October 31, 2010

To Live is Christ — in adoration

When I was thirteen, I had 2500 pictures of Elvis Presley, my first and only idol. I still like to listen to his music, but have long since outgrown that obsession. Maybe they would have some value today to a collector of such things, but I’ve no idea what happened to all those pictures.

Today’s devotional verses mention idolatry. Then it was about statues and carvings. Today it is about people and places and things. No matter. Idolatry still has no place in the life of someone who wants to worship the true God. 

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Psalm 24:3–5)
Childhood idols stir emotions and make young people do silly things. Worship of the true God includes emotions but is more about purity, godly thinking, and living in an upright way. I doubt if Elvis ever produced that in anyone.

God produces it though. Those who worship Him in spirit and in truth, as Jesus said we should, do so because God has blessed them and given them the righteousness of His Son. Without Jesus, I cannot worship God and would not even wish to do so. He saves me from all sin, including idolatry.

God isn’t even close to the idols we humans put on pedestals. Our idols are fallible and will let us down, no matter how much we try to overlook their shortcomings. Good looks, money, fame and achievement eventually run out, but the attributes of God stay the same. He never changes.

I cannot put pictures of God on my walls though. People have tried to paint His likeness, but the best they can do are images of men. God is not like us. We are created in His image, but this image is not about appearance.

The human heart, sinful to the core, eventually reveals its true self. Our sin really does find us out. But when God chose to reveal Himself in human form, that heart never sinned, not even once. Jesus, the God-man, rejected all temptation. His utter holiness polarizes all who know of Him. He is either hated for showing us up for what we could be but are not, or loved for revealing to us that we can be like Him — if we want to say yes, lifting our souls up to Him.

Today I am glad that His offer included a blessing from His Father that enabled me to accept it. Twenty-five hundred pictures would be a very tiny homage compared to all that Jesus Christ has done for me. I joyfully worship Him.

October 30, 2010

To Live is Christ — worshiping God

On any given day, people around the world gather to worship the Creator. Styles of worship differ. Music differs. Places of worship differ. Do these thousands of people know that God is not concerned about style, music or His people being in church buildings?

The Bible is clear. God is not as interested in externals as He is in the human heart. He does not accept worship from everyone, but has criteria that must be met. My daily reading is only one passage in Scripture that describes the qualifications for worship. 

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Psalm 24:3–5)
Holy means “other than” or “separate” and indicates something or someone that is totally dedicated to God. “His holy place” is not about the places human beings designate as special, but places that God consecrates. In the Old Testament that meant the tabernacle, then the temples that were built in Jerusalem. God commanded His people to worship in these places.

In the New Testament, the holy place is not a building. Instead, it is the human heart, but not every human heart. Holiness describes those who are dedicated and have given themselves entirely to God in humility and obedience. Worship is no longer a matter of standing in a holy place, but of being a holy person.

As this passage says, a holy person has clean hands meaning his sins are forgiven and cleansed. That person also has a pure heart, made so by the blood of Jesus Christ. This holy heart rejects idols and idolatry and embraces truth. All of this is made possible because God has blessed that heart and that person with the righteousness that comes by faith to those who embrace and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. By Him, and only by Him, can anyone become a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Paul wrote to the church and to all Christians about this. He said:

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)
God bought me with a price. That price was the blood of His Son sacrificed for our sin, for my sin. Because of Jesus, God accepts my worship. Because He owns my body and my spirit, He can use me to bring glory to His name.

This is so incredible, yet because God says it, I know it is true. This gives more reason to worship Him. I can do it in many ways, with or without music, and in any place. However, His way is that I meet with others who also believe in Jesus and who have clean hands and a pure heart. We can sing to music or worship in silence. We can gather in a school or a church building or in an open field. What matters is that we gather, that our focus is on our God, and that we worship knowing this is an incredible privilege. 

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October 29, 2010

To Live is Christ — waiting . . .

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength . . .”  a song and part of a verse from Isaiah that God proves to me repeatedly. Sometimes it is not sleep that I need, but to spend some time waiting.

