June 30, 2010

To Live is Christ — more God-oriented than goal-oriented

Sometimes I’m so intent on reaching goals that I forget to be grateful for partial progress. I also want to see the end result of God at work, and too easily fail to appreciate His steps to get to that end.

The Bible offers many examples that show me what I should be doing. For instance, after God revealed to Daniel the meaning of the king’s dream, Daniel could have hastily gone to the king with the interpretation. After all, his life was in danger. The king was going to kill all his “wise men” because no one could tell him the dream and its meaning. However, Daniel was not as goal-oriented as I am. Instead of rushing off to rescue himself and others, he first stopped and blessed God, offering thanks for what He had done thus far. 

Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him. I thank You and praise You, O God of my fathers; You have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of You, for You have made known to us the king’s demand. (Daniel 2:20–23)
In praising God, Daniel acknowledges the source of wisdom and power. He refers to what God does in wisdom; how He orchestrates global events in the natural and the political realms. Daniel acknowledges that God shares His wisdom with those who fear Him and are receptive to Him. He praises God for knowing all things and for giving him what he needs to know.

I’m often in a hurry to get to the end, to see the finished project, to see people walking with Jesus, to see God accomplish whatever I envision as the “done deal.” Today an Old Testament believer, Daniel, rebukes me with his deliberate pause. His was a life and death situation, yet he stopped before going to the king and instead went to the King.

Yes, Daniel, I need to be more like you.

June 29, 2010

To Live is Christ — trusting God for everything

A young Hebrew slave under the authority of Nebuchadnezzar the king was part of a group called “wise men.” Most of them were magicians, astrologers and sorcerers, but when the king had a dream and refused to reveal its content, none of these other men could interpret it. The king was furious and decreed that all the “wise men” must die.

When Daniel found out why the wise men were sentenced so harshly, he asked the king to give him time; he would interpret the dream. Daniel told his friends and together they sought “mercies from the God of heaven concerning this secret” so they would not perish. Then God revealed the dream and its meaning to Daniel in a “night vision.” In response, Daniel said,

Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him. I thank You and praise You, O God of my fathers; You have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of You, for You have made known to us the king’s demand. (Daniel 2:20–23)
I sit here trying to imagine myself in Daniel’s place. This is no small challenge. What if the leader of my country said he had a dream and if I could not tell him the content of the dream AND its meaning, he would chop off my head? What would I do?

Daniel knew there was only one thing to do. God is all wise and all powerful. He knows all things, even the dreams of pagan kings. He also knows how to reveal those secret things to His people. He did it for Daniel and He could do it for me.

Knowing this and actually relying on God in such a situation is my challenge. For the past couple of days, I’m thinking about how much my obedience falls short of my understanding. I know what God wants; doing it is the rub. My biggest problem is trying to overcome obstacles without asking God to give me what I need.

The Gospel message reveals that salvation from sin is by grace. That means that God freely gives eternal life to those who believe in Jesus Christ. We cannot earn or deserve the blessing of God, but He gives it because of what Christ has done for us. This grace is required for salvation from all aspects of sin. Grace offers forgiveness from sin’s penalty and power over sin’s pull on my life. Grace can free me from outer temptations and those within. Eventually, grace will take me from sin’s presence into the eternal abiding place of God. In the meantime, I struggle at times to choose grace and cooperate with the Holy Spirit, even though I know that I cannot save myself.

Daniel could not save himself either. Death was certain, not because of his own sin but because an angry king wanted what he wanted. Yet Daniel knew that the God of heaven was more powerful than Nebuchadnezzar. This king was in power by God’s grace and God could remove him from power if He so desired. Who better to run to under this threat than the One who ruled the king? Who better to trust than the One who gives wisdom and reveals deep and secret things?

My days are filled with decisions as well as with battles against sin. Most choices do not involve life-threatening situations, but even so, who better to run to for mercy than the God of heaven? Large problems or small, He can reveal any secrets I need to know, and give me wisdom to make the right choices. His grace is sufficient. For that, I bless His name.

June 28, 2010

To Live is Christ — choosing God’s will over mine

Routine is important to me. Without it, distractions take me away from the important responsibilities. I’d never wash windows or weed my garden without a schedule of some sort. Weekends and vacations are difficult because routine slides and life becomes unpredictable. I reason that this is the way my brain is wired, yet know it could also be a control thing. This makes me wonder just how much I try to control and how much I am really trusting God concerning all the interruptions and disruptions of life.

Again, I’m drawn to these words from Paul. His life was in constant flux. He made no plans of his own, instead followed the daily leading of the Holy Spirit, and making choices that complied with the ministry God had given him. No matter what life threw at him, he did not veer from his goal.

But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)
Since then, there have been Christian leaders with the same sense of purpose and the same ability to focus. However, there are thousands more like me, who struggle with having an overall goal that keeps us on target. Maybe Paul knew that those who came later would not be as able to stick to it the same way he did. He went on to say that those he had preached to would not see him again, therefore, 
Take heed to yourselves. . . . For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)
If the enemy uses false teachers to pull people away, he certainly uses false ideas and thoughts for the same reason. Several important commands come to mind, and with them the struggles that I have to stay on track.

The big one is loving God with all my heart. I can feel as if I do, but loving Him boils down to obedience. Every time that I fail to do His will, I go off track concerning this main life purpose. Instead of running the race with joy, I’m wallowing on the sidelines.

Another big one is loving others as I love myself. I think I’m really important, otherwise I wouldn’t give myself so much attention or want so much for myself. That is how I’m supposed to love others (self love is assumed in this command), but do I? Do I even have to answer that question?

Several more Bible words come to mind besides love and obedience: persistence, patience, faith, goodness, meekness, worship. My track record isn’t anything like it could be or should be.

Sometimes I say, “Lord, I cannot do this. You are the Savior and I need saving.” Yet is that passing the buck instead of making good choice? Can I choose to serve others or choose to serve me? Can I choose to obey God or choose to do my own thing? God has given me a new nature governed by the Holy Spirit. Can I choose life in the power of God or life according to the disposition of my old sin nature?

I know the answer. It is explained well by Oswald Chambers in A Series of Talks on the Ethical Principles of the Christian Life. He says people are free to choose in that no one can convince me against my will. However, there is more to it. He goes on: 

Only God could exercise constraint over a man which would compel him to do what in the moment of doing it is not his own will; but that God steadily refuses to do. The reason man is not free is that within his personality there is a disposition which has been allowed to enslave his will, the disposition of sin. Man’s destiny is determined by his disposition; he cannot alter his disposition, but he can choose to let God alter it. Jesus said, “Whosoever commits sin is the servant of sin”; but He also said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:34, 36) i.e. free in essence. We are only free when the Son sets us free; but we are free to choose whether or not we will be made free. In the experience of regeneration a man takes the step of choosing to let God alter his disposition. When the Holy Spirit comes into a man, He brings His own generating will power and makes a man free in will. Will simply means the whole nature active, and when the Holy Spirit comes in and energizes a man’s will, he is able to do what he never could do before, namely, he is able to do God’s will.
The Bible puts it simply: “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13).

