talking to a teen who thought that God didn’t love people because Christians were “not allowed” to do things that she loved to do. Her notion of love was like that of a small child who simply wanted her own way.

Even though God disciplines His people, He does love everyone without any merit on our part. The Bible is clear about that as well. 

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8)
God’s love isn’t about granting permission, sin or otherwise. It is about sacrifice for sin and doing whatever it takes to free us from sin’s bondage. His love accepts me as I am, but He loves me too much to leave me that way.

The verse from Revelation calls the rebuked to repentance, not resentment. As He directs my path, sometimes with the rod of correction, I must remember that this is love and that I need to respond by wanting the same thing as He wants — freedom from the tyranny of always insisting on my own way.

March 19, 2010

To Live is Christ — willingly offering sacrifices of praise

When I opened today’s devotional reading and saw that I was still in Psalm 117, my first thought was Aren’t I done praising the Lord yet? and then felt a gentle boot to my backside. What a lousy, selfish attitude.

For me, praise doesn’t always flow easily. I realize that I’m not the only one, because the Bible calls praise a sacrifice in at least three places.

And they shall come from the cities of Judah and from the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin and from the lowland, from the mountains and from the South, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, bringing sacrifices of praise to the house of the Lord. (Jeremiah 17:26, italics mine)
Here, praise is listed with offerings from their income. It cost these people something to offer their lambs, goats, grain and even praise, partly due to the time and effort of making the trip to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. They could have offered praise anywhere, but in the Old Testament, God required them to come to the temple.

In the next passage, Jeremiah foretells of a glad day in the future. At that time, the Jewish people were held captive and their cities were desolate and void of life. However, he said one day there would be . . . 

. . . the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who will say: “Praise the Lord of hosts, For the Lord is good, For His mercy endures forever” — and of those who will bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord. For I will cause the captives of the land to return as at the first,’ says the Lord. (Jeremiah 33:11, italics mine)
It seems to me that after being released from their captivity and no doubt full of joy, praise would be easy. But as they returned to their cities, the praise they brought was called a sacrifice. Is that because the sinful human heart normally will not offer God our thanks, even when things go well? Sadly, sometimes this describes me.
Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. (Hebrews 13:15–16, italics mine)
In Hebrews, the sacrifice of praise is tied to thanksgiving, and both are tied to selflessly doing good and sharing with others. Praise is just as much an act of giving as emptying my wallet or using up the clock to help others rather than doing my own thing. While it should be easy, even spontaneous, I know from experience that it is not always that way.

Here is Psalm 117 in a modern version, one that adds an exuberant tone. It makes praise sound less like a sacrifice and more like a celebration.

Praise God, everybody! Applaud God, all people! His love has taken over our lives; God’s faithful ways are eternal. Hallelujah! (Psalm 117:1–2, The Message)
Praise is like anything else in that my feelings about it start with an attitude of the heart. I love my children so staying up with them when they were sick was an act of love, not a sacrifice and difficult to offer. As I write that, I’m ashamed. I love God, or think I do, but if praise seems more like giving up something than it does an act of joyful giving, then I need to repent and go to Him for a heart-change.

Photo credit

March 18, 2010

To Live is Christ — anchored in truth

The man in the cartoon raises his fist in the air and says, “God, why do You allow so much injustice and pain in the world?”

The next pane shows words coming from the clouds that say, “I might ask you the same thing.”

In this life, we have trouble. It is with us because we are sinners and want our own way. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the wisdom or farsightedness to see what will come of that, or we don’t care. Also, we resist admitting that human selfishness and sin are at the root of the injustice and pain. It is not God’s fault that people kill people, or that children suffer abuse, or that wars happen; it is our fault.

It might seem more plausible to blame God for earthquakes and the resulting devastation from “natural” disasters, but the Bible says that the whole world has been affected by human sin (and supporters of global warming would agree). The first couple lived in an ideal Eden, no bugs or weeds and no sin, at least for a while. Then they disobeyed God and were expelled into the world that we live in now, an imperfect place.

