July 31, 2010

To Live is Christ — my hiding place

When I was small, we lived on a farm with many trees. Just behind the house in a grove of poplars and huge caragana bushes, I bent branches and wove them into a cave made of leaves. In this space, I hid my childish treasures and often curled up there, hidden from the world. In this space, I felt as if nothing and no one could harm me.

After I grew up, I went back to that farm. The trees seemed so small. I could not find my cave, only the spot where it had been. The memory of it makes me smile. How many children also construct hiding places? For me, there were no outside threats. I had good parents and although ill a few times, I had no reason to seek refuge. I simply wanted my own hiding place. Did I feel closer to God there? Is this desire simply part of the human psyche?

God knows that even adults often want to hide from the world. Threats, real or imagined, large or small, drive the human yearning for vacations and to feel like running away from home. A retreat or an escape is nice, but He offers something better . . . 

Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah. (Psalm 62:8)
Because I trust Him and because I can pour out my heart to Him in total confidence that He hears and cares about me, God is also my refuge, even the best refuge. Being in His presence gives me a sense of security, a sense of safety. Others say that in the will of God there is no safer place.

I was reading Jeremiah this morning and noticed how God repeatedly said that if the people obeyed Him, He would bless them, but if they stepped outside His will, their lives would be filled with trouble. In this sense, God is also a refuge. While the world can dish out stress that makes me want to hide, I can also bring it on myself. Hiding in God, and seeking the center of His will, is a huge stress-buster. Obeying Him relieves stress.

Jesus said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). While He may have been talking to those burdened by trying earn God’s favor, this promise also applies to me when I take on too much, when the world throws too much at me, or when I am just worn out from the usual burdens of life.

The Lord is my resting place, my place to hide from it all, and my place to store all my treasures. Best of all, I will never outgrow my need for Him and He will never fade away or cease to be there for me. In Him, I am safe. I can trust Him at all times, talk to Him about anything, and enjoy His presence and protection forever. Selah!

July 30, 2010

To Live is Christ — talking to my Father

In a discussion about prayer, one woman said that she was often confused and even angry about the way another person treated her. Someone asked if she had told God how she felt. She replied, “Oh, I could never talk to God that way. It would be disrespectful.”

Her response startled me. I’ve read the Psalms and noticed how many are prayers where the writer is expressing the deepest anguish of their heart. God doesn’t seem to mind if we dump on Him. Who better to hear our innermost thoughts?

Since then, I have to admit that I sometimes listen to how people are praying rather than praying along with them. The prayers that bless me the most are not those where the person speaks as if they are in a formal meeting or in front of an English professor. I’m most blessed when someone simply pours out their heart.

Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah (Psalm 62:8)
God must feel the same way because He asks us to do that in this verse and in many other places in the Bible. He wants to hear our deepest desires and thoughts. My devotional reading says, “Pour, not drip or trickle.”

I’ve prayed those trickle prayers. Sometimes I’ve been conscious of others in the room and want my prayer to ‘sound right’ rather than have the broken sentences of poured-out prayers. Sometimes I feel that the situation is not right to deluge those around me with what I could pour out toward God. I’m continually in need of the reminder that prayer is not a conversation with a prayer partner or other praying people; prayer is talking with God.

In our home, my husband asks God’s blessing at our meals. When we are alone, he often asks me to do it. When our family is here, he usually prays, but on days like Father’s Day or his birthday, the children ask me to pray. Last time, one of them said, “We don’t get to hear mom pray very often.”

Because their spiritual lives are not as healthy as they could be, I am instantly aware of the importance of how I pray, but I’m also aware that this is not the place to preach a sermon in a prayer. I am talking to God, not my children.

Turning the direction of prayer from a local audience to the One who hears and answers requires a distinct choice. For me, this often involves discerning whether I am trusting Him at all times. Am I trusting Him right now, as I pray? Or am I going to use my prayer to manipulate others?

The spiritual condition and attitudes of those who listen are not my responsibilities. Although I know God can use the prayers of His people to touch the hearts of those who eavesdrop, He still asks me to simply pour out my heart to Him.

July 29, 2010

To Live is Christ — pouring out my heart

It is said that many people, particularly women, sort out thoughts much better when they verbalize them. I’m not sure of the reasons for this, but it might be part of why women generally need to say many more words than men.

For me, with many attention-deficit symptoms, speaking what I am thinking helps me focus, and what comes out sometimes amazes me. This week, the elder in charge of Christian education in our church asked if I would teach again in the fall. As I explained to him what I was planning, I was surprised. My mouth articulated my plan much clearer than what I had figured out in my mind.

It is the same with writing. When I read a piece out loud, the parts that need editing and revision are much more clearly defined. Perhaps it is the combination of seeing and hearing that gives it a one-two punch.

Reading the Word of God aloud has a similar effect. If I read silently, my mind can wander. My eyes see the words but my thoughts drift elsewhere. Focus and impact increase when I read it aloud.

Prayer is like that too. I often go for a long walk and take my prayer list with me. Praying out loud might result in a neighbor calling “the little men in the white coats” so I mouth the words, even whisper, instead. Not only does this keep me on track, it also helps me do what today’s devotional verse says.

Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah (Psalm 62:8)
Pouring out my heart almost demands speaking aloud, at least for me. With my easily distracted and scatted mind, the words have to be said. Even then, they are often jumbled and my thoughts seem to jump all over the place. Staying on topic is a problem, but the bigger problem is that my heart seems so full of so many things, that when I pour it out, the flow is anything but a logical order.

After a verbal outpouring, those who do it often say they feel much better. That suggests that this kind of prayer is therapeutic. I think that is part of why we do it. God wants His people to enjoy life and feeling good is okay. But prayer is more than that. It is communication with our Creator and Redeemer. It is telling Him our joys and sorrows and experiencing His presence. It is asking Him to do what is best in our lives and the lives of others.

Sometimes when I pour out my heart, I feel like I am dumping on God. He welcomes that because it is an expression of trusting Him at all times. However, He also wants me to be silent while I pray as while. It is during these silences that He speaks. His Word comes into my mind and I know that I am not just yakking into the air. This is amazing.

Prayer is a mystery in some ways also. How can God listen to all who pray? There could be millions of voices lifted to Him at any given time. And why should God want to talk with me? I am nothing. Yet He says to come, to ask for all things, and even to pour out my heart.

July 28, 2010

To Live is Christ — relying on my Father

Sometimes God reveals what His Word says about a matter after I’ve experienced the truth of it. This week someone mocked the way I do things, putting down my attempts to be organized and active. I didn’t defend myself. I just know that “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33) and that I am supposed to keep busy in my home (Titus 2:5).

Even so, the ridicule bothered me. The next day I poured out my thoughts to God, just as the verse I’ve been reading says. As I did, God helped me. My emotions soon turned from “poor me” to concern and prayer for the attitude of the person who did this. Then this morning I notice the context of that verse . . . 

My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah. Surely men of low degree are a vapor, men of high degree are a lie; if they are weighed on the scales, they are altogether lighter than vapor. (Psalm 62:5–9)
Despite wanting to retaliate, God helped me hold my tongue. Instead, I began asking Him to purify my own thinking. Wait silently for God. He is my defense. I shall not be moved.