In other words, because of Jesus in my life, to plead helplessness and say that I have no power to obey Him is a lie, a false notion from a savage wolf perhaps, but whatever its source, it is not from God and I need to quit listening to it. Jesus lives in me; I have His power and whenever I ask Him, He will give it to me.

June 27, 2010

To Live is Christ — happily under authority

The utility corridor near our home is a favorite place for walking, jogging, biking and dog walking. Dogs must be on a leash, and for good reason. For a few months, a coyote patrolled this path. Raised on a farm, I know that coyotes will lure dogs away and kill them. If anyone had their dog off a leash, I warned them about the coyote.

One morning a man stopped his car and let out a large dog, no leash. The dog ran all over, rushing up to people and other dogs. When the man walked near me, I politely told him that the signs say this is not an off-leash area. He began yelling at me, including words like, “Who are you to tell me what to do?”

I suspected that I was not the only one who couldn’t give him orders. I also wondered if he needed a reminder that he was setting a questionable example for his grandchildren, but didn’t say that. This was obviously not the first time he disregarded rules and had no respect for the authority behind them.

The Apostle Paul was not like that. He paid attention to his Boss and had no regard for his own wants and wishes.

But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)
The word “ministry” is diakonia, the same Greek word that is translated deacon. It means serving and refers to those who serve or execute the commands of others. A “minister” is someone who, by the command of God, proclaims and promotes the gospel. This is what Paul did. It was his calling.

While “serving” (same word) is listed as one of the spiritual gifts, all Christians are called to serve others. This is one segment of what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The Greek word for love, agape, means to give of oneself in a sacrificial way for the current and eternal well-being of others. In other words, to love people means to serve them, meet their needs, put them before myself.

No doubt thousands of books have been written describing ways to do that. Husbands are to minister to their wives, and wives are to minister to their husbands. Pastors minister to their congregations. Christians serve one another and reach out in ministry to a needy world. As Paul says, being a Christian is not about me. He denied himself and served. He did this in obedience to Jesus Christ who gave him this ministry.

Ministry requires a good attitude, but also requires godly wisdom. In a section describing it, James says godly wisdom goes hand in hand with unselfish service. That is, the wise person is a person who yields up their life to serve, just as Paul did. I’ve italicized key words.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. . . . Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure. . . . Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 3:13–4:3)
In short, the selfish person has no concern for others and is foolish. The wise person yields to God and serves others. So if I want to be a wise person, then self-seeking or stubbornly insisting on my own way cannot be part of the picture. I have to listen to authority, God first, and do what I’m told. If I won’t listen to God, my sinful and self-seeking nature will not listen to any other authority. Instead, I will ignore speed limits and other social rules and do whatever I want.

The fruit of doing my own thing might feel like “freedom” but is it? Paul abandoned his own plans to serve the Lord. As a result, nothing in this life “moved him” because it was not important. He also was free from the tyranny of needed his own way and instead served God with joy.

James associates self-serving with confusion and evil, even with demons. On the other hand, he associates willingness to yield with purity, peace, and the assurance of answered prayer.

The sinful human heart has this notion that if I cannot control my environment, then I will not prosper or be happy. If I can’t let my dog run wherever I want, then I am in bondage to the legal system. But God says and demonstrates that we are only joyful and have inner peace when we give up our I-wants, obey authority (God first) and serve others. Sinful me could suppose that God is out of touch with real life, but when I compare the example of the Apostle Paul or the list of what is wise with that man yelling at me over his rights, there is no doubt that God knows the best way for me to live.

June 26, 2010

To Live is Christ — Doing the next thing

A few years ago I had the privilege of attending a conference where missionary author and speaker Elizabeth Elliot was the main guest. She made one statement that stuck in my mind and has helped me greatly since then.

After she spoke, she allowed questions from the audience. One person asked her how she managed to do so much, and what was her secret to time management. She responded with something I’ve never heard or read elsewhere. She said, “Just do the next thing. You always know what that is.”

She was right. I always know. I might ignore it, or procrastinate, or allow myself to be distracted, but I always know. This is what it means to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

Paul knew too this guidance too, yet his life calling had a distinct focus. Jesus sent him to preach the gospel, mainly to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, Paul did not let anything distract him from that calling.

But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)
Yesterday God convicted me about letting distractions take me off course from what He wanted me to do. While my calling is not as distinct as Paul’s, I’m still called to “do the next thing.” As the Holy Spirit makes that next step clear, it can be frustrating at times. I often feel like a person walking on a dark and winding path with a flashlight. I can only see the next step by taking the step in front of me.

The difference between a life calling like Paul’s and a moment by moment one like mine is that his calling had a frame around it. He still had to make those moment by moment decisions, but all of them were related to the general focus that God had plainly given him. He had a lighthouse off in the distance as his goal.

For me, that lighthouse is pretty fuzzy. It is more of a general purpose like that expressed by author and speaker Angel Hunt at a writers’ conference. She said, “Writing is not a calling. Instead, God calls all of you (a group of Christian writers) to love and obey Him. Today you might be writing; tomorrow He may ask you to do something else.”

Several writers in that audience know that writing is their life’s work, but not me. I’m called to obey Him moment by moment. Right now, I am writing these thoughts from my daily devotions. The next thing is not clear until I finish this thing. Other times I feel like I’m not finished one thing and He is asking me to move on. For a person with attention deficit issues, this is both easy and difficult. I’m used to distractions that take me off course. Being distracted by God to “Do this” or “Go there” is somewhat similar and can even be exciting.

However, being “available” is also a test of obedience and faith. In my humanness, I can become absorbed with a project (as ADD people can do) and wish I could spend hours on it, but the still small voice will not let me. I’d also like a focus, a clear goal to aim for and wrap my activities around, not have to be constantly on the alert for a change of direction from God. Yet He asks me to keep my heart open to His call. I’m to avoid distractions, yet at the same time be obedient and drop whatever I am doing, finished or not, to do the next thing.

June 25, 2010

To Live is Christ — not my will but Yours . . .

It takes me a long time to realize the uselessness of activities that seem harmless, but in the economy of God they are a waste of time.

For instance, I picked up a novel at the library. There is nothing wrong in reading a novel. However, this happens to be a page-turner with lots of pages and self-discipline has flown out the window. I’m not getting enough sleep. Last night after supper I read for hours when I should have been doing other things. I went to bed tired and annoyed with myself and woke up the same way. Then today’s devotional reading hits me with this verse:

But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)
No amount of mind-juggling can soften the impact of Paul’s example of how to live as a Christian. No novels distracted him. Instead, his life was threatened, he’d been persecuted, and others Christians warned him not to move ahead. But he said that none of those things moved him. They were of no account and he did not lay them to heart. Nothing, no matter the cost, would drive him away from the task God had given him.

Although obeying God was more important than his own comfort, obedience did not make Paul a driven man. In the midst of his work, he was simply unconcerned about the distractions around him. His heart was in God’s will and he could look at both the ordinary stuff of this world and any threats from evil forces and say that none of it moved him. His own life was not dear to him.