Yesterday was a superb day. I woke up too early, couldn’t go back to sleep, so had a bath and got dressed. Then I waited on the Lord, that is, I spent time in prayer. I complained for a while. Then I confessed my complaining. I also talked to Him about the struggles I’d been having. I told Him that I thought the devil was after me and needed some fighting words.

He gave them to me. I prayed them loudly back to Him. After some thanksgiving and even a song, the only less than blissful event during the remainder of the day was a recorded call from a telemarketer.

My verses for today come from the old King James Bible, the one that I read for many years after Christ came into my life. These are precious words too, and an appropriate follow-up to yesterday.

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Psalm 24:3–5)
Jerusalem is situated on a hill. When the people came to the temple, they ascended that hill and worshiped in the temple, the holy place of God. This was not a place for sin-filled hearts. God instructed them to make sure they had confessed their sin and made the proper sacrifices before they went to worship.

I cannot worship or even function if there is unconfessed sin in my life. While I’m not out robbing banks or slashing tires, sin still can make me unable to ascend the hill into God’s presence. They might seem “little” like whining (as mentioned already), or failing to trust God or believe in His goodness. I can lose heart over imagined slights. I can also take on a load that is not mine, or keep myself from obedience by doing “busy work.”

These may not seem like sins to other people. Nevertheless, God knows — and I know too — when some sin dirties my hands or muddies my heart. Vain activities might be ordinary events for others, but if God wants me doing something else, for me they are sinful. This includes watching television, playing computer games, or spending too much time on Facebook.

The last one is more blatant; swearing deceitfully. This sin is about making promises known to be false, or taking an oath that is not based on truth. I’ve never been good at telling lies, so this one is less of a temptation.

The bottom line is that I want to be able to stand in the presence of God with my sins confessed. I want a pure heart. As Jesus said, the pure in heart shall see God. These verses say that those who keep their lives clean will receive His blessing and His righteousness. That is what waiting on the Lord is all about — and His grace is definitely worth the wait.

October 28, 2010

To Live is Christ — sometimes bone-tired

Words of encouragement are wasted on the strong, courageous and successful people who are prosperous and without fear. If Joshua felt like that, the Lord would not have wasted these words on him.
Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:7–9)
God says things like this in the Bible because He knows His people. He knows that I often feel weak and fearful. I wonder if I am going to be successful in what I do for Him. I need words like this because my way often seems thwarted by adversity and difficulties that weigh me down and make me feel like quitting.

The New Testament has more verses that speak to the heavy-hearted and to those who struggle or are simply tired. This one comes after a passage about death and resurrection. 

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
In context, perhaps the original readers were facing death. That was not unusual for many of the early Christians. God is telling them to persevere in their service to Him. Their reward may not come in this life, but it would come.

I need to hear that too. I did several things this week that were not my choice, but tasks that God put on my to-do list. A few of them brought grumbling until I remembered that these were for Jesus. Even so, I feel very tired and sometimes like I am spinning my wheels.

Another verse comes to mind. This one is for me today as well. In this passage, Paul is talking about the futility of living for my sinful nature. Instead, I need to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, and for good reason. He ends his exhortation to godliness and godly service with this:

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians 6:9)
If doing good was easy, God would not have put this verse in the Bible. Doing good can make eight hours of sleep seem like not enough. Being weary can make me wonder if what I do is worth it. But God says it is.

Jesus even said that anyone who is weary and heavy-laden can come to Him. He worded it like this:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
At first this seems to suggest that hard work and serving God are incompatible, that if my load is too heavy, I’m trying to carry it myself. While that can be true, I notice that He said “rest for your souls” not “rest for your tired bodies.” This word “souls” is about the animating force of life, not the external muscles that get weary from being animated! His burden may be light but carrying it can make a body tired.

Inside me is that satisfaction of knowing I’m doing what God wants me to do. Closer to the outside are some weary muscles, strained eyes, and an aching back. Jesus promises many things, all of them good, but I am still looking for that verse that promises a good back rub at the end of a busy day. 