When I was reading the paper this morning, this biblical big picture of human history flashed through my mind. Also, I thought of the ideas in these verses:

Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples! For His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 117:1–2)
My heart was heavy as I looked at bad news, but as soon as I thought of God and His merciful kindness, the heaviness lifted. Truth about God does that. So does praise.

Praise reminds me that we are not in heaven yet. We are in a sin-stained world, one that is imperfect. It didn’t start out like that, but human choices have made it so. Heaven is still to come.

Praise also gave me a sense of being anchored. The evil that goes on all around could pull me into despair or cynicism. Sheer volume makes me feel helpless and useless against its dominance. Yet God is still sovereign. Praising Him gives me hope. I cannot put a dent in all of it or even much of it, but I can obey Him and do whatever He asks of me.

Praise also helps me think of other good things. Last night a local radio station did a feature on a local agency for children’s advocacy. This place, unique to our country, brings doctors, lawyers, police and other services to a safe environment where the child is given priority consideration. It was described as a “community” effort where many well-trained staff and volunteers go to bat against a form of evil that makes my heart so heavy. This center has more than 250-300 open cases at any given time, but most people do not know it exists.

Unfortunately, the news is interested in other things. Concerning the selection of what to print, they say, “If it bleeds, it leads.” The good that people do, sometimes under the leading of God through faith and obedience, seldom gets printed. Besides that, our sin makes us want to read about people who are worse than ourselves.

However, whether we want to or not, in this life we do see awful things. This is not a surprise. Before He was crucified, 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).

Jesus overcame the world by refusing to enter into its sin. Instead, He resisted until He was crucified, not for the crimes charged to Him by the Jews and the Romans, but God laid on Him the sins of all humanity for all time and that sin killed Him. But His sinlessness meant that He could not stay dead. He rose from the grave and in the power of an eternal life, He offers hope to a sin-sick world.

Life can be difficult and look dark. Most of the news is bad news. But when my mind turns to the mercy and kindness of Jesus Christ, and when I think about these truths that endure forever, I cannot help but praise the Lord.

March 17, 2010

To Live is Christ — praising God

Some say the Old Testament is for the Jews and the New Testament is for Christians, even limiting that to people who live in the western world. The verses that I’m studying this week say otherwise.
Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples! For His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 117:1–2)
Besides being the shortest psalm, the shortest chapter in the Bible, and the middle chapter in the Bible, this psalm was written several hundred years before Christ was born and before Christianity became the faith of His followers. Notice what it says.

First, the Gentiles or non-Jews are called to praise the Lord, not just the Old Testament people of God. The word LORD is in all caps, signifying that the original Hebrew word is YHWH. This is the name God gave for Himself to Moses at the burning bush. In Exodus 3:14, it reads I AM in English, signifying God’s self-existence and eternality. This name was considered so sacred by the Jews that they should pronounce it. They inserted the vowels from Adonai (Master or Lord) to remind themselves to pronounce LORD when reading Scripture, instead of saying Yahweh.

Further, the Jewish people were called God’s people because He choose to reveal Himself through them. However, this revelation was never intended for them only. It has always been God’s intention to redeem people from all over the world, not only Jews or Christians, but all nations. That is why He commands all to praise Him.

Second, He is kind toward all people also. Jesus commands His followers to love their enemies that we might be sons of our heavenly Father, “for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). God’s grace not only allows sinners to live when death is the penalty for sin, He also blesses all of us in many ways, including sunshine and rain.

Third, His truth endures forever. It isn’t truth for North Americans, or truth for those who choose to believe it. It is truth that will outlast all the critics and skeptics. The Bible says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

When I read these words, I always think about the opening verses in John’s Gospel. They describe Jesus as the Word of God. God spoke — and it was written (the Bible), but His Word also became flesh and lived among us — Jesus Christ. It is this Word of God, written or living and described as truth that will endure forever. The Word is eternal because it totally and forever the expression of our eternal God.

Lofty thoughts for today, thoughts suitable for the Most High God, or at least as suitable as I can muster. Praise His Name.!