That is amazing. Life for me is sweet. I am enjoying it, for the most part. But Paul says that his life does not matter compared to pleasing God and doing His will. I am convicted. I know that this shows the incompleteness of my faith. I see the value of the here and now, but know by faith that this life compared to the life to come is relatively nothing, even less than nothing. As one of my commentaries says, “it is not so dear but it can be cheerfully parted with for Christ.” Knowing it and living it are two different things.

Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). Paul’s life explains what that means. Hating one’s life is not like the passion of Job or Jeremiah, but total submission to the will of God. That means Paul would die for Christ rather than deny Him. However, Paul was no dramatic proclaimer with a noble cause. He was resolved to die for Christ, but also to live for Him, to work hard in dangerous situations, to give up everything else including his personal comfort, for the cause of Christ. I’m not so dedicated.

Paul determined to be faithful and finish the ministry which Christ gave him. This was not for himself but for the Lord and for the souls of others. Jesus gave him this charge and the wherewithal to carry it out. To do less would be a denial of the lordship and power of Jesus Christ.

Not only that, all that Paul did was done by the grace of God. Such dedicated obedience was a testimony to that grace. Someone recently said that if the challenges of life are impossible, then God is in it. Paul was living proof of that power.

Paul wanted to finish well. He didn’t know when he would die or what the circumstances would be, but he knew that if he obeyed God that he would finish with joy, no regrets.

My life is also a race set before me. God did not put me on this earth to be idle or careless. I can rest and be refreshed, but not get off the track and do my own thing. This race course is not an oval track. It passes straight through the world, not round and round. Sometimes it is like running a gauntlet. Other times it is like a sprint, but it is always a marathon with a finish line.

Dying is the end of the race, a finish line that cannot be avoided or put off. Paul wanted to finish with honor and joy, not regret or shame. For him, nothing was too much to do, nor too hard to suffer. He was never distracted.

This is the example God sets before me. I can make excuses about having attention deficit problems, or about being only a housewife not a missionary, or that I’m just a senior and without much energy. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit will not let me. Too often I neglect spiritual duties because I am distracted and turned off course by the short-term stuff of this life. Reading a book may not be a sin, but tuning out the call of God means my priorities have slid off track.

June 24, 2010

To Live is Christ — with a soft heart

A challenging truth about Christian living is that I cannot live by rules. The Bible is full of them, but I still need to discern what is important for each situation. Which “rule” do I obey when?

For instance, the Bible says we are saved by faith, not works. Some grab that as an excuse for not getting involved in Christian service. They say they believe and that is enough. However, James wrote that faith without works is dead. While it challenges the person who does no works, there are others who grab that as their reason for attempting to earn their salvation by works.

I know that sin makes us do things like that with Scripture. Sin is wanting things “my way” instead of God’s way. In the above example, the Holy Spirit teaches me that while I cannot earn my salvation by doing good things, if I am genuinely saved, my life will change. He will produce good things in obedience to God. Those who have Jesus living in their hearts know that good works are the result of salvation, not the cause.

There are many other commands in Scripture. Some of them seem to conflict, and get polarized, just as the faith/works concept. The one that I’ve had the biggest struggle with concerns speech and silence. The Bible says I must tell others about Jesus Christ. Yet I can do that in the wrong way and be shoving it down someone’s throat.

The Bible also tells me to control my tongue. Yet I can do that in the wrong way too. Instead of speaking up, I can be quiet when someone needs to hear about Christ and the gospel.

My devotional verse offers the suggestion of another extreme. It speaks of the patience of God and speaks to me about my impatience and my need to repent and trust Him. 

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
For me, this means trusting God in all things, including His seeming slowness regarding the return of Christ. It says that He has a good reason for delaying that event, and that I need to get my life in order.

However, some think that they have all the time in the world to get their life in order. They say “later” when it comes to spiritual matters. They want to have their fun or do their own thing. They will consider Christ when they are old (assuming that old age will happen).

The other end of this patience/wait comes from a passage in Hebrews. The gist of it is do not wait; the time is now . . . 

Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:8–15)
If God is speaking to a person’s heart, they must respond immediately, not think that He is patient and they have lots of time. Refusing to listen does not buy time — it hardens the heart so that the next time God speaks, His voice might not be heard.

For me, these thoughts beg the question: when do I wait for God to act, and when do I obey and do something right now? I’m not to harden my own heart and disobey Him, but when do I display the patience of God regarding others? And when do I urge someone to obey Him right now?

The Bible does not give pat answers to questions like this. Instead, God offers me a relationship with Him. The Holy Spirit is my guide who brings the commands of God to mind — at the appropriate time. Sometimes He wants me to speak, to urge. Sometimes He wants me to listen, to shut up, to wait.

Without the Holy Spirit, I could never discern the will of God for me at any given moment. He is that still small voice, the One who comes alongside and says, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

As these other passages of Scripture say, “walking in it” means repent from my own sin, obey God, and keep my heart soft.

June 23, 2010

To Live is Christ — no finger-pointing

Another day with this verse and again I’m convicted of my impatience. This time I read it in a contemporary version, and the last phrase kicks me.
God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change. (2 Peter 3:9, The Message)
First, I’m convicted that I do not give others space and time to change like God does. He isn’t in a rush. He also knows the human heart and what needs to happen in everyone’s life. He is perfectly capable of working life’s circumstances so that each person gets to that place where they not only hear His voice but are also responsive. I need to pray with that confidence, not with a sense of “time is running out, so hurry up, God.”

I also need to be careful that my concern for the spiritual state of others does not become finger-pointing. It is easy to look at everyone else and criticize their slowness to listen to God. What about me? Am I slow also? Whatever version I read, the Scriptures say “everyone” and that includes me. This version says that Jesus Christ “restrains Himself” because of me.

Jesus will return and while it seems like it will never happen, maybe it is my slowness to listen and change that gives Him reason to wait. At the end of yesterday’s quiet time with God, I thought about my failures in this area. I even prayed with my lack of patience in mind, but it didn’t sink in. Instead of changing what I can change, I was soon thinking about everyone else and not my own failures.

Lord, my forgetfulness and lack of wholehearted response to You perfectly illustrates how much I need Your patience. I look around me at millions who don’t even know You and are not ready for the coming judgment and pray for them.  Nevertheless, I also need to look in the mirror. I am Your child, but I am not ready for the Second Coming either.

June 22, 2010

To Live is Christ — not in a hurry

Children have two concepts of time: now and eternity. Who hasn’t heard a child say, “Are we there yet?” or “I want it now, mommy”? For a little one, waiting even five minutes can seem like forever.

In some ways, I can be like a child. I know the difference between now and next week, but still want what I want — now. Before I became a Christian, this was mostly about me and my wants. Since Christ came into my life, this changed. One change is that He motivates me to pray for others. Some are Christians and many are not. As I pray for maturity in believers and the salvation of those who are not, I sometimes get impatient. I’ve said to God, “Are they there yet?”

The devotional verse that I’m studying is about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Christians often try to predict when this will happen, or look at the deteriorating world around them and announce it will be soon. Jesus said that no one knows the day or the hour, but we are eager to see Him. I’ve even said, “Is it time? Are we there yet?” This verse explains why the return of Jesus seems slow. God isn’t as interested in speed as I am. He is more interested in thoroughness and human souls. . . 

