April 30, 2010

To Live is Christ — full of truth

The Message is a contemporary translation of the Bible written in down-to-earth language. The translator, Eugene H. Peterson, wanted to preserve the sense and tone of the original languages yet make the Bible accessible to those who might struggle with older versions.

Peterson’s translation of the verses I’ve been reading about oath-taking add another dimension to this command from Jesus. He shows even more the importance of being a person who keeps my word.

You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong. (Matthew 5:34–37, The Message)
How many times have I told someone that I’d pray for them, then forgot? My intentions were good, I think. Maybe it said that because they were in stress and I didn’t know what else to say? Nonetheless, too often I have not kept my word.

In our world, reliability is rare. Those we should respect are no longer trusted as they used to be. In a poll of 2000 people, the BBC reports that the most trusted people are doctors; the least are journalists.

The Canadian Readers’ Digest gives these results from a poll of professions considered by Canadians as trustworthy. In order, the most trusted to the least: firefighters, ambulance drivers/paramedics, airline pilots, nurses, pharmacists, doctors, police, members of the armed forces, veterinarians, dentists, teachers and judges.

At the bottom of the list were lawyers, print journalists, actors/actresses, car mechanics, investment brokers, taxi drivers, psychics/astrologers, CEOs, real estate agents, home building contractors, politicians, car salespeople, and at the very bottom, telemarketers.

Clergy was somewhere in the middle, indicating at least two things: false teachers have brought down the credibility of all religious people, and Christians who do not obey Jesus and keep their word have put us lower in the polls than we should be.

While these polls are generalized and not true of everyone, they do indicate that many people will trust doctors, firefighters, pilots and so on with their lives, but trust far fewer people with their money and possessions. Very few will give the time of day to people with a ‘hit and run’ message on the telephone.

Where do I fit in this poll? I’d like to be a person that others would think trustworthy to the point that when I tell them the truth about their spiritual lives, they would believe me. I value truth and want to be a truthful and trustworthy person. I know that only Jesus tells the truth totally and without bias or deception. I want to be like Him.

April 29, 2010

To Live is Christ — keeping my word, exalting His Name

The devotional reading asks, “What is the difference between swearing and cursing?”The question comes from this passage, 
But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matthew 5:34–37)
In the Old Testament, two Hebrew words were translated oath. One means making a solemn promise. The second one is a stronger word that pronounces a curse. That is, an oath is said with, “I will keep my promise no matter what.” However, an oath is also given when someone says, “Go to heck,” as a negative and judgmental appeal for God to inflict harm.

In the Old Testament, people reinforcing their oaths by invoking Yahweh to witness them, as in “By God, I will do this. . . .” However, those who did this placed themselves under a curse if they didn’t do it. Their oath was said to have been sworn deceitfully.

When Jesus came, the practice of making of oaths had deteriorated to the point where people swore by an object, such as the temple, so they would be absolved of any curse should they not keep their vow. Often they had no intention of keeping it anyway. It was this oath-taking that Jesus condemned.

As for the difference between swearing and cursing, this is a bit muddled these days. If the Lord’s Name is used in vain, this is called blasphemy, swearing or cursing.  If someone seals a promise or makes a vow, this is called swearing (usually on a Bible etc.). If someone pronounces doom or says they want evil to happen to another, this is called cursing. I’m thinking that no matter the correct meaning of these words, Jesus doesn’t want me to do any of them.

I’m not to blaspheme. His Name is precious and holy. I’ve no reason to use it in a vain way, nor do I have any right to curse Him. Even writing such words makes me cringe. God is God and I am nothing. He is gracious to me. I know the power of His Name and I dare not misuse it.

I’m not to make vows and use His Name (or any other name) as an endorsement on my vow. He does not give me the authority or the right to use His Name that way. He wants me to be a person of my word. If I make a promise, or say I will do something, I’m supposed to do it.  I don’t need endorsements. I just need to keep my word — as He does.

I cannot curse other people or things because I am in no position to decide the fate of anyone or anything. This is God’s business, not mine.

All that being said, several times Paul said that God was his witness. This was allowed, but only in one way. Paul could not demean God or use His Name improperly.  Nevertheless, he could say that God was his witness and would put His stamp of approval on all the good things He had done in Paul’s life. 

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers. (Romans 1:9)
Other than giving Him glory, I cannot use His Name in any other way. I say with the psalmist, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His Name together” (Psalm 34:3), and with the writer of Hebrews, “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” (Hebrews 13:15).

April 28, 2010

To Live is Christ — Trust revealed in words

Dishonest and unethical behavior is not limited to criminals. This morning’s news blasts the CEO’s of a large company for selling investments that they knew were going to fail, then making billions on the markets based on that knowledge. If that were not bad enough, they have “no regrets” or any sense of wrongdoing.

That scares me. A group of company executives can commit huge unethical acts of greed without it pinching their conscience. Can I also do wrong and be unaware of it? Of course. Such is the way of sin. The Bible always connects it with darkness. No one can see where they are going or what they are doing in the dark.

Since reading these verses yesterday, I’ve also been thinking about the whole matter of integrity. I’m not sure if those CEO’s had to take an oath before being questioned at their senate hearing, but lack of integrity can show up in oath-taking as well as other ways . . . 

But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matthew 5:34–37)
This passage is about adding a “witness” to a promise, as if that is going to make something said more binding. The Jews did it so they could get out of the oath, claiming God’s name had not been used so their oath was not binding. However, the use of God’s name in any kind of expression other than prayer and direct reference to Him is called “swearing” or making an oath because this uses His name in an improper way.

My mind takes a leap here. I know that connected to this idea of adding some other object to an oath to give it more clout is the practice of using euphemisms. The Jews did it by swearing on the temple instead of saying “by the name of God.” That way, they substituted other words thinking that made their oath acceptable, but many other people also use substitute words to swear or make other kinds of oaths. Perhaps this is an assumption that their outburst is not offensive to God because the substitute words are acceptable. But are they?

I claim to trust God but when something happens that produces even a mild oath like “dratted” from my lips, this reveals that I’d had some personal expectations unrelated to trust. It reveals that I was banking on those expectations, not on the God who is sovereign. Had I been trusting Him, adverse circumstances would not be seen as adverse.

I’m thinking about words that could be called “Christian euphemisms.” These are not swear words by the normal definition, but they are either spelled similarly, or have a similar sound. Some examples: Oh, shoot. Drat it! Jeepers! Darn! Blast it.

While most people would not condemn these words per se, Jesus does condemn the attitude behind them. I might think that they are an “acceptable” way to express annoyance when I am not getting my way, but they reveal my attitude toward the sovereignty of God and His decisions — I don’t like it.

Most of this happens in simple life situations, like when I leave my keys somewhere and cannot find them, or a telemarketer calls while I’m creating a pie crust, or I forget to take meat out of the freezer for supper. It may sound like I’m annoyed with me or the telemarketer, but God is sovereign and in the details. He could change the timing or help me remember things.

To live is Christ means that I trust God with everything, even my memory or when the phone rings. This is a heart matter that ought to be so strong that adversity is not a shock or even a surprise that brings out sinful or selfish attitudes or words.

When Jesus was mistreated, He “committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth . . . when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:22–23).

Jesus knew who was in control and committed Himself to His Father, no matter what happened. Because His heart was right, He uttered no words of dismay or said anything that even came close to sounding like He was upset with whatever was happening to Him.

I’m sure the tests will come. What will I say if I hit my thumb with a hammer or poke myself with a sewing needle? I am confessing my lack of faith because this is important. God wants a trusting heart when things go well or when life is tough, and even when the minor stuff isn’t the way I want it to be.