October 27, 2010

To Live is Christ — trusting when I cannot see

The idea of Jesus being with me wherever I go has been proven in the past and is true for the present. What about the future? I’m not a “what if” worrier, but I know some things are possible in my future. For instance, my DH has blood cancer. While he is healthy right now, I could go into my old age alone and lonely. Will Jesus be with me should that happen?

There are other negative scenarios that could happen in my future. I wonder about family loss, or financial reverses, or illness, fires, accidents or other bad news events. I cannot imagine trying to deal with anything like that without the presence of Jesus. I need Him to be with me, no matter what happens. I’m not able to manage without His help. This is His promise to me . . . 

I’ve commanded you to be strong and brave. Don’t ever be afraid or discouraged! I am the Lord your God, and I will be there to help you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9, CEV)
He knows that I’m not a strong or brave person either. I’ve done things that required both, but in every instance I have been aware that my strength or courage comes from Him. These are not natural traits for me.

I am not usually fearful though. Maybe I don’t have the energy for it. However, when that emotion strikes I know that it comes from my sinful nature. God is not the author of fear. During fearful times, remembering that He is with me is very significant. I agree with David who wrote . . . 

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
Discouragement could be my worst problem. It comes from thinking that God is not doing anything. I’m not concerned that He will leave me (although that has been a worry a few times), but am more upset during those times that it seems He doesn’t hear my prayers. Even if He does, it seems as if He is ignoring me. God’s silence is one thing. I can handle that, but what gets me down is thinking that He has chosen not to act, as if He has gone on strike. Nothing I say or do will persuade Him to do something.

I know that the Bible supports both His presence and His activity. It does not promise that I will get to see what He is doing. For that I need faith. I also need to remember that just as I trust that He is with me because He says He is, I can also trust that He is acting on my behalf because He promises to do so.

Hebrews 11 says that faith is the evidence of things not seen. The Bible says that I am to walk by faith and not by sight. However, human nature says I need to see it to believe it.

Sigh. No one says that walking with Jesus is easy.

October 26, 2010

To Live is Christ — transformed values

In my younger days, success seemed an important word, but I could find only one verse in the entire Bible that used it. This verse is in a section where God is challenging Joshua as he begins the task of leadership after the death of Moses.
Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:7–9)
Verse eight ends with “success” but now I know that is not the best translation. North American ambition reads in a contemporary spin and equates success with becoming rich and famous. In Hebrew, this word is actually the same word used in verse seven, there translated as “prosper.” My Hebrew dictionary says that it can also mean “act wisely.”

This tells me that success in the mind of God is not about making money or climbing the corporate ladder or being listed in “Who’s Who.” It is about following God with all my heart.

These verses also tell me how to do it. They say that I need to be strong and courageous, having the gumption to do what God says in a world that says the opposite. I need to pay attention to the will of God as expressed in His Word, reading and thinking about it continually. For that, I must turn off the television and abandon part of my library.

Also, they say that I need to be fearless and not confounded by the threats and confusion of life. I need to remember that God is with me, no matter where I go or what I am doing. Because He is with me, I can depend on Him to make available whatever I need. This is success.

This word obviously means much more to me than my early ambitions defined it. To make this practical, success is not getting angry when someone pushes or tries to provoke me. It is having a humble heart, knowing that I am needy and not at all embarrassed by that. It is joy in my heart during sunny and stormy days. It is responding to others with grace. It is being like Christ when everyone else is mocking Him or me. It is caring about the eternal well-being of everyone, even the people I don’t like very much.

Success is growing to Christian maturity and accepting whatever means God chooses to produce that growth. It is contentment and also zeal. It is purity and integrity. It all this and more, but certainly not about winning popularity contests, or having a great wardrobe, or a fancy place to live, or making the dean’s list, or anything I once thought was important.

For me, the key for this transformation of values is smack in the middle of that passage from Joshua where it says to let the Word of God be continually on my mind. Reading and studying Scripture exposes and cleanses sin, but also changes the way I think — and this is success.