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
If Jesus came tomorrow, half the people on my prayer list would not be ready, maybe more than half. Some of them would perish because they have not turned from sin and unbelief to Jesus Christ. Some would be caught off guard because they are caught up in living in this world. They may have the Lord in their lives, but fall short of being wholehearted about it.

My responsibility is to pray for those God puts in my life and on my heart, even speak to them about Jesus. However, praying is difficult and speaking is even more difficult. I understand why some Christians become involved with this life, not praying or speaking about Jesus to others. Almost anything else is easier.

Then there is that time element. When I tell someone about Jesus, I want them to believe — now. When I pray about the growth and maturity of other believers, I sometimes become impatient. I want them (and myself too) to be “there yet.”

God promises that He will finish what He starts. Those who believe in Him will one day be just like Jesus. “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2–3)

I know this, yet verse three ends with, “everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” Having the hope of being like Jesus ought to motivate Christians. Everyone should be growing in purity. The promise of this should motivate others into wanting to be children of God. This is what God has in mind, and this is what I pray for, but so often I am impatient.

God says that I cannot change others; impatience implies that I wish I could. However, I can only respond to the Holy Spirit and make choices for myself, not other people. Instead of becoming impatient with them, and ultimately with God, I need to choose trust. I should remember how long He worked in my life before my stubborn heart realized that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). My patience should kick in when I remember how long it takes me to wake up to my own deeply entrenched selfishness and then repent. I am totally thankful that God is longsuffering toward me. I have no excuse for not being the same toward others.

Jesus, You never push or hurry me. You give me time to learn, grow, become aware, and make new choices. Sometimes I imagine You sighing or even groaning at my childish sense of time and impatience, but this verse does not picture You that way. Instead, You unhurriedly work, bringing Your children to maturity and drawing others from their sin into Your family. Help me cooperate with you. I need to trust Your timing and I especially need Your patience.

June 21, 2010

To Live is Christ — knowing who controls the rain

In my part of the world, weather patterns are becoming extreme. Last year, our area didn’t have any serious rain until June. This spring, trees were dying. Although rainfalls are normal, the water table is still low. South of us, it rained so much this week that bridges and roads washed away. Many homes have been destroyed. The Trans-Canada highway was flooded and closed. Recently seeded fields are covered in water, offering farmers little hope for any crops or income this year.

World weather isn’t much better. In some places there has been snow when it should have been summer, and heat waves when it should have been winter. I have to wonder if the One who controls the weather is trying to make a point, trying to wake up a spiritually sleepy population to the danger of forgetting Him?

My devotional reading uses a verse from a passage about what is called the “last days” or the period between the first coming of Jesus and the second. It describes those who are spiritually dense to the plan of God for the world and its people.

. . . Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:3–10)
As I read this, I am aware of scoffers, but have to say one good thing about them — at least they are aware that Jesus did promise He would return. They might make fun of it and choose not to change their lives because of it, but they do know the promise. What burdens me are the millions that are totally oblivious to spiritual things and to the plan of God. They live out their lives in ignorance of sin and their need to repent and be forgiven. So many do not know that Jesus Christ is a real person who came from God to earth so we could have eternal life.

Fewer still realize He is coming back, but even those who believe cannot predict when Jesus will return. Christians have a general idea because the Bible reveals some of what will happen, but we cannot predict the day or the hour and when we talk about it, scoffers laugh. They don’t see the changes in the world, or if they do, they think God is not involved. They overlook the fact of creation and decide that the world just happened. Order came from chaos, something came from nothing, and there is no master plan, no designer of all the complications of our universe.

For many also, the weather patterns are caused by human beings making carbon footprints. They forget that weather has been happening for a long time, far longer than the discovery and use of oil and gas. It seems to me that it requires a huge ego to think that people cause weather changes.

Yet Bible passage hints how that supposition can happen. The darkness and ignorance concerning God’s plan for the world are choices made because of sin. Sin, defined as doing our own thing apart from God, says that “I will. . . .” and does not want anything to do with God or even admit that He is out there. For sinners, this means denying creation and the power of God and denies or mocks the return of Christ.

For Christians, or at least for me, this scoffing produces conflicting desires. On one hand I want God to open their eyes, show them the truth, and make them aware of their need for forgiveness. I want to see the scoffers saved and glorifying God.

On the other hand I want God to vindicate Himself and show them how foolish they are. I want Jesus to come back and deal with the nonsense of sin and the resistance of sinners. The Bible says that when He does, “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord” and I want to be able to say “I told you so.”

But God is not like me. He is patient. He could say the word and wake everyone up, but He waits. He wants people to know the truth and repent from their sin. He does not want anyone to perish.

As I wait and watch too, I’m reminded of the power of God on the weather channel. I can see His glory in the pale sunrise as well as the downpour. I see His grace in the sunshine and know His fury in the wind. I marvel with the psalmist who wrote,

He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. . . . He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes. He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast? He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow. (Psalm 147:8, 16–18)
Yesterday’s news showed one farmer whose land was under water. He was angry and blaming the government for this flood! How incredible! Who is man? We think we are so powerful, but our strength is made of straw. While our knowledge increases and technology becomes more intricate and even amazing, not one of us can gather the wind in our fist or turn the breezes from the east to the west, or send showers on one field and not another.

All this is to remind us that God is God — and we are puny, sinful people in need of His grace.

June 20, 2010

To Live is Christ — speaking up

Most of my family are not Christians. I pray for them. A few have turned from sin to Christ, yet not many. I believe that God is able to draw people to Christ. He can enlighten hearts, create conviction of sin, and build a desire to be saved in the human heart.

Yet the process seems so slow. Is God not working as I pray? The following passage is about the promise of Christ’s return — which will end their opportunity to be saved. Jesus came the first time to bring salvation and invite sinners to repent. He will come the second time to judge the earth, and then it will be too late to accept His offer. 

The Lord isn’t slow about keeping his promises, as some people think he is. In fact, God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost. (2 Peter 3:9, CEV)
I do too. I’m eager for the return of Christ for my own sake, but for the sake of those on my prayer list, I am glad that God is slow in keeping this promise, even as I am perplexed about the slowness in His promise to answer prayers prayed in His will. After all, as this verse says, He wants everyone to be saved. Praying for that is His will.

In some translations, it says that He is “not wanting anyone to perish” yet this adds to my perplexity. If God wants all to be saved, why does He not do it?

One of my commentaries says that from the human perspective, there may never be a satisfying answer. This assumes that both are true: God can save anyone, yet people can also reject salvation. I understand the rejection part since I am also a sinner who resists God, but I cannot understand God not moving them from rejection to acceptance.

Some say there is a distinction between God’s will regarding “decree” and His will regarding “desire” as in this verse. God decrees things in view of human sinfulness. This allows people to reject salvation, although He also desires (because of His mercy) that all would repent and be saved. This implies that even God does not always get what He wants. I’m not sure I’m satisfied with that answer either.