April 27, 2010

To Live is Christ — Say what I mean and mean what I say

When my children were small, sometimes I made excuses after one of them said, “But mom, you promised. . . .” without realizing that I may have been breaking an oath, something that Jesus says I should never do. 
But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matthew 5:34–37)
The biblical notion of an oath is a promise that evokes an outside witness that supposedly makes the promise more binding. That is, someone might say, “By the name of the Lord, I will do such and such.”

The Old Testament emphasized that God hates false oaths. Ecclesiastes 5:5 says, “It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.”

By the time of Jesus, the religious leaders had devised elaborate methods of taking oaths that supposedly guarded their integrity. If they used the right formula, such as swearing ‘by the earth’ or ‘by Jerusalem’ then, if the oath was not kept, they could claim that they had not swore in the name of God and were therefore blameless.

Jesus constantly cut through the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. In His Sermon on the Mount, He calls for integrity in all speech. Since God made oaths, the point of this passage is not so much about making oaths as it is about saying what you mean and meaning what you say. I am not supposed to turn a serious promise into something frivolous. Instead, I must be trustworthy and not need to add anything to make my promises more binding.

My devotional reading gives some examples. It says don’t swear on a stack of Bibles, your mother’s grave, or by God or by heaven. It adds that an oath includes “damning” something in God’s name, using Jesus’ name to endorse actions, using God’s name as an  exclamation, and even swearing in your own name.

Instead, and this seems so obvious to me, God wants me to speak simply, truthfully, and directly, to say what I mean and mean what I say. Jesus says that since God witnesses every word I say anyway, I should be able to tell the truth without having to call Him to witness by a formal oath.

Again, in those days, this was a popular abuse. People thought they would protect the sanctity of God’s name against inadvertent oath-breaking by using an object instead. Then, if they swore an oath by something like their right hand and didn’t keep their promise, they had not violated the name of God. Jesus pointed out that no matter what was used in the oath, everything was made by Him, and He hears the oath anyway. Only sin is purely secular.

Again, this issue is not the oaths but telling the truth. While God may allow some degree of deception to preserve life, how often will that happen to me? I’m more apt to do things like commit myself to meet someone at a particular time and then be late. This treats them as if their time was less precious than mine. Although this seems minor, the attitude behind it is what Jesus condemns. He wants me to be truthful and considerate in small things. Not keeping small promises can lead to breaking bigger promises, such as in business or even marriage vows.

To live is Christ means being a person of integrity. It goes beyond saying what I mean and meaning what I say. I must be conscious of God who knows my words and my heart, and conscious of others who should not have to wonder if I will keep my promises or fear that I won’t.

April 26, 2010

To Live is Christ — relying on His supply

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:11)
Sometimes we don’t even have to ask. Last night a friend and I shared the times God took care of our needs as we anxiously tried to figure out ways to do it ourselves. We both had stories of exact amounts of unexpected money coming in to pay unexpected bills, before we had become desperate enough to ask God for help.

It isn’t only physical need. My sister remembers coming back from living overseas. She had become a Christian in a foreign land, and was anxious about going to church in Canada because she didn’t know any Christians. The only one she could remember was a Daily Vacation Bible School teacher we had in the summers of our youth many years before. She entered the church and found a seat near the back. A woman came and sat beside her. It was that DVBS teacher.

Sometimes He answers our requests when it didn’t seem like He was going to. I work diligently to prepare good questions for the Bible study class I teach and pray that God will use it in some way. However, there are days it seems as if those in the class get nothing from it. Yesterday was one of those days. Feeling discouraged, I checked my electronic messages later in the afternoon. I was overwhelmed at one from a person in the class who thanked me and described the way God used the session to bless and encourage her.

Sometimes I pray for what I think is a good thing and God gives something better, or I pray for the easy route and God gives me a mountain to climb. I might ask for what makes me happy, but He gives me what adds up to long-term joy. He knows me better than I know myself.

Also, God is mystery; His ways are not my ways. Experience agrees with the Bible . . . He “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Today, I’m tired and my to-do list seems out of control. I’ve teased my DH that I need a houseboy, but I know that God knows what I need. I might ask Him to stretch the hours, or give added strength, or make me wise concerning that never-ending list, but whatever I ask for, He has taught me that I can trust Him to answer with wisdom. I may get what I think I want, but no matter what He gives, it will be good — and exactly what I need.

April 25, 2010

To Live is Christ — trusting my Father

My mother and father were told that I would not live to age sixteen. I cannot imagine what that was like for them, but am not surprised that they gave me pretty much whatever I asked for. Sometimes, my dad even surprised me. One Christmas he handmade a gift that was perfect, yet totally unexpected.

Later, after I became a Christian, I realized that most people form their idea of God from their parents. On one hand, I discovered God is much like my dear human father. This verse says so:

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:11)
On the other hand, I soon discovered that God is also not like my dad because God defines “good” no matter what I think good means. He will not give me everything I want, but He does give me what is good, on His terms.

All this flooded back reading two sentences from today’s devotional thoughts. The first one was, “What bad things have you received from God as an answer to prayer.” The second one said, “I pray for the confidence to pray for what I need without fear of my greed.”

I’ve prayed and received answers that at first seemed bad. For instance, Christians joke that we should never pray for patience because we will get trials. It isn’t a joke, but true. Trials develop patience and at first trials seem like a bad answer to a request for something good.

I’ve also prayed greedy prayers, asking for things that seemed good at the time, but were totally selfish. God doesn’t pay any attention to those requests. James wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)

God knows better than to treat His children like a doting dad. Although our time on earth is short, He uses every bit of it to teach me and shape me. His purpose is that I become like Jesus. Certainly Jesus was loved by the Father, but not indulged. God met every need, but Jesus was never given a big house, or a nice car, or even a horse to ride. He didn’t care about those things anyway. He knew why He was here and didn’t waste His time or energy in pursuit of things that do not have eternal value. His word on this:

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31–33)
That prayer about greed startled me, and in processing it, I realize that I don’t need to fear my greed because God isn’t into indulging His children. He gives me what I need, only the good things that fit His perfect will for me.

Sometimes He gives me surprises along the way though, blessings that I didn’t ask for or even know that I needed. Because of this, I am filled with fond thoughts of Him as my loving Father and am thankful for all those times my dear dad gave me a glimpse of what He is like.

April 24, 2010

To Live is Christ — receptive to His gifts

Gift-giving is a joyful thing, at least when the gift suits the recipient. Today I’m shopping for two gifts. One is for an infant who cares mostly for being warm, dry, and full. Buying that gift will be easy.

The other is for a young couple who are getting married. I’ve never met the bride-to-be, so this one is more difficult. It helps that they have put their desires on a couple of gift registries. I used to think that was a bit crass, but when I don’t know what to buy, this gives me a wide range of items and prices to choose from. I can’t go wrong.

The verse I’ve been reading is about giving. Jesus says that people with sinful hearts and polluted by selfishness still know how to give good gifts to our children. We are made in the image of God and perhaps this is one area where that image peeks through that ugly smear of sin that all too often hides it.

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:11)
Jesus tells me that if I can pick gifts that suit people, how much more will God give good things to those looking for a gift. He isn’t marred by sin and selfishness like I am. His motives are pure, not like mine. I’ve given gifts to impress the giver with my thoughtfulness, or with the money that I spent on them. How crass is that! God isn’t into giving to build His own ego. He is perfect and has no need for that.

It is God’s nature to be generous and benevolent. However, there is more to this verse than first glance. In a parallel passage, the idea of “good things” is given a specific definition:

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:13)
Humanly speaking, gift-giving is usually about something pleasing, an item offered to another. It is free and suited to the other person’s desires. Divinely speaking, this gift-giving is about a person, not a package. He is freely offered, but not at all like a set of towels or a coffee maker. He is more like a live-in roommate. He moves in with far more than the ability to make my life easier or please me as a possession does. Instead, the Holy Spirit actually rearranges my life and my space.