As I prayed, the Holy Spirit assured me that He will take care of the other person. I need to focus on being like Jesus. He reminds me of these verses . . . 

For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, 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 2:20–23)
Jesus didn’t fight back. He silently trusted the Lord and committed His situation to the One who knows all things and will judge righteously, not in frustration or annoyance. Trust in Him at all times . . . God is a refuge for us.

The last part of the passage in Psalm 62 puts things in perspective.  . . . If they are weighed on the scales, they are altogether lighter than vapor.

In the whole scheme of things, the opinions of people really do not matter very much. God’s opinions are vital and it is to God that I must give account, not anyone else. If He approves, who can criticize?

I didn’t think of it then (probably because I would have said it with the wrong attitude), but today God also reassures me with these verses written by Paul . . . 

It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God. (1 Corinthians 4:3–5)
Just as I have been thinking, each day is a test. Some are small (including this one). Others are fraught with horrid events. Many other days are carefree and seemingly uneventful. No matter what each day brings, He wants me to simply trust Him with everything and at all times.

July 27, 2010

To Live is Christ — tested by life

Life happens, and life is a test. My responses to the events of life show me (and others) where I place my trust. When stuff happens, am I quick to rely on God? Or do I pull out my old ways and attempt to cope with unchristian ideas and methods — until they fail (as they inevitably do) and then turn to God? Today’s verse explains the passing mark for these tests.
Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah (Psalm 62:8)
Life includes happy and sad events. It offers temptations when I am hurting or uncomfortable, and temptations when I feel great and all is well. This verse says to trust Him at all times; good times and bad, joyful times and when in deep sorrow.

For some, trusting God is easier during the hard times. Their sense of helplessness and need drives them to a higher power. For others, hard times bring them into doubt and they begin questioning the goodness of God.

For some trusting God is easier during the good times. They equate His love and care for them in physical and material blessings. Should the blessings be withdrawn, trust goes with them. For others, good times lead them into a comfortable lull and trusting God is forgotten in the enjoyment of life.

Where am I? I have been on all sides of this testing fence. Right now, I might think that I am trusting God, but a reversal in my circumstances, one way or the other, would reveal whether I actually am or not.

I think I trust God for my daily bread. If my husband lost his job or we had a financial reversal of some kind, would I still trust the Lord? I have no idea. I’d like to think so, but unless that test comes, I don’t know.

I think I trust God to take care of my family. But if one of them were killed in an accident, what would happen to my trust? I don’t want this test to happen, but it could, and such a severe test would certainly bring out what I believe about the sovereign wisdom of my God.

I think I trust God with my eternal destiny. However, as soon as I wrote that sentence, I wondered how this could be tested? Perhaps I’d wonder about it if I disobeyed God severely. Would He then take this gift of eternal life from me? But I know that cannot happen. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
I do not deserve eternal life and I did not earn it. I didn’t conjure up my ability to trust God either. As these wonderful verses say, faith itself is a gift from God — and God does not take away His gifts. Faith may struggle at times, but because I have the life of Jesus, I also have His gift of faith and eternal life.

Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47) and Paul wrote, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).

“Has” is present tense. “Everlasting” is forever, all the time, no ending. Because faith is a gift from God, it is “irrevocable” meaning not able to be changed, reversed, or recovered.

This is great assurance. Life can toss at me all it wants as a threat against my eternal destiny and I will not flunk the test because God keeps His Word. He isn’t going to “unsave” me because I have lapses in my judgment concerning Him. I was not given eternal life on that basis anyway. He saved me by His grace, which is not based on my faithfulness or lack of it.

This holds true for all other tests. Faith is grounded on the faithfulness of God. That rises above my puny abilities, but also above the fickleness of life. Life happens. Negatives are the result of living in a sin-filled world, but the power of God is that even the negatives can be used for my good (Romans 8:28-29).

Sometimes I fall into doubt, or at least flunk a life-test now and then by becoming anxious or worried or questioning. However, God always reminds me that He is holding on to me. I can pour out my thoughts to Him and take refuge in His incredible promises — because He keeps all of them with incredible faithfulness.

July 26, 2010

To Live is Christ — my hiding place

Yesterday we were spent some time at a home with the most magnificent backyard I’ve ever seen. It was a sanctuary, a peaceful and relaxing place. We didn’t want to leave.

Our world is filled with stressful events and threats. Anyone who reads the newspaper or watches television news is aware of danger in many forms. Media has this “If it bleeds, it leads” mentality and because of that, we are bombarded with negativity. Thus the appeal of a secluded and tranquil garden — it gives a sense of being away from all that.

Gardens are not our only refuge. For some, it is the inside of the house. Others escape to the beach or the mountains or a retreat center. For the people of God, our refuge is God Himself. 

Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah (Psalm 62:8)
The first part of this verse is important. I could not consider God as my refuge if I did not trust Him always. No one would sit easily on a chair that had once collapsed or be at peace in a bed that swayed with every movement. God is firm, a stalwart in my life. I know that He is faithful in the good times and when all else is dangerous and threatening. I can run to Him and be sure that He is there for me.

Not only that, I can also pour out my heart to Him. He understands. He knows what I am going through. Jesus, who is also my intercessor, experienced every negative thing that I experience.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
In His humanness, He knows my struggles and feels my pain. He welcomes me into His confidence with empathy and gracious understanding.

Further, I can trust my innermost thoughts with Him. He doesn’t tell me the secrets of others; He does not give up my confidences either. He is a perfect friend as well as my divine refuge.

“Selah” appears often in the Psalms. It is thought to be a musical term. It means to lift up or exalt. It also means to pause and could be a musical accent. That little word tells me that I need to stop and think about the words of this verse. They are more than “nice” words, more than a gentle reminder. This is how God wants me to live; trusting Him at all times, pouring out my heart to Him, and running to Him as my hiding place and my strong tower. Selah says stop, consider this, take it to heart and exalt God.

Gardens are wonderful, as are other places of refuge. However, they become weedy, require maintenance, and are not always available. God is perfect and without flaw. He is always here, always ready to hide me in His wonderful peace and lasting care. As Isaiah says (26:3), “You will keep me in perfect peace; my mind is stayed on You, because I trust in You.

July 25, 2010

To Live is Christ — forever

Yesterday a local radio station carried a paid advertising program about funeral arrangements. The representative from the funeral home and the radio announcer agreed that because death is not a pleasant topic, many people do not prearrange anything, leaving their family to make important decisions while grieving.

This reminds me of the funeral of my nephew. He died in his early thirties from a lymphoma. The pastor who spoke said that one of the most important things that Christians can do in preparation for physical death is to tell their family and friends of our assurance about eternity. He said not to let the day go by without making sure that my loved ones know that I know where I am going when I die.

This pastor also gave a good explanation about the need for settling things with God before that happens. Too many folks say things like, “I’ve been a good person and have to hope that is enough” or “When you are dead, you are dead.” They fail to realize that our goodness is nothing in the sight of God. They also do not understand that when the Bible talks about death, it often means something other than the end of physical life. 