My devotional reading offers a paraphrase of this verse. Instead of making it a puzzle, it puts the onus on me to do something. I know that “faith comes by hearing the word of God” (Romans 10:17) so while this paraphrase does not solve the riddle of what God is doing, it does give me a challenge. It says, 

The Lord isn’t slow about keeping His promises like a lot of people seem to think. What is really happening is that God is patiently allowing us to do one of two things before judgment day: 1) Turn to Him or 2) point others to Him.
The same passage that says “faith comes by hearing . . .” also says, 
How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them? (Romans 10:14, CEV)
Instead of wondering why God is so slow, and why those on my prayer list seem so disinterested in spiritual things, God clearly says that His truth needs to be heard. A better question might be to ask myself why I am so silent.

June 19, 2010

To Live is Christ — comfortable belonging to Him

Traditional cornerstones of self-esteem include the sense of being loved, of belonging, and being capable. Acceptance by our peers becomes crucial during those growing up years, but continues into adulthood too. While people love independence (particularly in North America), they also want to feel as if they belong, that people accept them. This gives Christians a huge conflict. God tells us to be in the world but not of the world. He says, 
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14–18)
The phrase, “marching to a different drummer” is often negative and sometimes hints at pity and even ridicule. Few people want to be thought of as “different” and “out of touch” with everyone else. Yet that is exactly what God calls His children to be — separate, different.

The drummer I’m supposed to march to is Jesus Christ. When He calls the tune, then my life will be different. I might eat, drink, sleep, work and do many other things just like everyone else, but I will fit in with the people around me when it comes to motivations and many actions.

This morning’s devotional reading regarding this passage had a prayer. It asked the Lord to “increase my comfort zone with You so much that what the world thinks is less important to me.”

This is a good prayer. It asks that I become so adapted to being the person God wants me to be that I feel no stress at all when I am around those who do no share my faith and lifestyle. With that, I’d feel no need to verbally defend my faith and can keep my mouth shut if God wants me to. I’d never worry what others think of me, nor would I be blatant and rude about my faith, or worse, try to hide who I am.

Yet every person has things happen in their life that challenge this need to belong. Any sort of rejection will do it, such as parental abuse, being laughed at for any reason by your peers, broken relationships, divorce, being fired from a job, infidelity by a spouse, and so on. This is where the conflict comes. Each Christian struggles to know they are “okay” when life tells them otherwise.

God’s answer to this is that we fully realize our acceptance with Him. This is not earned or deserved, but a gift, lavishly and freely given.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace . . . (Ephesians 1:3–7)
Accepted in Christ by grace — and if that were not enough, God pours out spiritual blessings here on earth and in heaven, makes me holy and blameless, adopts me into His family, and redeems me from a life of sin. I am fully and freely forgiven because of His grace and because of Jesus Christ.

There are times that I am in a room full of people and feel as if I do not belong, that no one accepts me because my way of thinking is foreign to them. At times this has troubled me. However, God is changing that. He is making me feel more comfortable, perhaps more aware of His acceptance. I’m finding that what He says about me is enough.

With His grace, I can be in that same roomful of people and not be concerned about what they think of me. Instead, I’m more interested in them, and in what they think of Jesus.

June 18, 2010

To Live is Christ — in this world and longing for a better one

I’m reading a book written in the 1880's by a Puritan, John Owen. Its title, The Glory of Christ, is an understatement. Few books tell the simple truth about Jesus and leave me with great compelling desire to see Him, to be with Him. Last night’s chapter described how Christians fight sin here, but all our struggles will fall away when we see Him as He is, in full glory.

In contrast, today brings the challenges of living in the world, a world full of sin and darkness. Yet as I review the following verses, glimpses of Christ’s glory shine through and encourage me.

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14–18)
These verses describe Jesus. He was the One who dwelled here with us and walked among us, our God who has made us His people by faith. Faith can see how He was in this world yet He did not yoke Himself with anything that was lawless, darkness, of the devil, or without faith. He set the example of what these verses mean. He ate and drank with sinners, but remained pure and holy.

Jesus knows what it is like to live in a sinful, polluted world. He rubbed shoulders daily with people in the grip of sin, people who had no idea how much sin controlled their lives. He was separate from sin yet highly involved with sinners — and loved them. 

These verses make me think of what the Apostle John wrote about being in the world. It is a highly unfriendly place for those desiring to be godly. John warns me . . . 

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17)
Christians too often think loving the world is about “things” and materialism, but this passage covers far more than that. It shows me how much I need the grace and help of God to be here — yet be separate, like Jesus.

The lust of the flesh is living according to the desires of my physical self. This is about gluttony, adultery, and self-protection. It is also about pampering me and insisting on what makes me feel good. It is wanting comfort, ordering just the right foods, insisting that the thermostat is on the right setting. Jesus never did any of that.

The lust of the eyes is about wanting what I can see. It is materialism, but also greed, hoarding, a controlling power-hungry grasping for whatever I can get for myself. Again, it can be extreme or subtle, going for the whole bakery, or just the biggest piece of cake on the platter.

The pride of life covers so much territory that I can hardly begin to describe it. It is obvious pride that shouts, “Look at me” but it is also that self-focused pride that says, “Poor me, I deserve much better than this.” It is always wanting the best, but also false humility that insists on the least, like the smallest piece of cake. It is that need to win, and the tiny disappointment when others do better than I have. It is the gloating, inward or obvious, that I do when I am right and someone else is wrong.

I could go on forever about pride, but as I type the word “forever” — I’m reminded that no, I will not. One day, as Owen so eloquently describes, I will see Jesus face to face. Pride and greed and selfishness will fall away and love of the world will be a moot point. Because of the brightness of His glory I will finally see the fullness of His glory and, wonder of wonders, I will be transformed into His image.

June 17, 2010

To Live is Christ — in the world, carefully

Last night I attended an annual windup banquet put on by the quilter’s guild in our city. There are more than three hundred members, a mixture of ages and skill levels, all interested in making quilts. They are friendly and enjoy being together.

The verse that I’m studying this week is about being involved in things done by unbelievers, things that can draw me into sin. I need to carefully consider if this verse has anything to do with my membership and involvement in that guild.

“So leave the corruption and compromise; leave it for good,” says God. “Don’t link up with those who will pollute you. I want you all for myself.” (2 Corinthians 6:17, The Message)
I’ve read it in its context and in several versions. God warns me about getting involved in ungodly things (which can be anything that is not done in faith) or partnering with those who do not know God. This guild has a mixture of Christians and those who are not. That mix could confuse my interpretation of what God is saying, but I don’t think this is the point.

The issue is not who they are, but who I am, and who I am has changed. Years ago, I created and sold paintings. This became almost an obsession. I was competitive and proud of what I was doing. I even used the money to support missionaries. However, the Lord spoke to me about my sinful attitudes involved in this activity. He directed me to stop painting. That was difficult. It was also hard to explain to colleagues that had no idea about God and His ways. I stopped, and in grace, God began to show me that the problem was not in being an artist, but in doing it without His motivation and direction.

Creativity found other outlets, eventually making quilts, not as a craft in the traditional sense, but as artistic expression. Along the way, my desire has been to please the Lord. I keep asking if this is what He wants me to do? Do I have the right motives? Am I getting obsessed? Has He a plan that I cannot see?