When He first arrived, He began opening windows, casting light in dark corners, moving priorities, and sweeping out sin. He also gave me new emotions and motivations, like love, joy, peace, patience, and self-control. He is not pushy, at least most of the time, but He is relentless.

Some of His activities are not as pleasant as others. For instance, He convicts me of sin and won’t leave me alone until I repent. He tells me what to do when I have other plans. He bugs me about sin and righteousness. He is a wonderful gift, yet I’m not always as receptive to Him as I should be. Sometimes I shove Him off in a corner so I can do what sin prompts me to do. That is silly, but it happens.

Thankfully, God also helps me see that the things that do not feel good about His gift, such as conviction of sin, are good for me in the long run. This might be a lousy example, but He is like getting a dishwasher when I really wanted a sewing machine. It takes a bit of time and some humility to recognize that having Him in my life frees me up. Instead of being stuck at the sink, I can make lovely things in the sewing room. Instead of being stuck in my sinful selfishness, I can have a fruitful life.

God’s gift of the Holy Spirit comes with the asking. Each time I find myself trapped with less than good things, I can ask God to gift me. He wants good things for me, and the Holy Spirit is at the top of the list.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32)
How often do I need to be told that I’ve no excuse for spiritual poverty? I simply need to ask.

April 23, 2010

To Live is Christ — working with confidence

A few months ago I went for a prayer walk complaining in my heart that this took time and I had a lot of work to do. God heard me, and although it was not an audible voice, His response was clear as if He had shouted, “Prayer is your work.”

So I “worked” all day yesterday. At times my heart felt heavy as I talked to God. None of those things that burdened my heart have changed — yet. However, I’m blessed by today’s devotional reading. Here it is, in context . . . 

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:7–11)
In this passage, Jesus encourages me to keep asking.  Ask Him for the things I seek, the doors that I wish opened. Human fathers, although sinful, know how to give good things to their children, so why would I ever think that my heavenly Father would respond to my cries with an answer that was useless, evil, unpleasant, or disagreeable? Should not the very source of joy give to me those things that will make me glad?

Besides the human situations and dire needs of some friends, I prayed for rain. Our part of the world is so dry that 40-year-old houses are shifting on their foundations. One new house in our area and built by one of the best builders, sank more than 12 inches. Trees are dying. So people are praying, including me — and it rained last night.

The sound of rain on the windows made me thankful and hopeful. God knows what His people need, but even better, He has the power to give us what we need. Nothing is impossible for God. Nothing.

Besides that, more often than not His gifts are a surprise. His answers to my prayers are seldom exactly what I had in mind, but they are always good and produce joy in my heart. I have more work to do today, but need to remember this as I pray . . . 

By awesome deeds in righteousness You will answer us, O God of our salvation, You who are the confidence of all the ends of the earth . . . (Psalm 65:5)

April 22, 2010

A reminder

Today someone commented on an older post saying that it helped them with a college assignment, and asked me to email more information. Since the comment was "anonymous" I could not reply to it. So if you comment and want an emailed response, leave your email in the comment.

However, I wondered about the college assignment and thought this was another important reminder:
Do not copy anyone's work from the Internet and use in a college assignment without giving credit to the author, or without getting permission from the author. This is plagiarism, which is both illegal and unethical.
I am not concerned that others share my gleanings from the Word of God. It does concern me if they use it as if it were their own, which is lack of integrity on their part and puts them out of the will of God. 

To Live is Christ — taking the needs of others to God

Yesterday was filled with sad news. A friend called to say her father had died. Another called telling me her son was in a car accident and it was miraculous that he was still alive. Our church prayer chain sent a request for a member who had a stroke and is in serious condition. A relative who is getting a second chance at life after serious illness now links himself to an extreme false teaching. My husband has a lifelong friend who is in the hospital in great pain with tumors on his spine and given little time to live.

When I picked up my “gratitude journal” last night, I could not think of too many positive circumstances that I wanted to write in it, yet I’m grateful that God is sovereign and hears prayer. I’ve been praying much in the past twenty-four hours.

Today’s devotional reading continues to be what has been called the Golden Rule. I’m looking at it as to how I should pray for these folks who are in particular need of God’s grace.

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
If I were grieving a loss of my father, I’d want folks to remind me that he has gone to a better place. However, my neighbor is without faith, and as far as I know, her father was the same. How then do I pray? I cannot imagine myself now without faith, but I can imagine my feelings should someone I love die in that state. I would want others to pray that God would comfort me, and that I would be drawn closer to Him because of this, not driven away. I can pray like that for my friend.

If my son were in an accident, I’d want someone to pray for his complete recovery, and that he would lean on God and learn to trust Him. I’d also like some prayer for myself, for encouragement and wisdom so I could be the mom I’d need to be. I can pray that way for this distraught mother who is caring for her son.

If I had a stroke, and if I were the age of this woman who had one, I’d maybe want people to ask God to heal me, but I might also want God to quickly take me home. Lingering after a stroke might bring out the best in my care-givers, yet I would hate to be a burden to my family. I don’t know this woman’s wishes, but I can pray that God will do what is best for her, and that her family can trust Him, no matter what happens next.

If I were the relative who has been deceived, I’d probably want Christians to leave me alone, but this is contrary to what God commands. I’d have to pray that God removes the darkness and puts the Deceiver, Satan, out of the picture. He might resist it, but I would also pray that the Holy Spirit opens this man’s eyes to the truth of his need for God. I’d also ask God to show him that he has been given a second chance for more than this life, and that he can have eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

If I were the man with the tumors, I would want the obvious — a miracle. This man is not a Christian and has never had any interest in being one. To apply the “Golden Rule” means I’d have to never talk to him about Jesus, which is what he wants, but the opposite of what God wants me to do. I have to pray that God would soften his heart so that he has opportunity to know his sins are forgiven and that he can have eternal life through faith in Christ.

As I think about these things, I realize that sometimes the Golden Rule does not fit. If the others in my life are unbelievers, they don’t want me to treat them as I want them to treat me. In fact, they cannot possibly treat me the way I want to be treated. I want prayer and spiritual encouragement. I want to hear the truth and be loved without conditions attached. I want things said and done that build my faith in Jesus Christ.

Those who do not believe respond to this Golden Rule in a different way than Christians. They don’t want others to pray for them or give them spiritual truth. They do not have it in them to do to others anything other than these negative responses. I cannot put myself in their shoes without compromising biblical commands. Usually, God tells me to do the opposite for them that they might want from me, because He know what is best for all of us, even when we have other wishes.

These are sad situations. I am thankful that God knows what to do about them and is fully able to do His will concerning those I care about. The best I can do is pray — remembering His perspective on each situation and trying to combine that with the emotions and struggles going on in their hearts. 

Hear my prayer, O Lord, Give ear to my supplications! In Your faithfulness answer me, and in Your righteousness. (Psalm 143:1)

April 21, 2010

To Live is Christ — abandoning self glory

Yesterday was a good day. The Holy Spirit used the words from these verses to keep me from saying and doing things dictated by my “look at me” nature.
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12, NIV)
When I read them again this morning, these two questions from the devotional guide jumped out at me: What do you do to others that you hope will never be done to you? And, What is the difference between doing no harm and doing good?

To answer that first question, I sometimes treat others as if their ideas and opinions do not matter. If someone does that to me, I feel small and without value. Lesson for today: confess and repent of being proud and thoughtless. Be more considerate and interested in what others have to say.

The Lord is not letting me stop here. He pokes me with that second question about the difference between doing no harm and doing good. I’ve heard people say that they are okay with God because “I am a good person; I don’t do anyone any harm.”