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4–7)
In this verse, “dead” means spiritual death. This, like physical death, is a form of separation only instead of being separated from our bodies, the spiritually dead person is separated from God by sin.

Both kinds of deadness have a cure, an antidote. The answer is found in Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5 explains how God took my sin and put it on Christ, and took His righteousness and put it on me. Verse 21 says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Because of that transaction that only God can do, then, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

This means that God’s mercy and grace removed the sin that separated me from Him. He put me “in Christ” and gave me new life, the life of Christ. This overrules spiritual deadness. I am alive because of Jesus, just as the above verses from Ephesians describe.

Further, this is no “hope so” faith. The Bible is clear and my experience agrees concerning this new life; I know that it is mine. The Word of God says so.

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:13)
I also know because of my experience. That deadness is gone and I am no longer separated from God. His new life brings with it an awareness of Him. I am aware of His presence, of being with Him, no longer separate. Also, I can now talk about death and funerals without hesitation or uneasiness. This new life has a powerful and positive persuasive assurance about it . . . 
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 my Lord. (Romans 8:38–39)
That radio program made me think about the wonder of salvation and verses like Hebrews 2:14–15. 
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
Death has no sting. Jesus conquered it by a greater power — His own life. Because of His life, freely offered to all who repent of their sin and believe in Him, both physical and spiritual death have lost their power.

July 24, 2010

To Live is Christ — sitting

A follower of Christ wrote a book based on Ephesians. Its title is, “Sit, Walk, Stand” because he noted that this is the order of things for those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ.

The “sit” part refers to my position in Christ. As it suggests, I am at rest. I have ceased from my own labor to earn my salvation and am resting in the grace of God and in the wonder that He sent His Son to die for my sins and give me eternal life. This life is free to all who ask, all who are willing to simply sit, resting in Jesus and trusting Him.

Another aspect of this position in Christ is that I am entirely united with Christ. He told His disciples that where He is, they were there with Him. Since He is in heaven seated at the right hand of His Father, I am seated there also. 

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4–7)
This is not fancy talk or figurative. It is expressed in the present tense. That is, in the mind of the God whose existence is not bound by place and time, I am seated with Jesus right now. To Him who does not use a Timex or a Rolex, this is so certain and so real that He says I am already there. Sitting.

Sometimes I picture myself on a park bench leaning against the shoulder of Jesus, either telling Him my troubles or just enjoying His presence. I have a hammock built like a sling. When I sit in it, I can easily picture myself held in the hand of God. How I love to sit with Jesus.

The book says that walking comes after sitting. I agree. I cannot move forward in Christian service or any activities until I draw from Him the direction He wants me to take, even the destination. Certainly sitting is part of how He gives me strength and all details needed for my journey. Sit first then walk. However, I’ve learned that the attitude of sitting or resting in Christ is also part of the walking. One flows into the other.

After walking, Ephesians talks about standing. It refers to being firmly in place in my faith. I know what my life stands for, and am alert against all obstacles. I am also ready to hear His voice. Will He bid me to walk again, or to sit? Again, no matter the actions, that attitude of resting in Him permeates me as I stand.

If I sat all the time literally, I would become spiritually stagnant. As a stream needs outlet as well as input, I need to put to use and give motion to whatever He gives me on that park bench. However, when I am not walking or standing, He bids me over and over to simply come, renew my strength and sit with Him.

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July 23, 2010

To Live is Christ — PBPGIFWMY

Last night I finished a novel that had one of those endings I wanted to rewrite. Throughout the story, the characters faced conflict between their sinful selves and the Holy Spirit who lived in them. As with my experience, the Holy Spirit is true to the promises of God. While His people may slide backwards, He eventually brings us back to Himself. But this book finished with one of the main characters sliding backwards. The end.

I know, life sometimes looks like that, but in this story I felt left with no closure, no sense of the redemptive power of God, although it was clearly illustrated throughout the rest of the book. Is there a sequel in the works? Was this a cliff-hanger designed to entice me to purchase the next book?

I went to sleep imagining a better ending. While the problems of this character were too large to make a perfect ending, my ending at least showed growth in her. She recognized her sin and yielded herself to the amazing power of God. Life is not a novel, yet walking with God holds great promise for happy endings. 

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4–7)
Feasting on these words soothes that taste of “unfinished” left in my mouth from that book. The Book affirms that God is rich in mercy. He makes us alive in Christ. He gives us victory over sin. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

We will end well. Even each battle has a purpose toward that ending. Romans 8:28-29 promises this, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. . . .”

I suppose if my life were a novel and the author stopped in any one of a number of places, readers would feel robbed of a good ending. At times, I’ve skittered out of control, or seemed to regress in my spiritual walk with Jesus. Ending the novel at that place would present an incomplete picture of how the Lord works. It would be a poor testimony of His grace. But my story does not end there.

The letters PBPGIFWMY stand for, “Please be patient; God isn’t finished with me yet.” I sometimes put them at the bottom of a note or an email, and think that the author of that novel should have at least placed them on the last page. They are far more true to the way God does things than “The End” will ever be.

July 22, 2010

To Live is Christ — sitting right beside Him

Yesterday one in my family said they may be taking a trip to Scotland. My first thought? Oh, that heavenly place!

Scotland is wonderful. However, depending on taste, I suppose this world has many “heavenly” places. If I enjoy azure seas and sandy beaches, there are many. If I enjoy lofty snow-capped mountains, there are many. If I delight in forests, there are many forested places as well.

Yet I must admit there is only one heaven, one true heavenly place. When the Bible talks about it, it does not refer to any of the many beauty spots in this world.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4–6)
In these verses, “heavenly places” refer to the supernatural realm of God. While He is everywhere (omnipresent), the Bible speaks of a kingdom that I cannot see with my eyes, the kingdom where God dwells and God rules. This kingdom is also that ‘place’ of my union with Christ, a union that is both real and profound.

The terms in these verses must be understood by their context. Ephesians speaks of the great change experienced by Christians. It tells how we are set free from the condemnation of the law, the dominion of Satan, and the deadness and pollution of sin and spiritual separation from God. It tells how we are reconciled to God by grace through faith, how we share His Spirit, are adopted into His family and are given all the privileges of being His children. All of this is about the life to come, but it is also about life now. As Romans 6:5 says, “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.” This verse agrees that I have died to sin (as Jesus died for sin) and live in the power of new life, life given by God.

This amazing power of God was shown in Jesus when God “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:20). Those heavenly places describe where Christ is now, exalted and seated with the Father. What a wonderful thought, yet if that were not enough, the Bible also says that I share that exaltation with Him. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

Whereas Christ now reigns with God, I am there with Him. I reign with Him. The verbs are present tense, yet how can that be, since I am here? Some say this means my spiritual position — I may be physically still on earth, but in the spiritual realm I am in Christ and with Christ. That is true, but there is more.

Sometimes I think of this in terms of how eternity is defined. Eternity is not about time. No clocks, no past or future. To the mind of God and in eternity, all that we call past, present and future is NOW. I tremble a bit as I write that, because it is much more easily written than imagined. Eternity in those terms astonishes me with the unknown of it, the mystery of past and future being present and now.