March 16, 2010

To Live is Christ — it has fringe benefits

At times I’ve wondered about praising God. Does He need it? In my worst thinking, I’ve questioned if God has an ego like a man, an ego that demands the strokes of praise. I knew that was not how I should think, but I didn’t understand why it was incorrect. Then somewhere along the line I read verses like these:
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good? (Deuteronomy 10:12–13, italics are mine)
I can easily see that God’s commandments are for my good. When I do what He says, I am blessed and at peace. He created me and He wrote the “Owner’s Manual” that instructs me in the way to live. While what I do must glorify Him, obedience is for my good also. In His great love and compassion, He knows what is best for me.

Praise is actually one of the commandments. While verbal worship is certainly for the ears of God, yesterday’s post and events of the day remind me that praise is also for my good. If I do not praise God, I begin to forget who He is and how wonderful He is. I start looking at the negatives and begin questioning God. While overcoming doubts and fears is part of walking with Him, if those attitudes stick around too long, I begin to walk off in another direction. I need to praise God.

Again, this is not to build Him up for He is already complete and has no need of anything. Praise is to help me. When I feel weak, praise reminds me that God is all powerful. He will help me. When I am fearful, praise reminds me Who is on my side. God stands ready to give me courage in the face of fear, and God can even turn away whatever it is that causes me to be afraid. No matter how much I struggle, God can come to my aid. Praise reminds me that He is able.

Every now and then I sink into a rut void of praise. When that happens, my confidence in God becomes vulnerable. It isn’t that God has changed, but I have lost my focus on His greatness and His power. For that reason, I am thankful for this week’s devotional verses:

Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples! For His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 117:1–2)
These are commands that I need to obey. He gives them for my good, and as these verses say, praise is appropriate; God is good and kind and His truth does endure forever.

I need to say so for my sake — God already knows it.

March 15, 2010

To Live is Christ — all else abandoned

Yesterday’s questions in family Bible school prompted discussion about those times when it is difficult to trust God. Everything seems broken, painful, and out of control. Where is God? Does He know what He is doing? Is His Word really true? Sometimes we have taken things into our own hands (and found out later the folly of it), but there are  situations when all our resources are depleted and it seems as if God has taken a vacation.

Sometimes I feel like that in regard to prayer. I pray and pray about certain people or needs and nothing happens. One week of this isn’t a big deal, but after years of prayer for His intervention and nothing happens, I wonder if He is listening. Then sometimes I pray once about something and my prayer is answered specifically and in a surprising way. This is one of the things that I don’t understand about the ways of the Lord.

In all of this, and no matter how dark things get, I’ve learned one important thing — what else or who else is there? If I cannot trust Almighty God who revealed Himself and His love for me in the Person of Jesus Christ, what or who can I trust? Myself? That is ridiculous. Other people? They are too much like me. Other gods? There are none.

I do know that the people who say that God is dead have never been to the end of their rope. We are just too much like the man in the little joke who fell off a cliff, grabbed a tree root on the way down, and was desperately shouting, “Help! Is there anyone up there?”

Finally a voice responded. “Hello down there.”

The man was elated. He said, “Who are you? Please help me.”

The voice said, “I am God, and I will help you, but first you have to let go of that tree root.”

Silence. Long silence. Then the man shouted, “Is there anyone else up there.”

I don’t understand myself much less God, but I know I am sometimes like that man. God asks too much, and I want safety, now! I don’t want to be left without anything to hang on to but words, even His words. Yet when I have been without any other resources, He teaches me that He is there and that He does keep His promises.

One of the women in our discussion group compared these times to a roller coaster ride. There are points along that ride when all you want is to get off, but you cannot. The only option is to hang on. You know that the ups and downs will cease and you will safely reach the end. You know that the current fears and distress will pass, but in the middle of it, all you can do is trust the One who controls the ride.