October 25, 2010

To Live is Christ — in confidence

At a Christian women’s conference, the auditorium was nearly full, but most of the women were sitting in the back rows. The song leader bounced into the room and started a rousing version of “Anywhere with Jesus” that includes the line “Anywhere with Jesus I will safely go.”

When we finished singing, he called out, “Do you believe that?” The women said, “Yes.” What else could we say? He asked again, and then a third time, getting louder with each request, and getting a louder response. Then he said, “If you believe you can safely go anywhere with Jesus, I want all of you in the back rows to come up and sit in the front.”

It was funny, but it stuck in my mind as an important truth. It popped up again today as I read my devotional verse . . . 

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
Joshua had just taken over leadership of Israel from his mentor, Moses. This was a big job and this man was probably feeling weak and dismayed. I would have been. However, God reminded him of His promises and His presence. Joshua could go anywhere since God was with him.

Most Christians grab and hold unto a promise like this when they are in a challenging situation. When we have big problems, like Joshua, we turn to our big God. This is the way faith should be — it rises to the occasion, at least to the big occasions. However, that challenge at the women’s conference is my reminder that faith is also about the little things.

I used to resist making phone calls, especially to a business. They made me feel uncomfortable. Anywhere with Jesus? I don’t like driving at night and would rather stay home. Anywhere with Jesus? I’ve had problems with dentists and lately have felt anxious about going back to have my teeth taken care of. Anywhere with Jesus?

If what I believe is only for the big things, what does that say about God? Is He only interested in helping me when I’m backed into a corner by lions, or falling off a cliff? Some think so. They don’t want to “bother” God about things they can handle themselves, or at least things they think they can handle.

I don’t agree. Jesus said that if a sparrow fell to the ground, God knows it. He said that God knows the number of the hairs on our heads. In my mind, God is very interested in details. He cares if I am self-conscious, or nervous at night, or if I feel weak in the knees. He is interested in my littlest fears, those small things that may not bother others. He cares if I am embarrassed, or stressed, or if I need to drive downtown on icy streets.

God told Joshua that he could be strong, courageous and fearless because He was with him wherever he went. God offers me the same challenge and promise. Because of a good-humored song leader, I have given this much thought and am convinced that the Bible verses and the words of that song are true. My heart might pound or my throat might get dry, but because Jesus is with me, I also can go anywhere He wants me to go.

October 24, 2010

To Live is Christ — knowing what will last

Perhaps it’s my age, but frequently I’m thinking about things that will last beyond my life. I know that the stuff in my house will last longer than I do, but not by much. For instance, quilts have been known to last a hundred years more or less, but I don’t know if the quilts I make will last that long. My computer may not make it even a year or two from now. Wood, plaster, most of it eventually turns to dust.

However, people last. Jesus said everyone has eternal life. This could be a surprise to some, but He was clear that not everyone goes to heaven. Everlasting life is not about how long we live, but where we are after we die. 

Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (John 5:25–29)
An important note is that when Jesus talks about “good” and “evil,” His definition is different from what most people think. In His mind, “there is none good but God.” Jesus made this plain to those seeking eternal life. To be “good” our only chance is to have His goodness. This is the wonder of faith — it puts those who believe “in Christ” and changes them from the inside out, giving them something they did not possess without Jesus.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new . . . For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21)
I’ve called that the big trade. God took my sin and gave me His goodness. Because of that, Christians have the goodness of God and can do good.

So, people last. Some will experience eternal life separated from God. Others have eternal life with God. Those others are able to bear “fruit” that will also last forever. 

You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last. Then my Father will give you whatever you ask for in my name. So I command you to love each other. (John 15:16–17)
I know some of what that “fruit” is. It’s described in the Bible as both attitudes and the actions done with those attitudes motivating them.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . . (Galatians 5:22–23)
This fruit cannot be produced apart from faith in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Some try to imitate this fruit, but the difference is the source of it, the motivation behind it, and the results. The fruit that God wants will glorify Him, not promote me.

So with all that in my head and heart, the challenge is to live as this kind of person, someone whose life is chock-full of those things which will last forever — in eternity — with God. Since I can take only everlasting things with me into eternity, this choice is a no-brainer.