When I think about the mind of God, I better understand that it is in eternal terms that I am seated with Christ in heavenly places. It is not “I will be” but, as the Greek verb tenses say it, it is now. This is how God sees me, already in there, already seated with Jesus.

How is this practical? For one thing, this reality makes me very aware of the presence of Jesus Christ. As I think of being seated with Him, it is very easy to lean over and put my head on His shoulder. In the stress of ordinary life, what could be more practical than being able to take my burdens to the caring One that sits right beside me?

July 21, 2010

To Live is Christ — in constant wonder

Moses went up a mountain and received the Ten Commandments from God. His law was chiseled on stone, but when Moses came down the mountain, he discovered God’s people engaged in idolatry and threw the tablets to the ground. God called him back . . . 
At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain and make yourself an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke; and you shall put them in the ark.’ (Deuteronomy 10:1–2)
Although the children of God disobeyed Him, He gave them a second chance, and a third, and a fourth . . . He did not withhold His mercy. Even today, the promise remains that He will restore Israel and bring them back to faith in Him and a place in His kingdom.

The Bible tells me, “Be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us. . . .” (Ephesians 5:1-2) That means I need to imitate the mercy of God on those who sin against me. I need to give people a second chance, and a third, and a fourth. . . . not withholding mercy in the hope that they will repent and turn from sin to God.

If I were a new Christian, I would say this was impossible. Who can do that? I know the ache of a wounded heart and the mistaken notion that angry retaliation will heal it. But I’ve years of walking with God and years of observing His power in the lives of those who love and obey Him. I also know the power of mercy and forgiveness.

I’ve seen a father forgive the person who murdered his son. I’ve seen wives forgive unfaithful husbands. I’ve seen estranged family members restored to loving relationships, and those robbed forgive the thieves. Second chances, third chances and more.

This is the power of God. He works in a person’s heart and changes the way His people think. Instead of anger and retaliation, He can fill us with mercy, empathy, and forgiveness. He brings peace to seemingly unresolvable rifts and makes the stubborn heart soft and compliant. All I need to be like this is in Christ — and Christ lives in me. All I need to be able to show this astonishing mercy is to ask Him. He will change my heart.

The chorus of an old song pops to mind, “The wonder of it all, the wonder of it all. Just to think that God loves me. Oh the wonder of it all, the wonder of it all. Just to think that God loves me” Amen!

July 20, 2010

To Live is Christ — paying attention the first time

My devotional reading for the past few days has a title “A God of Second Chances.” It focuses on a passage where Moses tells what happened after he came from talking with God to find the people in sin. Outraged, he threw the stone tablets God gave him to the ground.
At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain and make yourself an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke; and you shall put them in the ark.’ (Deuteronomy 10:1–2)
God had every reason to destroy the people just as they had broken His laws, yet Moses pleaded for their forgiveness and God gave them another chance. This reminds me of what Jesus said about forgiveness in the New Testament. Both narratives reveal the heart of God. 
Then Peter came to Him (Jesus) and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21–22)
I someone sins against me once, I struggle to forgive them. Yet if I forgive them and they repeat that sin over and over, could I forgive an unlimited number of times? This is what Jesus implies. Also, everything else He said about forgiveness points to this being what God does with my sin — He forgives, repeatedly.

Through the years, how often have I come to God with, “I did it again” in my confession? How long have I struggled with a particular sin, bringing it to God over and over? And how often have I expressed my gratitude to Him for verses like this one?

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Is there a sin too great for God to forgive? Jesus says there is an unforgivable sin. It isn’t clearly described, yet what Jesus does say makes this sound like the sin of denying the Holy Spirit’s witness to my heart. This would be the equivalent of rejecting all that God says, including that I am a sinner and that Jesus is the Savior.

John also speaks in his first epistle of a sin that other Christians do, one that we are not to intercede in prayer for those who do it. This sin is not spelled out either, but there are hints in the New Testament that if a Christian sins repeatedly and hardens their heart toward conviction, God can (and did at times) take their physical life.

In other words, God is patient, forgiving, and endures my foolishness and rebellion, up to a point. He leads me back to Himself over and over. However, I cannot take this for granted. Saying no to God is serious, even though He is a God of second chances.

Proverbs 1:11 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” It is far wiser to heed the commands of God the first time rather than make Him repeat it. He might do that, but only out of mercy. He has every right to do otherwise.

July 19, 2010

To Live is Christ — standing in the gap

These past few days, my devotional reading has focused on these two verses.
At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain and make yourself an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke; and you shall put them in the ark.’ (Deuteronomy 10:1–2)
Their context gives the reason why God repeated the giving of the Ten Commandments. It starts in Deuteronomy 9:11 and since the passage is long, the following are highlights only. Moses is speaking . . . 
At the end of forty days and forty nights, that the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant. Then the Lord said to me, ‘Arise, go down quickly from here, for your people whom you brought out of Egypt have acted corruptly; they have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them; they have made themselves a molded image. . . . I have seen this people, and indeed they are a stiff-necked people. Let Me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.’
Then Moses told the people, “I turned and came down from the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire; and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. And I looked, and behold, you had sinned against the Lord your God—had made for yourselves a molded calf! You had turned aside quickly from the way which the Lord had commanded you. Then I took the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes.”

The passage goes on to describe how Moses, “fell down before the Lord, as at the first, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you committed in doing wickedly in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which the Lord was angry with you, to destroy you.”

Moses had an incredible heart. Would God listen? This man continues, “But the Lord listened to me at that time also. And the Lord was very angry with Aaron and would have destroyed him; so I prayed for Aaron also at the same time. . . .”

After reminding the people of the other occasions when they “provoked the Lord to wrath” and “did not believe Him nor obey His voice” he told them, “I prostrated myself before the Lord; forty days and forty nights I kept prostrating myself, because the Lord had said He would destroy you. Therefore I prayed to the Lord, and said: ‘O Lord God, do not destroy Your people and Your inheritance whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not look on the stubbornness of this people, or on their wickedness or their sin, lest the land from which You brought us should say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them to the land which He promised them, and because He hated them, He has brought them out to kill them in the wilderness.” Yet they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom You brought out by Your mighty power and by Your outstretched arm.’” (All of the above is from Deuteronomy 9:11–29)

This is humbling, for several reasons. One is the many times that I’ve ignored the will of God and did not realize that apart from the intercession of Jesus Christ, God should have destroyed me. He hates sin.

Also, I’m humbled by the intercession of Moses. When other people sin, it is much easier to look down my nose than fall down before God, not eating or drinking until their forgiveness is secured. Moses loved people.

I’m humbled concerning Aaron too. As a frustrated leader, he gave the people what they wanted instead of doing the right, but unpopular, thing. At that, God would have destroyed him except for Moses’ prayer. Many times have I been in Aaron’s place. Apart from the sacrifice of Christ and His continual intercession for me, God has every right to destroy me too.