My verses today tell me one other thing I can do when my helplessness has me grasping for tree roots. I can remind myself of the truth about God and keep my eyes on Him. Instead of shouting out my fears, I need to shout out words like these:

Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples! For His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 117:1–2)

March 14, 2010

To Live is Christ — caring about souls

My granddaughter’s Facebook entry had a comment from one of her friends that said the Bible belongs on the shelf with Cinderella, Snow White and other children’s fairy tales. Regardless of my subjective feelings about the input she might have into the mind of my granddaughter, this statement reveals a great deal about this young person.

She has no idea that evidence and history support the history recorded in Scripture. The ancient sites have been found. Other writings tell many of the same stories. Further, Jewish historian Josephus writes about Jesus. Our calendar is based on Christ’s birth, which would be nonsense if He and what has been written about Him were in the same category as a fairy tale.

Today, I again read from Proverbs. “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18). Without communication from God, people do whatever they please. Keeping the laws of God is not their desire or priority.

The only other part of my devotional reading for today is a prayer at the end. It says, “Dear Lord, reveal Yourself to me more each day, and give me the boldness to look.”

God reveals Himself to those who seek Him. People will not seek Him when they think He will crimp their lifestyle. This makes belief in what the Bible says both one of spiritual revelation and a moral issue. Anyone who does not want to see Him will not look.

Yet God reveals Himself, in Scripture, in nature and by the Holy Spirit. The evidence is there for those who are willing to see it. But those who are not looking have chosen their own path. Often they also have cast off any sort of self-control in their lives.

I clicked on the link to this friend’s profile. Most fb profiles are hidden but hers was not. It revealed a ‘restraint-free’ lifestyle, not a surprise. As I read about her, I felt like sticking my words into the conversation, yet I know that anything I say would be seen as opinion rather than truth. Those who want to live without restraint are not interested in proof, solid evidence, or anything else that contradicts their opinions.

I have never met this girl, but when I read, “those who mind (what she says) don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind” — her words and the attitude behind them brought tears to my eyes and a prayer to my heart.

March 13, 2010

To Live is Christ — in obedient gratitude

Years ago a friend and a new Christian was considering the claims of the young men who kept coming to her door. She had some relatives who belonged to their religious group and was interested because they were “nice” people. On the other hand, a few people in the church she attended were not so nice. She wanted to know what to do.

The Bible is very black and white, and I’m not referring to the type on the paper. God says that people either belong to Him or do not. He says that anyone who disobeys even the least tenet in His Law is guilty of breaking all of it. Notice this statement: 

When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful. (Proverbs 29:18, New Living Bible)
From our perspective, this seems a generality that cannot possibly apply to everyone, but the Bible was not written from a human perspective. In the eyes of God, those who do not listen to Him are doing their own thing. If their life is not “wild” in our minds, it is in His. Doing our own thing might look “nice” to us, but to God it is running wild.

Obedience, according to this verse, produces joy. I know, as do others, that this is not always the case. However, a little research shows that the actual wording says that those who obey God’s Law are “blessed.” This word has more than one meaning. It can mean an enjoyable and subjective feeling of being blessed, but it can also mean “well-spoken of” referring to the way God responds to their obedience. That is, a person who does what God says is blessed by God’s favorable response to them.

Back to the friend with the dilemma. When we talked about it, she said that the people in the cult were nice and too many Christians were not nearly so pleasant. I reminded her of God’s perspective. I said that He sees the heart. When He looks at the nice people who belong to that cult, He sees that they have rejected His Son, Jesus Christ. Their personality is not as important to Him as what they do with Jesus. In His mind, they have run wild.

On the other hand, while Christians should be filled with the fruit of the Spirit and acting the way God wants us to act, sometimes we do not. However, God still looks at the heart. For those who belong to Jesus, He sees that Jesus is living in our hearts and that our sins are covered by His blood. In other words, when He looks at us in our nastiest moments, He rebukes, chastens, and corrects our sin, but He sees Jesus.

My friend understood. She went on in her Christian faith and learned that believers need to consider what God sees, not what we see. His perspective cuts a dividing line. His love and Christ’s sacrifice put His people on His side of the line where grace covers our sin and blesses our obedience.