I know that is not the right answer since no one is good. We all sin and fall short. Even the good that we do falls short. However, the Holy Spirit is asking me this question today. I could sit in my studio all day and never bother anyone. That is “doing no harm.” I could be quiet in a conversation. Saying nothing could be “doing no harm.” Or I could get out there and visit a senior, help a friend with unpacking boxes, call someone with some encouraging words, or even stay home and write a letter to someone who needs a little TLC. All these could be “doing good.”

Doing no harm is not always a positive thing. I could reveal apathy or an avoidance of responsibility. Doing good can help people and glorify God, but it can be something else too. Before opening my devotional guide, I’d also read these two verses:

They feared the Lord, yet served their own gods—according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away. (2 Kings 17:33) and . . .
So these nations feared the Lord, yet served their carved images; also their children and their children’s children have continued doing as their fathers did, even to this day. (2 Kings 17:41)
The Israelites were guilty of an odd syncretistic worship where they feared God yet served their idols. In their case, the idols were carved images. Modern idols are more like ideals rather than carvings, or pride things like money, power, prestige, possessions, and accomplishments. In serving God, even with a proper awe and respect of who He is and what He does, I can also serve my idols.

I’m thinking how I easily I fall into a “look at me, I am doing good” mind-set too. Sin is so subtle. It permeates human nature and tries to ruin everything. Even something done in obedience to the commands of God with a healthy fear of the Lord can deteriorate into boasting about what I did and serving my own god — me.

Behind pride and thoughtlessness lies a deeper problem. To live is Christ goes beyond avoiding evil and beyond doing good. He instructs me to take all pride and self-glory to the cross. These attitudes have no place in fearing and serving God nor do they belong in obedience to the Golden Rule. 

Clipart source

April 20, 2010

To Live is Christ — obeying one rule

A young woman told me that she didn’t want to be a Christian because Christians had so many rules. Her perceptions were so strong that nothing I said convinced her otherwise.

The reality is that many Christians do live in bondage to a lot of rules. I say bondage because Christ came that we might know the truth and the truth would set us free from sin’s grip. We don’t get that freedom from keeping rules. Anything that is not of grace and faith puts me back into self-effort. I don’t know about other people, but when I am tangled up in self-effort, then I am not listening to Christ or relying on Him. Instead, I am stuck and tied up in sin.

Besides this, the verse about the Golden Rule ends with a phrase that often gets missed in the quotes:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12, NIV)
Jesus is saying that this “rule” is the substance of the entire Scriptures. If His people obey it, everything else is covered. So much for all the “rules” that others perceive about Christian living. Could anything be less complicated?

The problem with it is not in the fact that this is a commandment or a rule (if that word must be used), but in the fact of sinful human nature. By definition, sin is wanting to have my own way and do my own thing. This is never done in a vacuum; others are also involved. When my will collides with the will (or wants, or needs) of someone else, treating them as I want them to treat me becomes an issue when I am filled with my own wants and wishes instead of the Spirit of God.

Life is filled with opportunities to live out this Golden Rule. It is the “Royal” law and is at the heart of serving Christ. I’m with people today and looking forward to how I might be obedient to this rule and “do unto others as I would have them do to me.”

April 19, 2010

To Live is Christ — seeing Him as my example

For the past few days I’ve been thinking about the Golden Rule in connection with the warnings about judgmental criticism. I didn’t realize this would be the next topic in my devotions. In context, this is what the New King James version from Matthew says,
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:7–12)
The word “therefore” points back to Jesus’ previous words about the generous response of God to His children. As I read this a few times, it occurs to me that God treats us the same way He wants us to treat Him. In other words, the Golden Rule of doing unto others as I would have them do unto me is first a God-thing.

These verses say that God gives me what I ask for (other passages clarify that I cannot be sinful in the asking or in what I want), helps me find what I’m seeking, and opens doors for me. This includes seeking for answers, ideas, energy, opportunities, and all sorts of things. He also knows the best things for me and is generous to provide them as I cry out my requests.

Turning that around — and this is astounding — He wants me to give Him what He asks for, returning all that I have in response to His requests. He wants me to offer the best that have and that I can do. He hopes that I will have a generous spirit along with offering myself and all my resources to Him. He wants me to treat Him the same way He treats me.

Of course this attitude of reciprocity involves others. Because Christ lives in His people, when I am treating others by this Golden Rule, in a very real sense I am giving of myself to the Lord. His people benefit and He is pleased and even glorified.

It might be a stretch to say that because all people are made in His image, any ministry to anyone else is a ministry to Christ. However, the idea of serving God includes doing things as if He were doing them, and doing things in His name for the good of all. Besides, all Christian ministry done from a pure and unselfish heart is service ‘for’ God, even if it isn’t exactly ‘to’ God.

To live is Christ means seeing God as my example of how to live out the Golden Rule. This is a new thought for me and now I need to wrap my brain around it and see what needs to be done to live it out.

April 18, 2010

To Live is Christ — discerning receptivity

The Greek word for judging also means to discern or decide, yet it seems that these words are not exact equivalents. Judging seems harsher than discernment or making decisions, at least when I apply it to myself. That is, when I do something foolish and berate myself for weeks over it, that is judging. When I am angry with myself and dwell on my sin with constant criticism and am frustrated with who I am and what I do, that is judgment.

On the other hand, when I do something foolish and realize that it was foolish, that is discernment. It is also discernment to realize the sin that is at the root of my behavior. After that, I’ve decisions to make, such as going to God with confession and repentance so that I might be forgiven and cleansed.

So if someone else does something foolish, God tells me to treat them the same way I’d want myself treated. That is, use some discernment to recognize their error, but instead of laying a guilt trip on the other person, encourage their restoration through good decisions about confession and receiving God’s grace. 

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. Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. (Matthew 7:1–6)
Before reading this passage again this morning, I thought about the reasons God does not want me to have a unforgiving and critical spirit of judging. Isn’t it most obvious that I’ve done the same things or worse? Who has any right to call the kettle black? Who is so pure that everyone else is a bigger sinner? Not me. God even says that if I break just one of His laws, I am guilty of all.

This is what the speck and the plank are all about. To properly ‘judge’ anyone, I need to deal with my own sin and continually remember that I am prone to the same temptations and failures. This is not about “me teaching you” but about “we are in this battle against sin together.”

Jesus commands ‘no critical condemnation’ because it bites back. It also indicates that I am likely guilty of the same thing, which makes me a hypocrite. I see that, but today I notice verse six. What is that about, the one that says not to give what is holy to dogs or cast my pearls before swine?

Dogs and pigs were the most derogatory terms in a Jewish vocabulary. They were used for “Gentiles” but not restricted to any individuals or groups. Jesus may have used these terms to a largely Jewish audience so they would realize that offering godly correction to others might result in resistance or hostility. People who lack the capacity to appreciate the intrinsic worth and value of the truth about sin and the good news of God’s grace often respond with vicious scorn and hardened contempt.

While God says not to pre-judge who will or will not listen to correction or even the gospel message itself, He also says I should never try to force it on someone who shows no inclination to listen.

I needed to know this a few months ago when I shared Christ with another person. She had always seemed very “nice” and yet I was shocked at her attitude when I told her what Jesus had done in my life. She was almost vicious and lashed out at me personally. When I asked another Christian what to do next, she said, “Don’t cast your pearls before swine.”

This isn’t at all about a demeaning attitude toward those who reject the gospel. Jesus says to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us (Matthew 5:44). Rather, it is about having a high regard for the sacredness of godliness and truth. Why give it to someone who will mock and curse God, the truth, or even the messenger? Proverbs 9:8 says, “Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.”

While I wish I could “fix” any bad attitudes that I discern in others, correcting those who will not receive instruction is futile. I have enough trouble with my own bad attitudes, and need to remember that being wise means being willing to first receive correction myself.