Yesterday I told my husband that God had blessed me in quilting. I feel no competitive spirit with this art form. I love seeing others excel and am not jealous, nor do I feel compelled to “be the best” or to win shows or sell the most or anything like that. While there is always danger in being drawn into sin no matter what a person does, I don’t feel any “me first” or other selfishness with this. Maybe that is why it is such a place of “still waters” (Psalm 23:2) for me.

All that said, being with other people who quilt could also pull me into that old competitive, selfish state. I’m aware of the danger so last night asked the Lord to keep me alert and in His will. He did that and more; He showed me that I can be “in the world but not of the world” in this creative pursuit.

In other words, the warning is not to stay away from these people who may or may not have godly hearts, but to stay away from any polluted attitudes in my own heart. It is not the activity that is a danger, but my sinfulness. As my Savior, He is most concerned about my heart.

Perhaps God will use me as salt and light in that place and with those people. He may not, but either way, His presence and His Spirit make me aware that because Christ lives in me I do not have to join in with others who have ungodly attitudes. Instead, He can use our common interest as a way for me to spend time with people who need Him.

June 16, 2010

To Live is Christ — staying out of the dirt

The word “unclean” can have many connotations. It could be me after digging potatoes or a boy after scrubbing an off-road vehicle. It could be the condition of that perfect strawberry that falls into a mud puddle. It could be a leper’s cry in New Testament times as a warning that others should not come near. It is the way a woman feels after she is raped. It could be some foods forbidden in the Old Testament. In the following context, it is none of those.
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14–18)
In the dictionary of God, unclean is thinking and acting contrary to His will, including the worship of idols. I’ve heard the expression, “He has a dirty mind” or “He has a dirty mouth” referring to illicit sexual desires and saying bad words. Nevertheless, God says all sin is unclean, thoughts, words, and actions.

In this context, as in the rest of the Bible, unbelief is also sin, as are the plans and activities of those who are not motivated by faith. In fact, Paul wrote in a passage about eating food offered to idols, “whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)

The implications of this are huge. It means that a great deal of life could be “unclean” and not acceptable, not because it is gross sin like idolatry or murder, but because it is done my way, with self-centered motivations, not thinking about God or what He might want in each situation. One definition of sin is “falling short of the mark.” I do that — often.

Theologians talk about sin as “total depravity” which means that sin affects my total being. Every aspect of my life is touched by sin. Nothing is pure — apart from the work of God to forgive and cleanse sin from my life. (See more)

When I was a new Christian, my first mentor gave me an exercise. She told me to define sin and use the entire Bible to do it. When I was finished, if I’d had any thoughts that I could earn or deserve my salvation, they were gone. I realized just how much I needed mercy and a Savior to rescue me from sin.

Being willing to have sin exposed so it can be confessed and cleansed by God is a blessing from Him. I don’t enjoy the process, but these devotional verses from 2 Corinthians remind me once again how important it is. God wants me clean and pure. He wants me to stay away from anything that has a corrupting influence.

The purification process is God’s design. He uses the blood of Christ in a legal sense, and the power of the Holy Spirit in a practical sense. When I agree with Him about sin, He somehow washes it away, not just the guilt of it, but also the desire to do it. The process can be instant, or it can take some time. Either way, He is thorough and effective. He knows how to remove the dirt and change my life. My part is to stay out of the dirt.

June 15, 2010

To Live is Christ — here, but not here

Some religious groups separate themselves from the world by their clothing and lifestyle, refusing to use telephones and automobiles. Some Christian denominations separate themselves by the way they do their hair, or the activities they reject. What does God say about these things?
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14–18)
A yoke implies pulling the same plow, being hitched to the same harness. The other words used here tell me that I must be careful to unite myself only to projects initiated by the Holy Spirit.

This does not exclude working and being with unbelievers. God often sends His people into situations where we can be witnesses. He may want someone to see a child of God “in action” and living a holy life. It is clear to me that I can do many things, but my reasons for doing them cannot be the same reasons that drive those without Christ. To have their motivations would yoke or unite me to them, and God says no to that kind of harmony.

Biblical separation is not a matter of being “different” in externals only. It is first a matter of the heart. When my heart is cognizant of who I am in Christ, I will behave unlike those who have no relationship with Him. That behavior will make me different from them, yet those differences must originate in the heart.

This is not about shunning everything that the world does. That would mean moving to planet X, because there is no escaping some sort of crossover. Some examples: The world uses computers. Do these verses mean that I toss my PC in the garbage? The neighbors cut their grass and dig their weeds. Does the Bible mean that I should stop doing the same things? They eat and drink . . . of course I can do some things they do.

Primarily, both of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians address the issue of idols, something that threatened those believers. This passage is more about idols than computers and cutting grass. It is about being holy and devoted to God in a world that has largely set Him aside in favor of other pursuits. It is about avoiding idolatry and embracing holiness.

It also is about finding out what idolatry and holiness mean. I can enjoy a television show without worshiping the TV set. I can use my cell phone without worshiping technology. I can also laugh with an unsaved friend and be holy. Holiness does not fly out the window if I play games with my grandchildren or go shopping with an unbelieving neighbor. Holiness is much deeper than that.

The Corinthian Christians were challenged because they lived in an ungodly, idolatrous city. My world is no different. God wants me to be “in” this world, but not “of” this world. The only way to accomplish that is by remembering which family I belong to, who my Father is, and that He lives in my heart.

June 14, 2010

To Live is Christ — one moment at a time

Sometimes the truth of Scripture is experienced like a range of mountains, or an unfolding rose. It can apply to the whole of life, but also the details. I’m not sure I can explain this macro-micro thing. Maybe it can be illustrated.

One example is the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. Read without knowledge of the future, the first coming and the second coming of Christ are not distinct and appears as one event. This is part of the reason that the Jews expected a conquering Savior, not One who would die for their sin, but One who would establish political freedom. As the truth unfolded, it was like the plot of a mystery where the pieces of the story gradually come together at the end, but are a puzzle at first, each clue necessary to the whole thing.

This is the way with spiritual experience also. The truth of God is always there, always true. However, my experience is that He reveals a little at a time, mostly because I cannot bear to know all things at once, or that I am not open to it, or that I simply cannot grasp it.

As it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
If God gave me everything I know now back when I first believed, my mind would not and could not grasp most of it. Its importance would be lost to me too, because He generally reveals truth as it is needed. I am most receptive when in a pickle and needing answers. Bible college is great, yet the school of life creates lessons that have greater impact.

Another aspect of this macro-micro concept is that the verse for today has this overall lifelong application described above, but it is also true in each instance of my daily walk. God impressed this on my heart yesterday. I’d prepared a lesson for my Sunday Bible class. Although I’d prayed and agonized over it, I didn’t feel that it was a good lesson. Various stresses throughout the week had taken a toll too. As we drove to the church yesterday morning, I’d never felt so weak, not physically but spiritually. I told my husband this was awful. I could not see how this class would be a blessing to anyone, nor could I teach it. He prayed for me, but the immediate future seemed dark and not very inviting.