This marvelous truth is most humbling and makes me fall on my knees in gratitude and worship. It is not intended as a license for me or any other believer to run wild. Instead, that term describes those who have no divine guidance or who if they have any revelation from God, they are not listening what He has said.

March 12, 2010

To Live is Christ — with incredible grace

Reading the context of a verse in the Bible is often helpful to understanding what the verse means. Because Proverbs is a collection of sayings that are best understood in light of the rest of the Bible, the context of each verse is not always helpful.

The verse I’ve been reading is typical and seems unconnected to the other verses around it. However, if I had been the writer who penned each of these sayings, I can imagine myself putting down one and having it somehow remind me of the next one. That could have happened with this sequence:

Correct your son, and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul. Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but happy is he who keeps the law. A servant will not be corrected by mere words; for though he understands, he will not respond. (Proverbs 29:17–19)
The writer knew that children need to be disciplined. He also knew that obedience to discipline makes people happy. He wrote that without a revelation from God, there would be no discipline, but those who obeyed God’s revelation (at that time, the Law) would be happy. He also knew that mere words do not correct or discipline behavior; for it to be effective, the disciplined person must obey those words.

How many people have ever said, “Well, I know I should do this, but. . . .” and they are not obedient to what they know? I have. I’m trying to reverse that. If I cannot obey what God has taught me, how can I expect His blessing?

This seems so simple, but it is not. I’d like to issue an invitation to those who haven’t tried it yet find fault with Christians who cannot seem to get their act together. Try it. To live is Christ only sounds easy. Both knowing and doing His will offer great joy, but also surprising and unsurpassable challenges.

For that reason, God is gracious. His patience with me and my failures is also surprising and unsurpassable. For that, I am humbled and deeply grateful.

March 11, 2010

To Live is Christ — joyfully in God’s will

Sometimes I say I cut my teeth on the King James Bible. For that reason, when I read more recent translations, the KJV words come to mind. For instance, my devotional guide offers this verse:
Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but happy is he who keeps the law. (Proverbs 29:18)
The KJV says “where there is no vision, the people perish.” That motivates me to check a Hebrew dictionary. In it, revelation or vision simply mean any sort of divine communication.

The other word is more interesting. Restraint can be translated several ways including: move to leadership, be naked, be let loose, be without restraint. Perish isn’t included, but I suppose the KJV translators saw that as the end result of freely sinning, or being a lead sinner, so they used that word.

Scholarship may revisit the way to translate words here and there, but the essential message of the Bible is not changed. Without divine communication, people are unrestrained in their sin. Even with a revelation from God, people sin. Unless that revelation is obeyed, we become unrestrained (take the leadership) in sin. I think of this passage:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. (Romans 1:18–24)
This portion of the New Testament goes on to describe sexual sins. Today, those committing those sins are demanding their “rights” that their lifestyles be not only condoned, but made legal. The words “move to leadership, be naked, be let loose, be without restraint” definitely come to mind.

How is this practical for me? I remember once reading a verse that seemed to say that without the Lord I would be like Sodom and Gomorrah. I interpreted it for myself to mean that without Jesus, I would fall into the same sins as those ancient peoples. It made me instantly both terrified and grateful for my salvation. Now I know that the verse was talking about the judgment of God on those people. It means that without Jesus I would be doomed to the same harsh judgment as those cities full of wicked people. But the other interpretation isn’t far off. Without Jesus, who knows what I would do?

Salvation and living for God depends on revelations from Him, not so much visions but some sort of divine communication. It is His Word, both written and Living, that produce the changes in my heart. Without Jesus, I would have no self-control and would do whatever my sinful desires dictated.

The verse from Proverbs talks about righteous living in terms of law-keeping. Since Christ lived and died and rose again, God’s people are righteous only by His grace and by His indwelling presence, not by what we do. However, grace produces a change in what I do, and walking in the will of God results in great peace and joy.