April 17, 2010

To Live is Christ — hating sin, loving sinners

In our part of the world, when someone is introduced, the other person often asks, “What do you do?” Without the introduction and exchange of names, when someone is asked who they are, they often give their job title or occupation. People closely identify themselves with their occupation to the point that retirement can mean a huge loss of identity.

This came to mind when I read this morning that I am to judge actions, not people. It sounds good. Christians often say something similar — Jesus loves the sinner and hates the sin. Yet even thought this sounds good, it is easier said that done, perhaps because of our tendency to identify ourselves by occupation and what we do. Even the Old Testament says that a child is knowing by their actions (Proverbs 20:11).

The idea of judging actions and not people is part of a section on how to apply today’s verses to my life. These verses warn about a kind of judgment that God forbids. He is not condemning discernment or making decisions or assessments per se, but saying I should not make critical condemnations of people. 

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. (Matthew 7:1–2)
The Bible says I am to make “righteous judgments.” I can and should do this when someone is violating the will of God. But these verses are not about that kind of judgment. Instead, I’m forbidden to judge people because they have violated my will or because I don’t like them as a person.

Today, I’m remembering of another kind of wrong judgment, the kind where others are judged because of their race, religion or gender. A milder term might be “stereotyping” but whatever we call it, God calls it prejudice and these plus other verses condemn it.

For example, I’ve heard a person say that every Muslim is a hot-headed demander and should be sent back where they came from. That is prejudice and a judgment of a people group rather than the actions of individuals, regardless of their racial origin.

Other examples are when people say that all women are bad drivers, or that all Christians are hypocrites. Behind these generalities usually lies the poor behavior of a few, yet all innocents are included in this unfair judgment. The person doing the judging has decided that everyone is guilty because of their belief system or background, or even because of their genetic code, rather than because they have done something wrong.

The Bible says that the reason people do bad things hasn’t got anything to do with the color of our skin or our gender. Even a person’s belief system isn’t the culprit. We do bad things because we are sinners. Sinful actions are to be recognized, but because we are all sinners, none of us have a right to critically condemn anyone else. 

My faith gives me hope. Although I often fail to do all that God commands me, I am forgiven and God cleanses me from sin as I confess and repent. However, sin is such a permeating and dreadful thing, that it keeps popping up. The day that Jesus takes me into His presence, I will be like Him and without sin. Until then, I’m thinking about the way He judges me. He is never harsh or unfair. Instead, He points out my sin (usually privately) that I might be forgiven and renewed.

As I think of these verses from Matthew, I am trying to put myself in the place of someone being judged. Jesus said to do unto others as I would have them do to me. If I did something wrong, like telling a lie or slandering someone, I’d far rather be confronted with, “That was not a Christlike thing to do” than, “You are a mean and deceitful person.” The first offers hope and encouragement to change how I behave. The second reinforces Satan’s lie that “YOU will never be any good or amount to anything.”

In other words, the right kind of judgment is loving and restorative. The wrong kind is critical without hope or encouragement. Today’s reading illustrates this by the prayer at the end. It asks the Lord to “teach me to decide without judging, to discern without condemning, and to assess without being critical.”

To live is Christ means that I should hate sin and even confront it, but my motive should always be love and concern for the spiritual well-being of sinners. Judgment should never tear a person apart or be given for any reason other than deeply desiring godliness for sinners — and glory and praise for God.

April 16, 2010

To Live is Christ — discerning the will of God

They say not to point fingers — because when one is pointing at someone else, there are three that point back at me. They also say that when a person is critical of others, it is usually because they have the same faults themselves and don’t like them. The other person is like a mirror and becomes the brunt of their dislike. Either way, God says much the same thing. 
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. (Matthew 7:1–2)
However, there is also such a thing as righteous judgment and godly discernment. God does not ask me to be ignorant of the sins in others. He says:
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)
I couldn’t obey this command if I totally missed seeing sin in others or if I could not discern serious problems that God wanted me to correct. However, both passages say to take heed to my own life. Am I guilty of the same thing? Am I pointing fingers to distract others from my own similar sins? To obey Galatians 6:1, I also need to obey Matthew 7:1-2

Last night I was talking on the phone with another Christian I’ve know for my entire life. He has had a problem with a particular sin and has been that way for years — the word is “overtaken.” I have been praying that God would convict him of it and change things. I’ve even used the words, “whatever it takes” without realizing that He might ask me to do something about it.

As we talked, this other believer fell into a loud and verbal expression of his negative and persistent attitude. I sensed the grief of the Holy Spirit and the Lord saying this is sinful. He named the sin and after a moment of hesitation, I opened my mouth and repeated His words.

At that, I expected the noise of a receiver hung up in anger, but the other person changed the subject. He also became meek, talked softly, seemed contrite. It took me a few moments to realize this was not going to be a fight. I had said what I was supposed to say, and God would take it from there. What a relief.

After that, I thought about my own struggles with that sinful attitude. Was I totally innocent? No, I’d been there, done that, at least enough to recognize this was wrong, destructive, and based on the devil’s lies and not the truth of God. This time, this was not about me, but about obedience for another person’s sake.

I feel meek about this. It was difficult and though I know I did what the Lord asked, I feel a bit shaky even now. Yet God reminds me that the difference between the judgment He wants and the one He forbids is much like the difference between righteous indignation and sinful anger. One is upset because God’s will is being violated. The other is upset because my will is being thwarted. I was upset because the sin was against the will of God.

This tall order was about me in one way; it was a test on the positive or proper way to deal with a sin in someone else. My pessimistic nature now expects to be tempted to go the other way. When will I do the opposite and point fingers because I’m guilty of the same thing and do not want to admit it?

To live is Christ
means awareness of the will of God, of when it is followed and when it is not. This is not about the other guy, but more often about “considering myself lest I also be tempted.” The Holy Spirit warns me that I dare not even speak about the sins of others, especially if I am not taking care of  my own spiritual life.

April 15, 2010

To Live is Christ — every detail controlled by the Holy Spirit

Nearly every personality ‘flaw’ has a positive spin to it under the direction of the Holy Spirit. A stubborn person can become determined. A picky person can become thorough. A manipulator can become a motivator. The bottom-line trait that needs the biggest change is selfishness.

These thoughts ran through my head as I read today’s Scripture verses. In another place, Jesus talks of the necessity of “righteous judgment” so here His words do not mean that a Christian cannot judge at all. However, these words warn me not to be a picky person with a critical attitude that constantly judges others. 

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. (Matthew 7:1–2)
The people that I know (and I’ve done it myself) that fall into this kind of judging are usually discerning people. They see errors and sin that others might overlook. They can be highly aware of selfish motivations and they want people to do the will of God.

However, when such a person is not walking in the light and falls under the control of self rather than the Holy Spirit, they begin to major on minors. Their ideas of what motivates others becomes skewed and often in error. Instead of wanting God’s will, they want their own way. I know, for I’ve done all of this.

The part of these two verses that intrigues me today is that “measured back to you” part. As one who notices picky details and who could easily fall into a mean-spirited judge, I also notice that God is picky with me. He goes after me about the slightest variation from His will, a thousand little things that some may not notice. I’ve heard this experience called having a ‘sensitive spirit.’ Some say this means that I have high standards and a tender conscience. Those are positive descriptions. I’m not so sure it is positive, but whatever it is, this is a hard thing to live with.

I’ve often said that God is like a tree pruner. He starts using an axe on the big offensive sins. Then He works on what might be less offensive with a small saw. However, He also nips away at my sins with a pruning knife, picking off the twigs and shoots that no one else notices. While I am happy to see the big dead branches go, this little knife hits me where it hurts. He is as picky with me as I can be about the details I see around me.

Being a detail person isn’t necessarily bad. It makes me thorough and observant. It works well in artistic creation and housecleaning. But God didn’t gift me with this so that I could use it to pick away at others in a destructive and judgmental way. This modern translation of the next few verses makes it clear that if I am going to be negative about my assessments, I need to start with myself.