When the class started, I told them it had been a tough lesson to prepare and I needed their help. The next hour was astounding. God gave insights to the ladies that blessed all of us. By the end of it, one lady told me that was a marvelous class and she was so glad to be there. As I taught and listened to the women discuss the Scriptures, God also revealed some rich and deep truth that I must take time to explore. Given my earlier sense of weakness, this totally amazed me.

This also illustrates this principle of unfolding, although that is not the right word. The truth of 1 Corinthians 2:9 is for the big picture and the whole of our spiritual experience, but it is also true for the micro-picture of daily life. My eyes cannot see what the future holds, not ten years ahead, not even an hour from now. My ears cannot hear, even if someone says, “God will bless you.” Unless God opens my eyes and ears and puts reality into my heart, I am clueless about the future. Assurance is of God. Lack of it is scary.

My heart is prone to forget the blessings of the past, to forget the faithfulness of God. When I feel as if I am weak, I forget that His power is perfected in weakness. I know that it true, yet when my heart has its door shut, all of this cannot enter.

Yet God enters. He brings in truth, reveals it to me, opens my eyes, gives me understanding. Sometimes He does it with His Word or with insights. Yesterday He did it with the happenings of my life. Again, I am humbled by His grace and in awe of His power. This reality makes me realize once again how much I need Him. He prepares for me a place in heaven that I cannot see or grasp, but He also prepares for me each day blessings that I cannot predict. How marvelous, how wonderful, is the amazing grace and power of God.

June 13, 2010

To Live is Christ — one day at a time

My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her mid-seventies. The symptoms showed a few years earlier. She was a Christian, and I’m certain that her attitude toward her decline had its origins in the Holy Spirit. She was upset at the diagnosis, but after a day of wrestling with it, she said, “I suppose a lot worse could happen to me than losing my memory.”

She retained her sense of humor and her ability to accept the challenges of her life right to the end. I’ve often said that I want to be like her when I grow up, yet in saying that, I wonder if the same dementia will be my fate.

As it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
When I read this verse with that in mind, and with all that I’ve been writing about the past few days concerning this verse, I understand even more why God should be in charge of what I know about the future. Otherwise, knowing what will happen could be a burden as well as a delight.

The delight is that He does reveal good things. I know I will spend eternity with Him. I know that the struggle with sin and with the challenges of life will end. Revelation 21:3-4 says, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

A little further on in Revelation, God promises a river of life, healing of the nations, and no more curse. I will see the face of Jesus, and I will be like Him. What could be more wonderful!

The burden is the time between now and then. Aging is not for sissies. Getting old brings with it physical and mental challenges. Some go into their later years with good health in general, yet aches and pains because their bodies are wearing out. Others have memory challenges. My father had TIA’s or a type of stroke that took little chunks of both physical and mental strength.

My eye cannot see, nor does my mind know what lies ahead for me. Looking back, I’m glad that I didn’t know ahead of time what difficulties I have faced already. That would have been too much to carry. Getting out of bed in the morning would have been a challenge, never mind living in worried anticipation.

Yet I wonder. Will I go the same route as my mother? Or my father? Will my aging bring loss of memory and the inability to do anything that I now enjoy? I do not want to live now in anxiety about the future. However, that anxiety creeps in now and then. I’ll do the sensible thing and have my doctor test for various things. Medical science is constantly developing new ways to lessen the impact of the ailments of aging. Yet at the same time, the rest of that verse in 1 Corinthians is my anchor. It says that although I cannot see the future, it has been prepared for me by God. It speaks of my love for Him, but I know that all His plans are rooted in His love for me.

What then shall I say to these things? If God is for me, who can be against me? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for me, how shall He not with Him also freely give me all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for me. Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things I am more than a conqueror through Him who loved me. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31–39, personalized)

June 12, 2010

To Live is Christ — totally trusting, even without seeing

Faith in Jesus Christ is sometimes ridiculed as “blind” and “pie in the sky.” While this is not entirely true, faith has elements of both thoughts. The ridicule happens because those who do not believe only see a small part of what it means to trust God. They cannot see what I see.

“Blind” faith is thrown around because Christians believe in Someone that is invisible. Perhaps the scoffers think God is like the invisible friend invented by a child to be with them in their play or in troubled times.

While God does that for me, I didn’t invent Him — because I don’t have that capacity. The Bible says, “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10–12)

How could I make up God when my sinful heart isn’t interested in seeking Him or doing what He says?

Instead, God is real and Jesus, God the Son, came to earth to make visible the glory of God, to show blind eyes what He is like. The strange thing is that although He did miracles and rose from the dead, people still refused to seek God. They didn’t want to be saved from sin, so they crucified Jesus, not realizing that by doing so, God could offer them eternal life. Yet apart from “blind” faith, the offer is rejected. The only reason anyone believes in Christ is that God draws us to Him, opens our eyes, gives us faith, and convicts us of our sin.

Even after understanding who Jesus is and that God loves me, forgives me, and draws me into a personal relationship with Him, I still need His revealing power to see and understand the spiritual realm. Scripture affirms this repeatedly.

As it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Even the redeemed are blind. God says I need to walk by faith, not by sight, yet I still want to see, to walk by sight. He gives me understanding of Himself, yet so easily I go my own way and do my own thing. Is it because I am in constant need of this revelation of what God is doing in my life? I know that is true.

Every day I am drawn to Scripture. I’ve no idea what the day will hold and have learned how easily my plans can fall by the wayside. Life is uncertain, and even the little things are unpredictable. If this were not true, worry would never be a problem. In fact, those most keenly aware of this unpredictability are most inclined to struggle with worry.

Yet God affirms. My faith is not in what I know, or the clarity of my future. It is in Him, the One who is sovereign. I can walk with my hand in His — even with my eyes shut — and still be confident. I can walk in faith along the darkest path and through the darkest night, through deep and horrible trials, not because I can see, but because He has shown me that He is faithful.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Faith is not about seeing what’s coming, but about trusting the One who controls what is coming. I am blind as far as the future, but clear as crystal regarding faith’s true object, the God of the Universe, who is also my Friend.

Faith is also about “pie in the sky” — which is a skeptic’s description of my heavenly destination. Faith assures me of it, not because I can see it but because God has said it is waiting for me. He has revealed to my heart and mind that He is who He claims to be, that His glory is seen in His Son. I know that I can trust Him.

People can mock blind faith, but I know that the One who I cannot see exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. This is far better than trusting anything that I can see. No matter what that might be, all things other than God have too many strikes against them. Nothing but God is eternal. No one but God can deliver on every promise. I cannot trust myself; I’ve already realized the folly of that. I must trust Him who is invisible. He is unseen, yet He also reveals Himself and His faithfulness to those who humbly put their hand in His.

June 11, 2010

To Live is Christ — waiting without procrastinating

Each week brings new surprises. My intention Monday was to get through my to-do list. It keeps growing and had become burdensome. However, the list is almost the same today as five days ago.

Part of it is my own fault. I am distracted by an email from a realtor whose list I’ve been on since we looked at vacation properties three years ago. Instead of lopping an item off my list, I waste precious minutes looking at his latest listings.

Part of it I can blame on Microsoft. Those endless Vista updates put computer work on hold until the downloads are installed. Of course I could jump up and put effort into some non-computer item, but I don’t.