The whole world wants to be happy. Everyone pursues what they think will make them happy, whether it be money, power, good health, reputation, achievement, or popularity. Following Christ and doing what He says may result in some of those things, but even if it doesn’t, God’s Word is correct: those who obey Him are happy, more than happy — we are joyful.

What could be more practical than that?

March 10, 2010

To Live is Christ — living by God’s revelation

If there is a statistical correlation between the prevailing immorality in our culture and the limitations against declarations of biblical truth in schools and many public places, I’m not aware of it. What I do know is that God says there is.
Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but happy is he who keeps the law. (Proverbs 29:18)
In one sense, rules tend to bring out disobedience in the heart. That is, if there is no rule, no one would know that people are doing the wrong thing. However, as soon as a rule or law is in place, they seem to draw a line in the sand, a mark that says, “You can go this far but no farther.”

I’m not a hockey expert, but did notice in the game last night that the referees twice called penalties on boarding, an infraction that is often overlooked. The first call came early in the game, and as a result, there was only one more boarding even though this usually happens far more often.

While the rules in hockey or the rules in society are not the same as “revelation” they illustrate the principle. When people do not know the truth (or consequences) about any matters, we will do whatever comes to mind. As sinners, what comes to mind is usually marked by casting off restraint.

Another thing we noticed at the hockey game was an abundance of large people. Most of them were happily eating junk food and drinking beer. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed my own tendency to “cast off restraint” at the dinner table. I began wondering what God says about keeping myself from getting overweight. Besides the idea that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, the first revelation started with a devotional given at a writer’s conference about sloth or laziness as one of the seven deadly sins. I looked them up; another is gluttony. I’ve never heard a sermon about gluttony. The Bible has lots to say about this particular over-indulgence.

God also revealed to me several other things. One is that I can eat what I want as long as it is received with thanksgiving. I had to ask myself if I could thank God for that extra helping when I’m already full or that snack before bed that takes my carb quota over the limit? His revelations began pinching my lack of restraint.

He also showed me another passage that seems more about self-control, an ability that is from the Holy Spirit, but these verses revealed more . . . 

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)
Paul was writing about his calling from God to reach others for Christ. He knew that if he did not discipline himself, he would be disqualified from that mission, much like an athlete who fails to do his basic training can be disqualified from the race. Discipline is necessary to winning.

Not only that, discipline has a crossover effect. If I refuse to indulge in one area, it will be easier to say no in other areas. If I’ve exercised self-control with my words or at the dinner table, then self-control in ministry and other more eternal matters will be far easier.

I don’t want a lack of personal discipline to make anything God asks me to do fall by the wayside. Being ‘slim and trim’ can be vanity and certainly is temporal, but God has revealed to me that self-indulgence with food can ruin my ability to serve Him. This revelation is helping me with restraint. It isn’t a law (for I live by grace), but knowing and doing what He says certainly makes me happy, particularly when compared to not knowing and stuffing myself.

Photo credit

March 9, 2010

To Live is Christ — letting Him shape my story

Yesterday I discovered that my in-laws have been living with a misconception for more than sixty years. My father-in-law was told certain things about his parents that were not true. The Department of Vital Statistics, census records, death and marriage records all show several errors in so-called family history. While I don’t know why Dad didn’t know the truth, I do know how the misconception adversely affected his life.

Part of me was glad to find these things. Another part of me grieves at the damage caused by innuendo and perhaps lies. I’ve not a huge interest in genealogy (sort of coaxed into it by family) yet have found that the stories we believe about ourselves affect how we live.

God knows that too. The Bible is filled with exhortations to His people about remembering their history. When they kept their past in mind, it would help them follow Him in the present.

Jesus stated the principle more specifically. He said that His story and His very words could shape our lives. What He says is vital and basic to the way we think of ourselves and to how we behave. 

These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. (Matthew 7:24–25, The Message)
But we need to pay attention. I’ve met people who say what’s past is past, that it doesn’t matter what their parents did or how their family life happened. Yet they show in their lives the effects of these things they insist do not matter.