Moses was meek, not feisty. He loved the Lord, and because of that He also loved the people. He even said to God, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” (Exodus 32:31–32)

That humbles me too. When I pray for others, do I fully realize the danger they are in? Even more, am I fully willing to die in their place that they might live?

Lord, thank You for the powerful example of godliness and of intercession demonstrated in the life of Your man, Moses. Change my heart to be more like his.

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July 18, 2010

To Live is Christ — my heart, His notepaper

If my husband wrote me a love letter and I refused to read it, I’d not be surprised if he tore it up and never wrote another one. What if he wrote me a to-do list? I’m thinking no ordinary chore list but a purpose statement for my life? This would be an expression of his loving desire for my goals, behavior and well-being. What if he sent it to me via one of our children, and I would not read it? What if that child became so annoyed with me that he tore it up? Would my husband write another one?

I’m trying to relate to the heart of God when He gave the Ten Commandments to His people through Moses. They rebelled before the tablets even reached them and the delivery person, Moses, slammed them into pieces . . . 

At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain and make yourself an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke; and you shall put them in the ark.’ (Deuteronomy 10:1–2)
God called Moses back and wrote them out again. The words that come to mind are patience and loving perseverance. God knew that the people would not do as He had written, yet He patiently and plainly told them what was expected of them, once, twice, many times.

I know that I am included on this divine to-do list. I know also that this list was not given as a way of salvation. It is the “school master” to show me that I am a sinner and need a Savior (Galatians 3:19-25). This too is the heart of God. He could have slammed sinners into pieces. He could have lowered His standard. He could have given up. He could have forced us to be good. He didn’t.

The gospel or good news is that God pulled on humanity and became one of us. Jesus is the only person who did not break one law, the only person who was sinless. He then took the guilt of all our sin for all time on Himself and let the Father’s wrath on sin fall on him. This includes me too, my guilt, for all my sin, for all time.

My punishment was death, physical and spiritual. Jesus took that in my place and died for me. His body died and He was separated from His Father because I could not and would not heed His purpose statement for my life. Then, no matter how many times I “tore up His letter” and ignored His sacrifice, He patiently kept on wooing me away from my love of sin so He could set me free from its clutches. When He did that, He also rewrote His law, “not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (2 Corinthians 3:3).

Even as I sometimes still try to escape or avoid or ignore it, yet His to-do list remains and guides me through life. For this, I love the patience of God. 

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July 17, 2010

To Live is Christ — obedience with meekness

Although he made mistakes, Moses is highly revered as one of God’s main spokespersons in the Old Testament. Numbers 12:3 says, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.”

Humility in this verse actually should be translated as “meek” — a description that most people would not pick for themselves. Some have tried to define it as “strength under control,” but the Hebrew definition is richer than that. John MacArthur describes it something like this:

A meek person never defends himself because he knows he doesn’t deserve anything. He never gets angry about what’s done to him. He’s not running around trying to get his due. He’s already broken in spirit over his sin, and he’s already mourning and weeping over the consequence of it. In humility he stands before a holy God and he has nothing to commend himself. It isn’t cowardice nor a wishy-washy lack of conviction. It isn’t just human niceness either. Meekness says, “In myself, nothing is possible. But in God, everything is possible.” Meekness says, “For me, I offer no defense. For God, I’ll give my life.” It is not passive acceptance of sin, but (can also be) anger under control. It is holy indignation (over sin).
 What a fitting way to describe Moses. After God grabbed hold of his life, he was always more concerned about his people than his own life. He had strong convictions and often burned with anger over sin, but he knew that he was helpless apart from God.

A meek person will take orders. Today’s devotional reading shows how Moses did exactly as God said, even after his outbursts of indignation. After he broke the first set of tablets containing God’s commands, he had another encounter with God. 

At that time the Lord said to me, “Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain and make yourself an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke; and you shall put them in the ark.”
So I made an ark of acacia wood, hewed two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain, having the two tablets in my hand. And He wrote on the tablets according to the first writing, the Ten Commandments, which the Lord had spoken to you in the mountain from the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly; and the Lord gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain, and put the tablets in the ark which I had made; and there they are, just as the Lord commanded me. (Deuteronomy 10:1–5)
Moses was an amazing leader, but his meekness of obedience is not just for the great movers and shakers in the kingdom of God. As Jesus said, meekness is blessed by God because those who have it will “inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

It is also to be my attitude whenever I share my faith with others. 1 Peter 3:15 tells me to, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”

God used a meek man to lead His people from slavery to freedom. He has never asked me to do anything so momentous, yet at the end of each day, He wants me to be able to say the same thing as Moses did, that I have humbly done. . . . “just as the Lord commanded me.”

July 16, 2010

To Live is Christ — full and instant obedience

Most parents experience saying, “Do I have to tell you again . . . ?” to their children. “Take out the garbage right now, please” means exactly that. Yet how many youngsters don’t listen or don’t take to heart whatever was said the first time? They think “right now” means whenever they get around to it, and “garbage” means only the pile that first catches their eye. While this exasperates mom and dad, this attitude is not restricted to children.

God wrote commandments on tablets of stone and gave them to Moses. As this was happening, God’s people were engaged in a wild party and worshiping a calf made of gold. Moses was furious. He dashed the tablets against the rocks, smashing them in pieces.

God called him back and said to him, “Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain and make yourself an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke; and you shall put them in the ark.” (Deuteronomy 10:1–2)

The author of today’s devotional reading sees this as God giving Moses and the people a second chance. I see it as God, like a parent, saying, “Do I have to tell you again . . . ?” By making new tablets, He demonstrates that His Word is firm and cannot be broken. We break His commands, but His commands and His Word stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8). We are not supposed to break them, but do them.

Another related issue from this passage is although the people broke God’s law with their idolatry and were chastened, God did not chasten Moses for breaking the tablets in an outburst of anger. Some anger is righteous. One other time however, Moses was severely chastened for his anger.

This happened when the people wanted some water (they were always whining). God told Moses, “Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals.” (Numbers 20:8)

Unfortunately for Moses, he didn’t obey God exactly. Instead of speaking to the rock, “Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank.” (Numbers 20:11)

For this disobedience of disregarding exactly what God said, Moses was not allowed to go into the promised land with the rest of the people. When God speaks, He not only means what He says, but He means precisely what He says. (This command about the rock was an illustration of Christ, and important to God’s intention of using Israel’s history to point to His Son.)

Learning to be precise with obedience means paying attention without putting my own spin on things. When God offers specifics, He is not looking for me to edit, revise, generalize, or do anything else than exactly what He says. To live is Christ also means that when God says “now” — I don’t hum and haw or procrastinate. He wants me to jump to it, get at it, and do exactly what He asks.

July 15, 2010

To Live is Christ — knowing where my strength comes from

If God gives strength to His people to produce wealth and thus confirm His covenant promised to them, how then and why do sinners make money and get rich?

It is no “if” that God’s people depend on Him for all we need to do everything. Jesus said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). That includes the ability to prosper, as He said also in the Old Testament . . . 