It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. (Matthew 7:3–5, The Message)
Part of me resists this truth that God will deal with me using the same measure that I use, but part of me is glad. I want the details of my life to be in order and I know that only God can make that happen. I dare not ever think that His judgments are unfair because I deserve every snip of His pruning knife. I also need Him to keep my judgments constructive and positive, and most of all, I need Him to direct my negative judgments toward my own life.

April 14, 2010

To Live is Christ — seeing anger’s place in spiritual warfare

Three days of studying two verses has amazing results. I knew about not letting the sun go down on anger, even though I have not been 100% obedient to that. I also knew that minor annoyances are just as much anger as a full-blown temper loss. However, the thoughts of these verses have given me a far greater sensitivity to anger than ever before.
“Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26–27)
I’ve not thought of myself as an angry person, yet when anger is defined as the Bible defines it, my irritation at not having things go the way I want them to go is anger. Recognizing these irritations as selfishness and confessing them as sin gives God the opportunity to forgive and cleanse me, not just from getting ticked about little things, but from the self-determination that so easily governs my life.

I often say that I need to get out more. It could be helpful. My husband and our new boarder are involved in a part of the world that is foreign to me. Between the two of them, I hear stories of engineering problems, employee interactions, desperately sick children, and problems with contracts. My world is withing the walls of my home with limited interaction with family, writers, artists, and my Sunday morning Bible class. Because of my lifestyle, rarely do I have to deal with major conflicts. When I do, I’ve so little experience with such things that I can easily go to God for solutions.

For that reason, and while I hate to admit it, more often the little things get me. Add some small stuff to my day, particularly things that pile on extra work or interfere with my schedule, and I can feel annoyed. These verses and the related things that God has shown me add up to a total condemnation of such annoyance. At the same time, God’s revelations about anger and its source have led to changes and to freedom, for which I am grateful.

The last part of this passage is the reason all of this is important. It says that sinful anger not promptly confessed and repented from is “giving place” to the devil. Another version translates this as “giving opportunity” to Satan — that he might use my anger to cause harm.

Jesus called Satan a liar and the father of lies, and a destroyer. Anger is a breeding ground for lies, starting with the one about, “you made me angry” instead of the truth that admits, “It was my choice to get mad.” Anger is also destructive. If not handled biblically, it can ruin health, inner peace, relationships and more. This destruction is Satan’s plan, not God’s. While God can use anger to teach humility, to make me aware of my selfishness, and on rare cases, make others aware of their offenses, He obviously offers better ways to deal with these things.

There is a righteous anger described in a previous post. It is from God and is my response to seeing myself or someone else violating His will. However, He does not give anyone a “righteous indignation” to harm or destroy, but to restore and heal, two things that Satan never wants.

Even these brief thoughts on anger from God’s perspective and from the perspective of how the devil can use it are making me aware how even my minor and often unspoken irritations are part of spiritual warfare. The enemy of souls can use my selfishness to have his way in my life and in the lives of those around me. On the other hand, the God of my life can use a proper response to anger to have His way in my life, even to affect those around me.

Also, these verses do not condemn anger — for anger is not the problem. My responsibility is to discern its source, and refuse to let any selfish anger motivate me to sin. Instead, God tells me to get over that kind of anger quickly, because there are bigger things at stake than me getting or not getting my own way.

April 13, 2010

To Live is Christ — making choices

We have a young Christian woman staying with us for a few months. She was telling me this week about the first time someone corrected her regarding anger. She had said that one person “made me mad” and another person told her that she could not blame anyone else; her anger was her choice and no one else was causing it.

“But that person did . . .  and if they had not done it, I would not be mad.”

That sounds familiar. All our lives we have heard people say, “You (or he or she) make me angry.” We’ve said it to our children, our spouse, and even ourselves. By doing this, we give other people and outside actions control over how we respond to life. When I say it that way, then I see my anger in a different light.

Just as I have a choice to be patient in traffic (those other drivers are not out there trying to make me impatient – they don’t know I exist), I have a choice in how I respond to the actions of others. God knows that I might respond in anger, an anger that seems to be spontaneous and without choice. For that reason, He says,

“Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26–27)
However, the more I think about anger and about this verse, the more I am convicted that at the root of my “spontaneous” anger is a selfishness that far too often governs my choices. I’m also thinking how I need to deal with this root when it comes to the little annoyances. If I can identify my selfish issues, it is easier to calmly choose patience. It is also easier to think about the needs of others. If I can do that with the minor stuff, it should be easier with the larger issues.

Example. I’m rushing to finish my chores before supper and my hubby calls from work and asks me to bring something upstairs that he would normally get himself while I am setting the dinner table. It is a 60-second job, but selfishness sees it as annoying. On the other hand, if I am obedient to the Holy Spirit, I can see this as an opportunity for a kindness. His knee might be sore and he doesn’t want to do the stairs or he just called for any excuse because he is having a bad day. Annoyance is a mild anger and it is also a choice.

What about the big things? Recently a person I thought was a friend accused me of several things that were not true. I’d shared the gospel with her as lovingly as I could, but she lashed at me personally in a defensive and angry response. I felt wounded and betrayed. This was not fair. I could go the selfish route and strike the same posture, defending myself too, and retaliating with barbed words. Anger was there, threatening to boil over.

After lots of prayer and admitting my attitude to God, He told me what to do: “Be still, and know that I am God,” a familiar phrase from the Psalms. I sensed that He would vindicate me if that was needed, but more important, He would work in this person’s heart. I didn’t need to say or do anything because this was His department of expertise. Instead of responding, I have been praying for her almost every day.

Thinking about anger during my quiet time is making me think about anger during ordinary life. God does give me a choice. I can choose to be patient, yet if I, without thinking, make the choice to blow up, He still offers me another choice — I can humble myself and deal with the anger before the sun goes down.

April 12, 2010

To Live is Christ — following His example concerning anger

Jesus is always concerned about attitude and the state of one’s heart. He talks about the heart being the source of sin and stresses that the actions of things like adultery began with the attitude of lust. For that reason, this verse is talking first about attitude:
“Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26–27)
Several years ago I attended a seminar on anger. The teacher said that anger begins with the feelings of annoyance that happens when someone stops me from having my own way. He said at that point I have a choice: I can let the issue go, or I can let my emotions boil. He added that even a full rolling boil can stay concealed, at least for a while. But eventually it comes out, either in an explosive action, or something like a headache, or an ulcer, or worse.

Anger can also be the human way of dealing with pain. When someone has deeply hurt me, instead of bearing the pain, I might get mad at them. What do I do with anger when this is its source? This may sound odd, but bearing pain is actually the way of Christ. Instead of lashing out at the offenses of sinners toward God, He bore the pain of it at Calvary.

On occasion, when anger would have been destructive and nothing else would help, I’ve done the same thing. I’ve isolated myself and let the full pain of what happened wash over me. Doing so feels like an emotional crucifixion, but after awhile, the ordeal ends. The pain is gone and even the memory of the incident hurts me no longer. It is as if I have died to that injury.

Life is full of situations where someone thwarts my plans. God knows anger will happen. He does not condemn it. Instead, He offers a way out — deal with it before the end of the day. This might mean taking the offense on the chin and saying nothing. It might mean deciding the offense is too minor to be upset over. It might mean going to the other person involved and saying, “You have sinned against me. We need to come to terms with this issue.”

The latter action can also be compared to what happens with Christ. When He goes to someone with the same declaration of sinning against Him, the response might be, “Yes, Lord. I agree and confess my sin. Will you forgive me?” When that happens, He is faithful to forgive and wipe that sin from His record and the guilt from the sinner’s heart. Peace is restored.