For instance, as a child, one woman was told constantly that she was a good girl and that she was good enough. This has become so ingrained in her life that she takes no responsibility for anything. Her problems are all the fault of others, because after all, she is a good girl.

Even though our past affects today, our past is not a handy scapegoat. No one can blame their current life and choices on their heritage or their parents. We are responsible before God for our own lives, for our own sins and shortcomings. As Jesus said, I need to listen to Him and make His words part of my life. When I do, the storms of life will hit, but they cannot destroy me.

One such storm could be an event or an accusation that accuses me of being a sinful person. If my life were built on the foundation of “you are a good girl” then I would deny all sin and miss out on being forgiven and cleansed.

Instead, with Jesus’ Word as my foundation, I have to agree. I am a sinful person. That might not sound like a solid basis to remain fixed and firm, but it is — because it is the truth. If I tried to cover up that reality, the winds of life would eventually blow my cover and I could not stand with only that lie to hold me up.

To live is Christ means letting Him tell me who I am, letting Him shape my story. Yes, the past is there and for some of us, it may not be pretty, but when Jesus comes into the picture, everything begins to change. As long as I am hearing Him and doing what He says, whatever falls out of the family tree will not have an eternal impact. Instead, the life of Christ is my destiny and obedience to that Life reveals who I am.

March 8, 2010

To Live is Christ — obeying every word

Writers are always looking for just the right word. A single word and even its placement can change the message. Consider these sentences:

I love you only.
I love only you.
I only love you.
Only I love you.

Not only are the right words vital to good communication, paying attention to the entire statement is also important. In this example, take “only” out of any sentence and the meaning shifts.

Last night I watched a television show in which a woman was receiving important instruction on the telephone. While listening, she was distracted. The person on the other end didn’t know that and kept talking. The woman who was supposed to be listening missed most of what she said, but neither one of them realized it.

Good communication requires paying attention. In the passage of Scripture that I’m studying, one phase is vital to the meaning of the passage. However, whoever wrote the devotional readings for this passage missed it. 

Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. (Matthew 7:24–25)
The questions in the readings indicate that whoever wrote them thinks that the passage is about a firm foundation based on the truths found in the Bible. These questions focus on believing the right things, but nothing is said about “and does them” which I think is the main point.

For example, if someone told me my house was on fire and I needed to get out, what good would it do if I believed them, even saw the fire, but stayed in the house? Action is necessary.

In the same way, the Bible says that Jesus is God in human flesh, came to save me from my sins, and I need to repent (turn) from sin to God. What good would it do if I thought that was true, even told others about it, but hung on to every sin that I enjoyed? I may (or may not) believe, but without repentance and other actions that prove it, I’m standing on sand and will not stay standing when those inevitable tests and storms of life hit me.

Christian living is about submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, not choosing commands or parts that I like from what He says. While it is important to base my faith on the solid truth of Scripture and the Rock who is Christ, if I don’t do what the Lord tells me, then I am mocking Him. I’m also a hypocrite.

March 7, 2010

To Live is Christ — firm on the foundation

Construction engineers know that what is hidden and underground is far more important to the stability of a building than what is above ground and visible. When we were working with the builders who constructed our house, my husband asked for deeper pilings than usual and more of them. I could see the dollar signs going up and bit my tongue. I wasn’t happy that some cosmetics had to be abandoned because of this expense.

An Old Testament verse comes to mind. It is talking about structure too, not cosmetics. It says:

If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3)
Literally, the word foundation is a person’s backside, what we sit on. It is a figure of speech for the values and principles that the people of God rest on. The idea is that certain truths form the basics for what we believe. If these truths are no longer our foundation, for whatever reason, then we are left with nothing and our faith is without support.

Knowing and having a solid foundation is important, yet Jesus went farther with this concept. He said,

Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. (Matthew 7:24–25)
I must also obey or follow the principles that I believe. In fact, the New Testament mark of genuine faith is just that. If my life does not match what I say I believe, then my faith is in question.

Besides that, if I do not live out what I say I believe, my life will fall apart when tested, because it isn’t the creed that holds me, but obedience to that creed. As for the tests, they have happened and will continue. They are as certain as wind, rain, and floods.