If you start thinking to yourselves, “I did all this. And all by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!”—well, think again. Remember that God, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth so as to confirm the covenant that he promised to your ancestors—as it is today. (Deuteronomy 8:17–18, The Message)
I know that my very next breath depends on God, never mind the skills and strength I need for each day. However, when Jesus said I can do nothing apart from Him, He surely meant nothing of eternal value. Those who don’t know Christ and have no reliance on His power do all kinds of things, but the Bible is clear about the results of their efforts. None of it lasts beyond this life and the judgment of God.

What power or source of strength motivates or drives the unsaved person then? If not God, what? The Bible is also clear on this and says it is sin, that unholy desire to do things for self and by self, apart from God. Sin is the driving force of sinners.

However, as the sinner is powered by sin, they do not realize that sin also holds them in bondage. It motivates, but also enslaves. These verses describe what seems like strength for what it really is — a trap.

The Lord is known by the judgment He executes; the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. (Psalm 9:16)
Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared. (Proverbs 22:24–25)
The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. (Proverbs 5:22)
When under the power of sin, there is no escape. The motivation to make money or do whatever else “self” desires does not go away. It is constant and it is determined. Before Christ, no matter how hard I tried to be “good” my reasons were always selfish, always sinful.

Reliance on God for the power to get money or to do anything else is not like the power of sin. While I could choose the sinful way, God still has His hand on my life. He has promised by His new covenant to save me from sin, so no matter what I try under the motivation of sin, it is not likely to succeed. If it does, God will use the experience to teach me that success in sinful things does not last. Sin’s “rewards” are always hollow and meaningless compared to the blessings of obeying Him.

Being set free from sin means being able to choose my motivations and source of strength. When I decide to rely on God, I cannot do things for self. His motivations do not include selfish ambitions, but instead turn me toward doing things for Him, whether it is making money or giving it away.

I’m not particularly gifted in the area of producing wealth, but I know Christians for whom it seems effortless. These are also generous people. They know the source of their riches. They can safely share what they have because they know that God gave it to them in the first place and will continue to take care of their needs.

It is the same with all other resources, including nonmaterial things like time and energy. I can expend both, knowing these are gifts from God. He will give me the hours and the strength that I need. I can safely follow His leading to spend time that I don’t think I have for the sake of others, or give effort when I’m tired to do what He asks. He always fills the gaps.

This is true because He is the same Lord who “gives strength to produce wealth.”  He also gives strength or whatever else I need so as to confirm in me the promises that He has made just as Paul said in Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

July 14, 2010

To Live is Christ — taking inventory

I and many of my friends are seriously attempting to de-clutter our houses. We have too much stuff, but more than that, we want life to be simplified.

At first I figured this flurry of activity was related our age, but last weekend, a much younger woman who is married to my nephew said she was doing the same. For her, a forced evacuation because of fires (last year in San Diego) made her look at what they had and decide what was important. She said other than photos and their computer hard drive, nothing mattered very much. When they returned to their home, she began to get rid of many of those nonessentials. 

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. (Deuteronomy 8:17–18, NIV)
The reading that goes with this verse makes this comment: “Remember the Lord your God when you take inventory.”

I know this refers mostly to a spiritual inventory, as in, do I know my strengths and do I realize that He gave them to me? However, I am also thinking about the stuff that I’ve collected in my 65 plus years of life. God asks me to be a good steward, which means wise use of what He has allowed me to have. If I am not using it, then I should find someone who needs it and will use it.

Over the past few months, I have given away dishes, clothing, magazines, and countless odds and ends.  I’ve not counted my books, but a quick look estimates hundreds, maybe a thousand. They are the hardest to part with, but I cannot use them all. The idea came to buy a package of those small red adhesive dots. For the next couple of years, I’ll put a dot inside the books I’ve used and the rest will be given away or sold.

Today I’m challenged to “remember God” as I take inventory. One way is praying over things, and I have been doing that. I’ve noticed how the Holy Spirit gives me a sense of “keep this” or “toss that” as I go through the shelves and cupboards. He also puts on my heart a place or person who would profit from having the items I no longer need or use.

Those verses are specifically about the power to get wealth. I can extrapolate from that other strengths that God gives. He has blessed me with several abilities including writing, painting, graphic arts, quilt making, etc., but I cannot do everything. I’m a lousy singer, not much for athletics, and have to work hard to be organized. Besides, there is no time, and lately, not enough energy to do everything that He has given me the ability to do.

For these reasons, consulting God becomes increasingly more important. When taking inventory, I need His voice to know what to keep, use, get rid of, or store for later. Of course He knows all about my future needs, but He also knows how my activities will best fit into His plans. In all of this, He is confirming His covenant of grace in my life.

Lord, I am so blessed. You are involved in all that I do and all that I have. Please continue to direct this de-cluttering process. I trust You to also direct the giveaway so that whatever I don’t need goes to someone who does. In all of this, may You be glorified.

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July 13, 2010

To Live is Christ — letting mercy win

It starts in the sandbox. “My castle is bigger than your castle.” It continues in the playground. “I can swing higher than you can.” It winds up in boardrooms. “Our profit is higher than their profit.”

Human pride constantly aims for bigger and better. It pressures people to keep up with (or better) the Jones’, outsell the other salesmen, be number one, have the most, outdo the other guy. This competitive attitude is part of the human sin nature, and is not at all like Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, pride can still creep in when a person becomes a Christian. I’ve fought with it. So have others. It can be overt or subtle. It can be, “I’m not perfect but I’d never sin like so-and-so has.” It can be, “Have you heard that ___ has done ____?” as if I’ve never done anything wrong.

Today’s verse is about this pride, narrowing it to pride over being wealthy. It says, 

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 8:17–18, ESV)
Anything could be substituted in the place of wealth. It could read as a warning not to say in my heart, “I love God very much” which is okay until it slides into, “I love God more than _____ does” or “I wish other Christians were as interested in doing God’s will as I am” or some other variation of “I am better. . . .”

How easy to forget that it is God who gives all skill and spiritual abilities. All talent is from Him. All virtue is from Him also. I have no boasting rights. Not only that, I cannot try to make myself look better by putting down others who seem inferior in some way. Romans 14:4 says, 

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
When I put down another Christian for not being what I think he or she should be, whatever my reasons, I have essentially criticized God who is in charge of that person’s life.

As I think about this in relation to today’s devotional reading, a balance needs to be considered. For example, God commands Christians to tell others about Jesus Christ. He supplies the words, the boldness and the opportunities. If those things are in place and it is clear that I am to speak up, then I am responsible for obedience. Just as He gives power to get wealth so He can confirm His covenant, He also gives power to share Christ so He can make the gospel known.

On the other hand, if I am critical of the person who never opens his mouth, then I am no better, but have fallen into the same pit of disobedience. I’ve neglected the fact that God also gives power to be gracious and to encourage His people, and that I’m to love and support other believers. Not only that, Romans 14 says that God can uphold His people. If one of them fails to stand, He might want me to be the instrument He uses to uphold that person. Being critical or harsh rarely does it.

I don’t know who said it first, but my husband often says, “When you don’t know whether to condemn someone or be gracious, it is better to err on the side of mercy.” We agree that God sometimes calls for judgment since Jesus said to “judge righteously” yet He also calls me to be like Him.