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October 23, 2010

To Live is Christ — like a grapevine

Jesus uses the analogy of grapevines to show me how my life can to bear fruit by abiding in Him. I cannot do it detached from the Vine, who is my source. 
You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another. (John 15:16–17)
One line in my devotional reading puts another picture in my head. It says, “Grapes grow in open air on reaching vines; they don’t do well buried in the ground like potatoes.”

This prompted me to go online and find out how grapes are grown. After the surprise on my search engine (the photo for the day was a vineyard), I found all sorts of interesting things about vineyards. Because God created them and knew all this, there is more to Jesus’ vineyard analogy than first glance.

One source says grapevines are best planted without doing anything fancy to the hole in the ground. It said to leave the structure of the soil in place as much as possible and put mulch materials on top only. Then it added to let the plant get its nutrients from the soil that it has to grow in.

I think of a Christian poster says, “Bloom where you are planted.” In other words, God uses me where I am. He does not fuss about “ideal” conditions but teaches me to adapt to my situations and be fruitful in them, not looking for perfect soil before I bear spiritual fruit.

Another source says that each type of grape vine grows in its own way. This means each type has to be trained differently. One variety droops so must be trained high and allowed to droop downward during the growing season. Another type must be trained low and allowed to grow upward.

Our Gardener also gives Christians this consideration. He understands my needs and knows how I grow and what training will produce the best fruit. Each Christian will have their own special requirements and the Vinedresser pays attention to each as they need it.

This source also said that grapevines need maximum exposure to the sun to be able to ripen the grapes. If they grow out of control, the vine leaves begin to shade the vine and this allows for disease and insects to ruin the fruit. They also must be pruned properly each year for maximum fruitfulness and health. This pruning removes 75-90% of the previous year's growth. While this seems drastic, it maintains health and vigor of the vine and means maximum fruit production.

Jesus talks about pruning sin and all unnecessary things from my life. He says, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He (the Father) takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).

Jesus knows what will keep me from bearing the spiritual fruit that will glorify my Father. He knows just how much heat, light, water, and shelter grapevines need — and how much encouragement, spiritual enlightenment, nourishment and protection I need.

Grapes do not grow in the ground like potatoes. They grow in open air and connected to the Vine. To be fruitful like a healthy grapevine, all I need to do is abide in my vine, Jesus Christ, and let Him provide the rest.

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October 22, 2010

To Live is Christ — joyfully on my face

When I’m filled with pride I cannot truly care about others as I should. Instead, relationships become a competition in which I am trying to prove myself or defend myself, or they are just all about me. The love of God is the opposite of such selfishness. Loving others means that I do not even think about myself.

Love requires humility and this is why today’s verses are so powerful. Jesus speaks and humbles me, then tells me the logical result of being a humble person.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:16–17, ESV)
I didn’t one day up and decide to be a Christian. The Bible is clear that, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10–12, ESV)

That says no one, and all, not even one — so that applies to me. I would not seek God and could not choose Him. Being contrary to God is part of human sinful nature. Seeking Him and choosing Him is a foreign idea.

So He chose me.

That boggles my mind. It makes no sense. Not only did God pick me, but He gave me something to do and the power to do it. In the face of that, I cannot be proud. Proud of what? Nothing.

In recognizing that God gave me what I don’t deserve, and didn’t do with me as I do deserve, there is no room for anything but reliance on Him for everything. This includes the desire and ability to care about others. I know my sinful self and my pride. Nothing I have can be anything or do anything that has eternal value. I cannot love others without Him. I cannot do anything without Him. Yet He picked me, appointed me, and commands me to be fruitful.

I feel as if I’m blabbering. Such amazing truths undo me. I need to stop writing and go talk to Him. He says He will give me whatever I ask. The fact of it is, I don’t even know what to ask, so He has to tell me that too. What helplessness, yet this is also fascinating. When this worthless yet chosen soul is walking with the Lord Jesus Christ and speaking with my God and Father, I am in a most peaceful, carefree, and happy place. And I don’t understand that either. I can’t decide whether to leap in the air and click my heels together — or just fall on my face.