I have days when the blessings of God are so powerful that I feel like a house on a solid rock in the sunshine with roses all around and songbird music in the air. Life is too good. Then, during trials I feel the storms around me and am sometimes overwhelmed. The Lord keeps showing me that Jesus Christ is still my Rock and obedience is even more important that when all was well.

Interestingly, in both good and bad times, a little voice runs through the back of my mind with this saying, “This too shall pass.” As much as I would like sunshine and roses all the time, this is not the way of life. Both good and bad times come — and go.

Besides, as with anything else, trials prove the foundations. The Trade Towers in New York had a flaw in their structure. When that core was damaged on the top level, the bottom wasn’t strong enough to support it. We all saw the results.

Sometimes a life knows the truth, but decides to do other things and live another way. When the tests come (and they do), the failure is as Jesus describes regarding the foolish man who built his house on the sand: 

The rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall. (Matthew 7:27)
We’ve seen that happen too. Television evangelists, sports idols, politicians, people whose creed may have been upright, but they didn’t obey it. Great was their fall.

I understand the potential. The older I get, the more subtle the temptations. My spiritual enemy may assume that a direct hit will likely make my foundations stronger, so instead he chisels and nags in small ways that seem less important. However, like termites, those doubts and fears can grow and undermine my foundation. I need to pay attention and defend what I believe, not just in words.

I’m thankful for Jesus. I’m thankful for the Word of God and for the Holy Spirit. I’m thankful for Christian teaching and friends. God gives many resources to shore up the foundations. My part is to keep that foundation under me by doing what He says.

Photo credit

March 6, 2010

To Live is Christ — with a solid foundation

Figures of speech delight the poet and confuse a new immigrant. From cliches like “Go jump in the lake” and “That’s the way the cookie crumbles” to more original expressions, our language is liberally seasoned with word pictures.

I’d be dismayed if someone took some of these literally. That is, we don’t want people to actually take a dive into a lake or think life’s unexpected events are cookies. This feature in our language is intended to give richer explanations, but generally not precise directions.

Jesus used figures of speech that made His statements more vivid to those who hear Him. On one occasion He was explaining that not all religious-appearing people are pleasing to God with what they do. 

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21–23)
These people were doing what appeared to be Christian activities and even used the name of Jesus to do them. Yet Jesus condemned them on the basis of relationship. He said, “I never knew you.” He used a word that in those days described the deepest intimacy between a man and woman. In this case, He was not talking about sex but about that incredible knowledge of God that happens when He comes to live in a person’s heart through faith and genuine salvation.

All the external actions in the world cannot make a person right before God. We are saved by faith, not works (Ephesians 2:8-9). As Jesus explained elsewhere, first the heart needs to be made right. Then the actions that proceed from a new heart will be acceptable. Here is the figure of speech Jesus used to describe someone who is pleasing God:

Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. (Matthew 7:24–25)
The firm foundation is obedience to all that Jesus says, not picking the parts that I can easily do. This is about first knowing Him, then knowing what He asks of Me, and then doing what He says.

The promise is vivid. Those who obey Jesus Christ from the heart are like a house solidly planted on a rock. No matter what hits them, they do not fall because they have been obedient.

As I think about my walk with Christ, I could list the times my foundation has been obedience and when the trials of life hit but didn’t make me fall. But I can also remember those times that I’ve not obeyed Him. I crashed.

These crashes are not the same as those Jesus describes as, “I never knew you” and that lead to eternal separation from Him. Instead the crashes in the life of a disobedient Christian are like a glass tipping over (see yesterday’s post). I can get up again and walk with Him again, but first need to get my feet out of the sand and unto the rock . . . Jesus is my rock.

To live is Christ is simple — do what He says. Standing on the Rock is the only way to resist the subtlety, selfishness and stubbornness of temptation and sin. Simple — yet far too often I’m such a Duh. My crashes are good reminders of how much I need God’s help to keep me firmly grounded in Him. 

Photo credit