However, the sinful person can also reject the truth. Their response could be anything from “You deserved it” to “Who cares?” When there is no admission or regret or apology from someone who sins against me, what can I do with my pain and anger? Again, I have to ask, what did God do?

A verse in the Old Testament says, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25). God does not carry grudges or stay angry like we do. Yet even though He is not like us, He does ask His people to be like Him. That means when someone hurts me will not acknowledge what they have done or are not willing to make amends, then for my own sake I can still offer forgiveness. They haven’t accepted the offer so they do not experience that forgiveness, but I have put the ball in their court by doing my part. This is a Godlike response and by doing it, God gives me peace. Even more amazing, my anger is replaced by a concern for that person’s sinful state before God.

These are heavy-duty applications for this verse. I share them because I know that life offers heavy-duty situations, and because anger concealed or anger revealed is totally destructive. God gives good advice because He wants His people to know peace and joy, and from personal experience, I know that both of them disappear when I am angry.

April 11, 2010

To Live is Christ — understanding anger

Whether irritation or outright rage, I tend to think that every time I am angry, I am out of the will of God. However, I need to remember these verses:
“Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26–27)
God gets angry so being angry is not automatically a selfish response to something. However, Christian counselor and author, Jay Adams says, “Sinful anger probably is involved in 90 per cent of all counseling problems,” including secret, unconfessed anger against the Lord.

That latter category is when I don’t like my circumstances. I might blame people, but God is sovereign and in control of what happens to me, so I am really angry against Him because He is not letting me have what I want.

Anger is deadly in more ways than one. It can rob me of my joy, ruin my relationships with people, and keep me from my Bible and prayer. It can also affect my physical health and put me in danger of all sorts of illnesses. For these reasons, most psychologists and therapists, including some Christian ones, believe that all anger is wrong. They tell Christian parents never to show anger or let their children show anger. However, Ken Campbell, in his book, Those Ugly Emotions: How to Manage Your Emotions, says, “ . . . but they are mistaken because there is a righteous and legitimate anger.”

How can I know the difference? The Bible offers examples and exhortations. Christian writers have distilled the differences into various descriptions.

Lou Priolo says that if my anger is due to a recognition that God is offended by another’s behavior, that anger is righteous. This means someone else is violating God’s revealed will and the Holy Spirit who lives in me is angry — and I feel His anger. David Powlison puts it this way: righteous anger is when God doesn’t get what He wants and His will is violated. This anger is motivated by a sincere love for God and it happens rarely.

Most of the time, anger is not righteous. Powlison says sinful anger happens when I don’t get what I want, my will is violated, and I’m motivated by a love of some idolatrous desire. It is all about me being the lord of my life and having my own way.

Ken Campbell adds that anger is wrong when it is directed against a fellow Christian and leads to hostility and a desire to see him punished or humiliated (Matthew 5:21–22). Whenever my anger produces a desire to harm others, it is wrong.

Campbell also says any anger that results in a loss of self-control is wrong (Proverbs 29:11, 20, 22). He adds that this happens most often in the home because if we vent outside the home – against a boss or other authority – punishment or penalty or shame can result. He points out that anger is wrong when it’s ‘just natural’ because my fallen nature is depraved.

Lou Priolo says that sinful anger is the result of not having my personal desires met and most Christians know that without being told! If someone prevents me from having what I want and I am even mildly ticked about it, I’m immediately convicted by the Holy Spirit that my attitude is sinful.

Priolo adds that it is possible to have both righteous anger and sinful anger residing in my heart at the same time. That is why I need to be cautious and never respond to whatever is happening until I am certain that my motives are pure and I understand the source of my anger.

The Bible clearly agrees with these writers. As today’s verses say, a wise person may get angry, but they will check that anger and stop himself from sinning. Then, to prevent a backlog of negative emotions, or a deepening rift in relationships, or the possibility of losing a lot of sleep, the Bible also gives very solid advice: to deal with it before going to bed at night.

April 10, 2010

To Live is Christ — nothing or no one else

The identity of Christ cuts lines. Some thought He was a prophet. Peter declared Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Does it matter which side of the line a person is on?
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13–17)
Those who thought Him a prophet didn’t listen to Him. Just as they treated the prophets before Him, when they didn’t like what He said, they killed Him.

A few had a revelation from God, like Peter. God opened their eyes to His identity as the Christ, the Son of the living God, and they listened and followed Him, serving Him and giving their lives for what they believed.

Today, some deny He even existed, or that He is a myth, or the “spirit” or essence of a cosmic ideal. Some acknowledge Him as a prophet, or a good man. Others may say He is God’s son in the sense that God created Him like He created the rest of us. Those who think these things about Jesus may curse His name when life isn’t as they want it. They may dismiss Him and ignore Him. Even if they hold some respect for Him, they still do their own thing and make up their own rules. He is not the center of their lives, nor their God who directs them.

Today, those who believe that Jesus is God have been transformed. Transformed does not mean perfect, but it does mean new life demonstrated by new thinking, changed speech, and a turnaround way of doing things. Some experience a dramatic change, like American Chuck Colson and the Canadian, Serge LeClerc. Others are unnoticed by most of the world, yet quietly serve this Man we know is God. Like Christ, we are maligned and misunderstood, but we are totally convinced that the One we serve is God the Son.

Those religions who claim to be Christian yet deny His deity may live “good” lives, as do many from other faiths. However, without the renewing power of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling presence of Jesus, no one can go beyond good and be godly. Without faith in the genuine Jesus, no one can please God.

Further, we need God to reveal to us the true nature of Jesus. Apart from that, we cannot see the glory of God that He came to reveal to us. Also, we need the blood of Christ to cover our sin and the power of Christ to do the will of God. We need God’s transforming and renewing grace to live for Him.

Apart from Christ, I am helpless and left with my own sinful ways. Apart from Christ, I would make up my own religion and do my own thing. Apart from Christ, my life is not God’s but my own. Without Him, I am nothing.

April 9, 2010

To Live is Christ — in awe of God’s revelation

If a man turned water into wine, healed all those who were sick, drove demons out of the possessed, walked on water, gave sight to the blind, made deaf ears hear, and raised the dead, you’d think that person would be recognized as no mere man. Yet when Jesus offered these proofs of His identity, the idea that He might be God dwelling in their midst didn’t seem to cross their minds.
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13–17)
Normally, a person trying to prove their identity would offer the necessary paperwork and perhaps tell of situations or circumstances that only they could know. This would convince whoever needed convincing and that would be enough. A revelation from God would not be necessary. This is not the case regarding Jesus.

I just scanned a document that uses the teachings of the major religions and cults to show their beliefs. I was looking for their teaching regarding the identity of Jesus Christ. In every religion aside from Christianity, Jesus is given some other designation than God the Son. He is a perfect man, or an avatar, or an angel who became a man, or a prophet, or even a being inhabited by an alien. No one recognizes Him as fully man, fully God. No other religion declares that He is the revelation of God to man, a revelation that involves an incarnation and a virgin birth.

I’m also reading a book called The Glory of Christ by John Owen. He uses Scripture to point out that no one can see the glory of God (meaning the qualities and attributes that are true of God) except by seeing them in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the express image of God. He hints at God’s glory in creation and in His Old Testament dealings with men, but God’s full revelation of who He is can only be seen in the Son.

However, when Jesus walked the earth they missed it. To most of them, “He had no form or splendor . . .  no appearance that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2). He was “despised and rejected by men” and they crucified Him because they thought He blasphemed God by claiming to be more than a mere man.

Peter knew who He was — only because the Father revealed it to him. The disciples understood, more than 500 of them because it had been revealed to them. Since then, millions have had the amazing experience of God revealing to them the reality of His coming as a babe in a manger who grew “in wisdom and stature” and who died on a cross, not because He lied about His identity, but because He was the only one who could bear the wrath of God and the punishment of our sin.