When Jesus bore my sin, He also bore God’s judgment on my sin. That is, instead of God’s wrath Christ humbled Himself and showed great mercy — He offered me His righteousness. When others sin, I need to be humble like Jesus, not proud or thinking I am better. It is God who gave me righteousness. It didn’t get it myself.

To live is Christ also means that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13). When I’m tempted to be proud, to win, or to better others by putting them down, I need to remember that mercy reigns. If judgment did, I would not be here.

July 12, 2010

To Live is Christ — grateful for grace

Friends came over yesterday on a motorcycle. Since my husband has one, and has two helmets, they thought I’d have leathers and the four of us could go riding.

My husband knows me. Although I’d ride anyone’s horse, wild or tame, when I was a teen, I’m not into carburetors and speed. Hand me a book, or a needle and thread, or some paintbrushes — not a helmet. He knows how I feel about speed and bought his bike without assuming that I would love to get on the back and join him.

Although we sometimes make assumptions, I’m glad that my husband didn’t do this concerning me and his motorcycle. People are individuals and he sets a good example about not taking anyone for granted.

Today’s devotional reading points out that God does not want me to take Him for granted either. I cannot assume that life goes well because I’m doing all the right things or that God will always ensure my total comfort. He is still sovereign and knows what is best for me. He is also the source of all good things, not me. This is why He told Israel,

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 8:17–18, ESV)
When I bake a cake that turns out well, I know it is because someone else came up with a good recipe. Anyone who can read can make the same cake. When I create a quilt, or write a story, I know that God is the source of my ideas and skill. I’m sure of this, not just because the Bible says so, but because of those days when I feel blank and totally uninspired. I cannot do anything without the grace of God in my life.

Yet how easily God can be taken for granted. I just read a novel about a young woman who had a great job, nice home, and everything seemed perfect. However, her boss was caught embezzling company money, she was suspected to be part of it, her assets were frozen, and no one would hire her. Within a short time, she was in a homeless shelter and without hope.

It happens. Skilled people with good jobs lose them. People who have money lose it. Those with friends can become friendless. A nice home can burn to the ground. These negatives and more can happen. While it is not good to live in fearful apprehension, it is also not good to take the positives for granted.

My husband often tells people that every day we wake up by the grace of God. He is right. Every pay cheque is by the grace of God. Every skill and ability is also by His grace. I cannot assume that these things come to me because of my own doing, nor can I assume that God does this because I am special or that I deserve it all.

He is good to His people because He promises to be good to us. It isn’t about us. It is about Him and His great mercy. Because of His grace, I’m hoping to spend my day being grateful and remembering that He is the source of all the blessings in our lives, from chocolate cake to leather chaps, from safety on road trips to pennies in the bank, from family and friends to every treasure, small and great, that He provides. 

July 11, 2010

To Live is Christ — disciplined and glad of it

My parents were told that I would not live beyond sixteen years. Because of that, they didn’t prepare me for life as they otherwise would, nor did they discipline me. I knew they loved me and I understand their reasoning, yet I grew up without a lot of practical skills. I also thought that I could do no wrong.

My father did show me how to do a few things in his shop. I know how to use copper rivets to repair the reins on a bridle and can handle most hand and power tools. Yet my dad didn’t chasten or discipline me, so I cannot relate first hand to the first part of today’s devotional reading.

Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and revering him. (Deuteronomy 8:5–6)
Although he was not authoritative or demanding, I respected my father. He was a practical man who didn’t do things without reason. He worked hard, loved people, and was extremely thrifty. When I first became a Christian, I thought God would be like my dad in that he spoiled me and would give me whatever I asked. I soon found out the folly of that supposition.

However, my dad did prepare me for some of what God is like. God also is practical and does not do things without reason. He loves people, even died for us. Putting that together, the discipline of the Lord is easier to accept even without an earthly example. I see how some fathers are mean and think only of themselves. They swat their children for annoying them. At least my father never did that, and although my heavenly Father corrects me with what sometimes feels like a good swat, it is always for my own good.

Today’s ‘experts’ say that children are damaged by discipline and it destroys their self-esteem. I cannot speak for every child, but for me that lack of discipline confused me, even made me think my actions were okay when they were not. Discipline gives boundaries. Without them, I became a social misfit and had to learn social graces the hard way — by trial and error. Discipline gives a sense of value. Without it, self-esteem is damaged, contrary to the so-called opinion of experts.

God’s discipline, as Hebrews 12:11 says, does not seem to be joyful at the time, but painful. Nevertheless, afterward it yields a harvest of righteousness and peace to those who have been trained by it. Discipline is an important part of becoming like Jesus, a goal that is far more worthy than any goals supposedly reached by lack of it.

For the past few days, reading these verses and thinking about the discipline of God has produced a strong response in my heart — I’m filled with joy. I know God cares for me. Yes, He loves people just as we are, and while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8), yet He loves me too much to leave me that way. In patience and wisdom, He corrects my foolishness, rebukes my selfishness, and shows me that my spiritual growth and the way that I live matters to Him. For that, I am grateful — and my heart rejoices.

July 10, 2010

To Live is Christ — whatever the route

Yesterday I drove four hours to attend a community reunion today. On the highway getting here, signs marked a construction zone with the usual slower speed and double-fine warnings. Two lanes of traffic slowed to stop-and-go. I noted the time and my speedometer reading at the beginning and then again when traffic flow resumed. It took 30 minutes to drive 8 kilometers. In that time, there was no sign of work being done, no workers in that stretch of highway, and no indication why drivers were doing 15-20 instead of 50 km/h.

When I stopped for lunch a woman in the cafe asked me if I'd driven that route and expressed her anger and impatience over the delay. I thought about my own response. Right at the beginning, I was about to be annoyed, but I had no appointment to keep, lots of fuel in my vehicle, air conditioning (it was 32 C) and no reason to feel hassled. Traffic always reminds me that patience is a choice, even though I sometimes fail to choose it.

This morning I'm thinking about that seeming delay in a different way. What if it was in the plan of God to keep me safe? What if He knew something I didn't about the rest of my journey? What if it was a test to see if I would act like Jesus?Today's reading is mostly about discipline and correction, but it is also about walking in His ways. Sometimes His path takes me on a scenic route and sometimes over dead fall and through rocky places. Sometimes the pace is rapid and sometimes, as yesterday, very slow. How I respond to His leading is a test of faith. Do I trust Him in all of this?
You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you. Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. (Deuteronomy 8:5)
Now that I'm at my destination, I find out that someone was killed on that route this past week. A piece of something flew off a truck, went through her windshield, and took her life. Again I think of the sovereignty of God. In His plan, it was her time. In His plan, it was time for me to drive slowly, for whatever reason.

God does not always show me the purpose of things that happen. When he corrects me, I usually know very quickly what He is doing. Other than fixing something wrong in my life, this correction helps me trust Him when things do not make sense. He is good and His mercy endures forever. He has a good plan for my life.