October 21, 2010

To Live is Christ — Hand-picked and grafted in

Today’s devotional reading is from the same chapter as the past few days, John 15. In it, Jesus tells His disciples that they are like branches grafted into a vine (Himself) and as long as they abide in the vine, they will bear fruit and get their prayers answered. The verses for today emphasize that Jesus selected them; they did not graft themselves into Him.
You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another. (John 15:16–17)
God chooses believers or believers choose God? The sovereignty of God to save souls vs. the free will of man to choose salvation has been debated for centuries. The only reason for such a debate is that humanly speaking, it seems one or the other has to be true. However, the Bible teaches that both are true.

Yes, God selects us. Jesus says so in these verses. However, we are not chess pieces on some cosmic board where God moves us about. He gives us volition so we can make choices. He tells us to choose to serve Him.

God cannot be partly sovereign — no more than a woman can be partly pregnant or a race partly won. He is either all powerful or not. Yet in His sovereign will, He determined that we have freedom to make decisions. We can make both wise and foolish choices, but because He is all powerful, He can use all the choices of those who love Him for our good (Romans 8:28-29).

These verses from John 15 are about salvation. I don’t understand why God chooses some and not others. My understanding of sin and human rebellion make me ask why He bothers to choose anyone! We all deserve eternal punishment. No one earns or merits being picked. Yet for His own glory, Jesus not only picks people for Himself, but appoints those He picks to go and bear fruit. He teaches us to abide in Him so we do this fruit-bearing in His strength and with His resources. That kind of fruit is so powerful that it lasts forever.

Besides the wonder of that, He also allows us to use His name to ask the Father for what we need, and the Father gives it to us. Consider how remarkable this is! God picks me? God sends me to do things for Him? God produces spiritual fruit in my life? God gives me all that I need?

These outstanding declarations from Jesus Christ are made even more outstanding by the choice He then expects from me — and this is indeed a choice — He tells me to love other Christians.

There are days when I don’t slow down long enough to let His Word hit me in the heart. This is not one of them. These are awesome thoughts that make me shake my head and bow my knee. I’m grateful to be chosen — and I am grateful for the privilege of being able to choose.

October 20, 2010

To Live is Christ — like a child with her Father

Yesterday I was praying for a nephew, but a bit uncertain how to pray. Just then, his mother (my sister-in-law) phoned with a prayer request from her son. Even without asking, God showed me how to pray for this young man.

Prayer is mysterious. As my brother’s wife and I talked about it, we agreed that God’s ways are not our ways. We usually ask Him to “fix” our problems, but instead He may give us greater strength to live patiently with them. Still, He makes marvelous promises regarding prayer.

But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. (John 15:7–8, NLT)
The key here to answered prayer is my behavior. When I am walking with Christ and obeying the Holy Spirit, God is glorified and my obedience proves that I belong to Him. When that happens, He is eager to grant the requests of His followers. This also brings glory to Him.

I am startled at the comparisons between this and good parenting. Like any loving earthly father, my heavenly Father enjoys blessing His children and doing things for us. It pleases Him to grant our requests. He desires the very best for us.

Nevertheless, God does not spoil His children. He is wise. He gives good gifts, but He does not give me whatever I ask for in selfishness or foolishly. An example might be a teen asking for the car. A good father considers that child’s ability. Is it safe for the child to be driving the car?

He also considers his or her behavior. A good father would not grant the car keys to a teen with a rebellious and defiant attitude. Instead, that teen needs to prove her reliability, not be “rewarded” for being a brat.

God is better than the best of earthly fathers. He never pats me on the head when I am acting in selfish and sinful ways. He knows that my bad behavior is not good for me and will get me in trouble. It makes sense that He listens when I am listening and turns a deaf ear to my requests when I am behaving irresponsibly and not ready for the answer.

Yesterday He showed me that abiding is like a marital relationship. Today, He shows me that it is like a parent and child relationship. His parenting is perfect. He knows exactly what to do with me and how much He can trust me, with car keys or with many other things. My problem is that I need to work on being a more well-behaved and reliable child.