April 8, 2010

To Live is Christ — knowing where my life comes from

It was the fall of 1970. I sat in my living room reading a book on reincarnation. I was looking for what happened to me after I died. I’d read the Bible for 15-16 years, but could not understand it. This book didn’t make sense to me either, but for some reason, the author of that book included a Bible verse.

When I read the verse, the room seemed to fill with light. No one had to explain to me that I was in the presence of God. I just knew. No one had to explain to me that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. I just knew. There was no question of making a decision to believe in Him. I just did.

Much earlier when Jesus walked this earth, He did many things that demonstrated who He is, but most of the people around Him didn’t get it. Like I had been, they were spiritually dead and blind to the truth about Him and to the realities of the kingdom of God. However, not all of them were clueless.

Jesus said to them (the twelve disciples), “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:15–17)
Christianity is a revealed belief system. This means that being a Christian depends on revelations from God and on His work of regenerating dead spirits so that His truth and His Person can be known and experienced. This is spelled out in the Bible and demonstrated in the lives of those who believe.

Each Christian has different experiences regarding salvation though. Not everyone who believes in Jesus has an initial revelation as dramatic as the experience of the Apostle Paul. He was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians when confronted by the living Christ. 

As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:3–6)
Saul obeyed and the God who had given him new life, a new heart, and eyes to see, ears to hear, also gave him a new name and a job to do. Saul became Paul, an evangelist, disciple-maker and church planter, a pillar in the early church.

Both his experience and mine prove that which is set forth in the Bible. No one can see, much less enter, the kingdom of God unless God does something to us. We are spiritually blind and dead to the things of God. Sin does that. Only God can undo it, and in the undoing, we are saved.

I’m so painfully aware of those who claim to be Christian yet they have never experienced this incredible miracle of regeneration and new life. In their own strength, they do good things and are pleased with their own efforts. In thinking that God is pleased also, they have missed the experience of new life and the wonder of His grace and power. They praise their own goodness and miss seeing the glory of Jesus Christ.

Because the Father has revealed His Son to me, I’ve no desire to claim that my “good deeds” will satisfy God or earn me a place in His kingdom. Compared to His grace and the power of Christ to change lives, anything I do falls far short and is not even fit for such a comparison.

Can a person ask that God reveals Himself to them? Jeremiah 29:13 says, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” However, in John 6:44 Jesus also says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. . . .”

We need to seek and respond, but it is God who reveals Himself and changes lives. Salvation is a God thing and those who know Him also know the identity of His Son and have an incredible and God-initiated relationship with Him.

April 7, 2010

To Live is Christ — certain of His identity

Identity theft is a big business these days. According to the Canadian Anti-fraud Call Center, Phonebusters, there were nearly 8,000 identity theft complaints made in 2006 with losses estimated at $16,283,000. Since then, the numbers are increasing.

From shredding our mail to using security software, we try to protect our personal information, but how would I prove who I am if someone stole my identity? If another person got their hands on my birth certificate, Social Insurance Number, address and so on, how could I show that I am the real me?

It is easier to prove my nature. That is, I am a human being, a woman, and most could guess my age within a few years. In the New Testament, when Jesus asked His disciples who He was, they knew He was talking about that. Even though they replied with His name or title, the identity beyond the name is what makes Jesus unique. 

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15–16)
A son of a beaver is a beaver with characteristics of its father. It would act like a beaver and do the things beavers do. The son of a human being is human with human characteristics. He would act like a human (at least most of them do) and do the things that humans do.

Peter said that Jesus is the Son of the living God. That means Peter knew that this person who asked the question was not mere human. He wore the body of a human, was born of a woman like a human, but His Father was God. This Jesus demonstrated the qualities and characteristics of God. He did things that only God can do.

I’m well aware that this is difficult to understand. To put the incarnation into its simplest terms, God who cannot be restricted to time, space, or form, put on human flesh like a man might put on a pair of pants and stepped into our world. God is spirit and not visible, but He became visible that we might see Him and know what He is like. He also became a man that He could take our punishment for sin.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5–8)
I’m not sure which part of this passage is the most amazing; that Jesus Christ who is God became a man and died for me, or that He tells me to be like Him in attitude, to have the same mind. I know that God created me, but I also know that I was not created a child of God in the same way that Jesus is the Son of God.

When God created human beings, we are made in His image in some way, but we were made of earth, not the same essence as God. We sin; He does not. We are finite; He is infinite. We have limits to our knowledge, power, and presence is space and time; He does not.

But we see Jesus — who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)
I am a child of God, but I could not have done that. My sinful nature makes any sacrifice of mine tainted and unacceptable to God. Only the sinless One could be a perfect sacrifice. Even though Jesus wore flesh, there the resemblance to humanity ends. It is as Paul said when he wrote to Timothy:
Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)
Great indeed is this mystery. I know who He is, and I know what the Bible says about Him is true, yet when I think of it and try to wrap my mind around it, the identity of Jesus Christ is more amazing than my brain can process. People call themselves by His name, and argue about who He is, but one thing is certain — no one can steal the identity of the Son of God.

April 6, 2010

To Live is Christ — learning obedience

Some days the spiritual truths that I know and the way God works in my life are frustrating. Yesterday was one of those days.

The DVD drive on my desktop computer will not read two new program update disks because they are multiple-layer DVDs. After ascertaining that the disks were not faulty, I went online to the Dell support page and did the phone call option. Within seconds, a technician from Canada called and he knew exactly what I was talking about. He said the only solution was a new drive, and that they are about $30 in any PC store. I asked if a new drive would work in my particular computer. He put me on hold to check, and that was the beginning of a huge patience-test. I think I flunked.

After a few minutes, instead of background music, a menu started. I waited. Eventually I was taken to a USA office, who scolded me for calling the US instead of Canada, transferred my call supposedly to the Canada office, but I wound up again with a US tech, who scolded me again, and transferred my call. This time it went to Canada, but the person was in the commercial division and scolded for calling him instead of the home division. He transferred me.

I finally got to talk to a person in the same office as my original caller, but he not let me talk to the original technician. He wanted me to go through the whole story again, and kept telling that my DVD drive was okay, and that my disks were faulty. I told him that I loaded the programs on the two disks to my laptop, so there was nothing wrong with them. This had to be repeated several times. He didn’t believe me. Further, he mumbled a lot, and when I asked him to repeat something, he told me that I needed to turn off my speaker phone and then I could hear him. He would not repeat anything he said.

To make a three-hour long story short, they finally decided to send a tech to my house to replace the drive. However, they are not going to put in a drive that will read multi-layers. They will replace the one that I have with the same thing. It will not read these two program disks either, but they would not listen and said, “After we are done, you will be happy.”

I already know that I need an updated DVD driver. I just wanted to find out if my system will support it. No one ever answered that question and I didn’t get to talk again to the savvy tech who knew what I wanted and went to find my answer.

After all of this was over, I remembered my confession a few days ago concerning lack of patience. I also thought about the only way that God builds patience — it is through trials. Then I also remembered the verse I’ve been reading the past few mornings:

. . . being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Today I also remember the verse that says, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8) and I chafe a bit. I’d rather just be obedient and skip the suffering part.  Yesterday’s three hours plus telephone tag and talking to a person who was more like a recording isn’t huge on the list of painful events, but it was a test of obedience. Would I be like Jesus? Or not? Sigh.

God, some days, patience isn’t my first priority. Some days I just want people to listen to what I am telling them and believe what I say. (I’m sure that You do too.) Some days I wish PC tech people would drop their “check list” and pay attention to what the customers are saying. We know a few things too. However, You know that my patience-development is not yet completed. This was all about what I need, not what I want. You have begun the work of making me a patient person, but here I am wishing you could just zap me with a big dose of it instead of having to go through the only process that works.

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