The bigger problem is those unexpected interruptions. The hot water tank starts leaking so a plumber comes to give an estimate. A project I think is finished needs more revisions. A new package of crackers is stale upon opening and must be returned. Then there are those inevitable telemarketers who get a polite, “Will you please remove our number from your list” yet I’m sure they simply sell it to another of their ilk to steal more of my time.

This morning God challenges me to take another look at the unexpected interruptions of life. Yesterday, He showed me that the following verse is not about heaven, but the unseen mysteries of God’s plan for me, mysteries that I will not and cannot see — unless He reveals them. 

But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Because God is sovereign, then all that comes my way is by His design or at least by His permission. When the phone rings, God is ultimately behind the call. When the neighbors needs help, God put me on their mind. When the email piles up, at the very least, God is testing my resolve. Will I be prompt and courteous? Will I focus only on what is important? Will I maximize computer down time by doing something else that needs to be done?

That word “waiting” brings to mind one of God’s promises. In the pressure of several deadlines and twice as many interruptions, I’ve felt my blood pressure go up and my energy levels go down. For this, God says to me . . . 

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28–31)
God will get me through, yet His ways are not my ways. I assume that if I work harder and stay focused, then the job will get done. Others tell me to take naps to avoid being overtired, or to dump the list and forget the deadlines. Yet God promises me all the resources I need — if I wait on Him. He may govern the unexpected interruptions, but He also governs insight, imagination, creative ideas, and anything else I might need to deal with every responsibility in my life.

I can see a big picture. God controls what comes at me and wants me to bring it all back to Him, in faith, trusting Him for all necessary resources. When I do that, He renews me. When I don’t, I forget that He is in charge and I get stressed and even annoyed at trivia, try to handle everything by myself, and wind up worn out and ready to throw in the towel.

My eyes cannot see what is coming. My mind cannot make sense of “waiting” to gain strength. These realities are part of the mystery of faith. God reveals what He has prepared for me — but I need to be obedient, do what He says, and trust Him. In His realm, waiting does not slow His people down, nor is it another interruption.

June 10, 2010

To Live is Christ — totally dependent

Today’s devotional verse is one that I’ve wrongly interpreted in the past. I thought that it was talking about the mysteries of heaven, but to get that interpretation, I pulled it out of context and failed to look closely enough.
But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
While this may be true about heaven that is not the intended focus. I realized this when I looked at the source of this quote. It apparently came from Isaiah 64:4, but when I read that verse carefully, there are some differences. 
For since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any God besides You, who acts for the one who waits for Him. (Isaiah 64:4)
Did Paul misquote Isaiah? What is going on here? As I began looking into this, I found this in a commentary . . .  
Men might hear with the outward ear, but they could only by the Spirit “perceive” with the “heart” the spiritual significancy of God’s acts, both those in relation to Israel, primarily referred to (in Isaiah) and those relating to the Gospel secondarily, which Paul refers to (in 1 Corinthians).
This tells me that Paul’s “quote” was not intended to be verbatim. He was quoting an Old Testament truth, not the exact words. He was rephrasing what Isaiah said just as I sometimes say, “In other words. . . .”

With that, I see that both verses are about the inability of the human mind to discern what God is doing unless the Holy Spirit reveals it. My eyes are not good enough to see God in action. My ears are not keen enough to hear His voice. My heart cannot discern what He is doing in my life. For this, the context says,

But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:10–12)
Just as I cannot know what someone else is thinking unless they tell me, I also cannot know what God is doing unless He tells me. Today, He is telling me that today’s devotional verse is not about heaven; it is about right now. It is about seeing the work of God in my life and the mystery and purpose He has for me. Paul and Isaiah both affirm that apart from the Spirit showing me, I cannot see God at all.

This is a wonderful reality. It is also humbling. I tend to think of myself as reasonably smart and discerning, but He says that without His Spirit, I am blind and ignorant of God and His ways. This means that I not only am unable to see what He is doing in the lives of others and in the rest of the world, but I cannot discern His dealings with me either. I cannot “get it” apart from the Holy Spirit revealing it to me.

When Paul wrote these verses in 1 Corinthians, he was operating under a similar reality concerning revelation from God. The Holy Spirit showed him the significance of this Old Testament truth from Isaiah 64:4 in two ways. It spoke to the blindness of God’s people then, and the blindness of the human heart now.

The difference between what I glean from Scripture and what Paul saw in Isaiah is that Paul was using what the Holy Spirit gave him to write Scripture. (Note that in the following verses, prophecy is not about telling the future. This word simply means telling forth the Word of God.)

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19–21)
The Spirit gave Paul the truth from Isaiah that he might share it with others, writing it for generations to come. My role in receiving revelation is to realize that all truth is from God, and I am supposed to heed it — pay attention to it — do what it says. I may not see the results of my obedience, but I am to obey anyway.

In the days ahead, I am certain God will show me more about this verse. Right now, I need to humbly thank Him for freely revealing truth to me. I also must also continue to love and wait on Him.

June 9, 2010

To Live is Christ — reading all that He has revealed

While some Christians never read the Old Testament because they think it no longer has any meaning for them, they might be forgetting that the early Christians had no other Scripture. In fact, the New Testament says,
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
Through reading the Old Testament, I learn about the patience (or perseverance) of God and am comforted that He never gives up on His plans.

In this week’s passage, the words of the Lord are directed to the nation of Israel, not to the church. Although these words are about them, I can see specific meaning and instruction in them for me. The passage also reveals much about God. 

Then the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place. For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually. As for you, if you walk before Me as your father David walked, and do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not fail to have a man as ruler in Israel.’ “But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods, and worship them, then I will uproot them from My land which I have given them; and this house which I have sanctified for My name I will cast out of My sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. (2 Chronicles 7:12–20)
From these verses, I understand that God hears prayer. He also decides where we must worship and how our sacrifices and service ought to be offered to Him.

The passage says that God controls the weather, the activity of insects and presumably the actions of all other critters. He can even send a plague on humanity if He chooses, but He can also reverse all these things and bless the land and its people.

God looks for humble hearts, listens for prayer, waits for repentance and longs for purity and obedience in His people. He wants those who follow Him to uphold His name. He is with us and watches us as we live before Him. He can also establish my position in life, particularly as I obey Him. He is faithful to keep His promises. All these things are to me a comfort and a hope.

This Old Testament passage also warns about idolatry and says He can uproot those who fall away from Him, making their lives a shambles. He warns that the world will notice when God deals with the disobedience of His people.

These warnings to His chosen people are dire and differ in some ways from God’s promises in the New Testament. In it, I am told that God will never leave me or forsake me. This isn’t because He has changed His mind about the seriousness of sin, but because He has changed my mind about sin. Unlike Israel of old, I have the Spirit of God living in me, even the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). Because of that, I don’t want to forsake Him. Further, although I still sometimes sin, by His grace He forgives, restores and renews me each day.

The richness of God’s character and the power of His being as seen in the Old Testament give me great joy and even more reason to celebrate the grace revealed in Jesus Christ. Some parts may not make sense (yet), but God encourages me to keep reading. To know Him more intimately means to read everything that He has revealed about Himself.