I'm thankful that I arrived safely at today's destination. This is a reminder and even added assurance that someday I will arrive safely at my final destination. Walking in His ways puts me on unexpected paths, but because they are His paths, I want to obey Him with patience, trusting Him to take me wherever He wants me to go even when I do not understand the route.

July 9, 2010

To Live is Christ — using a full swing

Those who study spiritual gifts tell me that my particular strengths are characterized by a willingness to let God show me my sin. This is good, but with my gifts also comes a negative tendency; once I understand what is wrong and confess it, I figure my knowledge and confession are enough. Taking action doesn’t happen as easily. In other words, my spiritual life is a little bit like my golf game. I can hit it straight, but the ball would go a lot farther if my swing ended with a better follow-through.

This morning, my devotional verses are about chastening and obedience. While no one likes being disciplined, God says it is a good thing.

You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you. Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. (Deuteronomy 8:5–6)
With correction, God intends obedience. However, I’m aware that my willingness to receive His discipline is not shared by everyone. This idea is repeated later in the Old Testament . . . 
My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:11–12)
This time God reminds me of what I used to tell my children. “If I didn’t love you, I would not care what you do or want you to make good choices.” Discipline is one way God expresses love and His desire that I grow to maturity and become a godly person.

The next passage that I read is in the New Testament, one that often encourages me when God is disciplining me, or when I see another Christian experiencing His correction. As it repeats, we don’t like it, but because of God’s intentions, I am glad that this is part of my Christian experience.

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7–11)
The results of God’s discipline are good. I am glad that His Word rebukes and corrects me. However, in reading through the Bible each year, I happened to read this verse today: “A servant cannot be corrected by mere words; though he understands, he will not respond” (Proverbs 29:19). Beside this text, I’d written a note referring to another passage in Hebrews. It says . . . 
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. (Hebrews 5:7–8)
My note says, “If Jesus needed trials to learn, so much more do I.” The frustrating part and typical of me is that I don’t remember writing this. Nevertheless, this is great encouragement. Whatever trials may come my way, I already know are controlled by the sovereign power of God. I also know that He loves me and wants the best for me, the “best” being that I become like His Son. So to live is Christ means embracing trials for what God is using them for in my life.

It would be nice to learn all that I need from reading the Bible. However, Proverbs 29:19 will not let me rest there. Hearing and understanding Him is not enough. Confession sin is not enough either. To live is Christ means responding to both the Word of God and the sufferings of life with a full swing — that includes obedience. 

July 8, 2010

To Live is Christ — welcoming His instruction

Even as I read the Old Testament and God’s words to His people Israel, I hear Him talking to me. Their history and mine have so many parallels. Just as they were taken from slavery in Egypt, I have been delivered from slavery to sin. Just as they rebelled and were brought back into bondage for a time, that has happened to me. As they wandered in a wilderness on their way to a better land, I have also wandered. God’s purposes and warnings for them resonate in my ears too.
Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you. Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills. . . . (Deuteronomy 8:1–7)
I am on a journey. As the old hymn says, this earth is not my home, I am just passing through. In the passing, God is preparing me to live in a better land. Here, He tests to see if I will obey Him. He humbles me and lets me feel needy, then reveals truth that satisfies and proves that His Word is my sustenance.

I’m not always wandering, yet even in those wilderness experiences, He faithfully provides my needs. I’m continually aware of His goodness and His commands. I’m also aware that this life and this world is not all there is. A better land awaits me, a land that I deeply long to see.

Today’s devotional reading focuses on the verses about chastening. Some versions translate this as discipline or correction. My Hebrew dictionary says it can mean to discipline, to chasten, to instruct, to teach, to punish. Another says these two poles of meaning (chastening or instructing) at times merge. God often “chides toward an instructive end” and says that a disciplined person is blessed, though the process is painful. However, for those who rebel against God and do not know Him, His chastisement is negative and can bring great desolation.

Sometimes I ask for chastening, not by deliberate disobedience, but by asking God to show me where I am in error, or what needs correcting in my life. At times I’ve joked that when I pray like that, then I duck! This is one prayer that will get quick answers.

My devotional reading says it is better to be directed by God than corrected by Him, yet correction is unavoidable. Sinful people make mistakes. I might not err deliberately, but I’m not perfect. I don’t need to be a slave to sin, yet sometimes my old nature cracks the whip and instead of running from it, I jump to its bidding. The first indication is often guilt, but sometimes I’m not sure what I did wrong. I’ve lost my joy and am “tipped over” without knowing what I need to correct. This is when I welcome God’s discipline and for good reason . . . 

Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)
Despite the friend who teased me with, “What you don’t know won’t convict you,” I want to know. I want to be convicted and corrected, so I ask God to do what He needs to do that I might be more like Jesus.

July 7, 2010

To Live is Christ — listening before speaking

I’m reading a novel in which the protagonist is deeply annoyed by what she calls “God talk.” Those who speak to her about God seem sincere, but her heart is hard concerning anything spiritual.

I first heard that expression after a class I taught on biblical self-esteem. One young woman who attended spoke often of the way God was working in her life. I found it pleasing, yet another, trying to remember her name, said, “You know, the one with all the God talk.”

Talking about God could hardly be put on a list of sins, yet I know it can be off-putting if the hearer isn’t open to God, or if the speaker has a personal agenda. These extremes come to mind today as I read these verses.

And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. (Deuteronomy 6:6–7, NLT)
Obviously, God wants His people to speak about Him and His commands, particularly to our children. However, the Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Constant repetition can be exasperating for many children. I’m not sure about Hebrew families, but I can hear today’s child saying, “I know, Dad. You said that a few minutes ago, Dad,” then plugging in their I-pod and tuning dad out. How can a parent, or anyone else for that matter, talk about God continually without being exasperating?

My first thought is that some people will be annoyed regarding God no matter what is said or how often. They are not interested in spiritual matters. For them, every word spoken must be governed by the Holy Spirit. But even that does not guarantee I will be heard or my words given a positive reception. For one thing, whatever I say is subject to interpretation. My intentions can be misread and my words misunderstood.

Being misunderstood is difficult for me. When I add the fear of a negative reception, it becomes very easy to just be quiet and not say anything at all. However, that is disobedience to a God who commands me to tell others about Him. David had this problem and wrote about his struggle with trying to be silent. 

I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence. But when I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased. My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue. (Psalm 39:1–3)
I’m to speak and say what God wants me to say. There are two words used in Scripture regarding the “word” God speaks. The most common one is logos, meaning “a word uttered by a living voice, embodying a conception or an idea.” Jesus is the “logos” of God and the Bible is described with the same word.

The other word is “rhema” which means something spoken with a definite meaning, particularly for the need of the hearer. It is the word used in, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4) and in, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

From this I see the difference between annoying “God talk” and talking of God that makes a difference. The former is mere talk for talk’s sake, or using religious words to impress or manipulate others. In contrast, the latter is using Spirit-led speech intended to meet the needs of the hearer, to help them and give them whatever God wants them to hear. Since I cannot know what that “need of the moment” might be, speaking this requires me to be filled with the Holy Spirit and sensitive to His leading.

This is such a challenge. All I can do is ask God . . . Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)