October 19, 2010

To Live is Christ — how to practice abiding

Tonight my husband has an appointment at 6:45 p.m.. I plan to make supper a little earlier than usual so he can eat before he leaves for that appointment. I suppose I could say no, that doesn’t work for me, but in my marriage, we realize a far greater harmony and pleasure by a little cooperation.

We also realize the importance of listening to one another. He told me about his appointment. Had I been preoccupied or indifferent, those plans might be ignored. Then he would be unhappy that supper was not ready when he got home, and I would be unhappy that he had to leave without eating it.

It is a choice. I can fit my life into the plans of my spouse and vice versa, or we can each do our own thing and pay no attention to what the other is doing. By acting the latter way, we make marriage look like a bad idea, and are certainly going to find ourselves annoyed at each other, or worse.

This is another way of explaining today’s verses from John’s gospel. Abiding in Christ is about relationship, and is much like a good marriage.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:7–8, ESV)
Abiding is about paying attention to the will of my Lord and Savior. He certainly is in tune with me and my needs, knowing them better than I know them myself. He longs to walk in harmony, but He is never the one that is out of step. If anyone is, it is always me. (This isn’t necessarily true about marriage — but no illustration is perfect!)

In a marriage, harmony, communication, and even mind-reading take time to develop and perfect. It is the same with abiding in Christ. While John puts them in reverse order, a major part of learning this is making sure His Word abides in my heart. I have to read it, think about it, remember what it says. When I know Scripture, I am more apt to understand what Jesus is thinking and planning. When that happens, life becomes very exciting and I am eager to do my part and fit into the drama that He is directing.

It is the same in marriage. Communication makes abiding possible. If I don’t know what my spouse is thinking, how can I fit in with his plans? Impossible.

Abiding in Christ could involve simple things like timing. When my relationship with Him is close, I know when to do or say something (or keep still). It could also involve the content of my words or actions. In the case of my recent dental fiasco, I had some strong ideas of how to respond to this unfolding situation. However, the Lord clearly instructed me to simply trust Him. In the abiding, He is revealing to me His will on this matter. Had I done what my own mind first considered, I would have separated myself from the will of God. That would have been foolish and costly.

Today, I have a to-do list. However, abiding means that both ears are open to His changes in my plans. Jesus may have guided my pen when I wrote the list, but should He give me an unexpected chore or interrupt the list with a greater need, abiding means that I will go with the flow of His leading and adjust accordingly.

While this concept totally riles many women, some of them Christian, the Bible talks about wives in this kind of relationship with their husbands. We struggle because fitting in with our hubby’s plans goes against our old nature. Women want to be independent and do their own thing. Nevertheless, God asks us to do it. In my experience, abiding in Christ is impossible if I cannot learn this on a human level.

That is, following the leading of Christ becomes impossible if I refuse to shift my routine so my DH can eat before his suppertime appointment. God gave me this relationship as a parallel. If I can harmonize my plans to fit with what my husband needs to do, abiding in Christ is clarified and practiced on a day-to-day level. It is also becoming much easier because I am learning how an attitude of abiding looks and feels.

God is so smart.

October 18, 2010

To Live is Christ — trust and obey

Depending on where a speaker puts the emphasis, a sentence can have several meanings.
    I love you? can be skepticism, even mockery.
    I love you — emphasizes the feelings of the speaker.
    I love you — makes the other person the center of attention.
This morning as I read the following verses, I wondered what part of verse 7 did the “by this God is glorified” point back to. Is it the two abidings, or is it the part about prayers being answered?
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:7–8, NKJV)
Many people think that God is most glorified when our prayers are answered. For instance, when someone is sick and we pray for His will, in the back of our minds we are thinking that instant healing will most glorify God. Sometimes it does. However, a story comes to mind . . .

Two alcoholics attended an evangelistic crusade. Both went forward at the invitation and both were saved. Years later, the person who led them to Christ revisited the same two men. One said that since his salvation, he’d lost all desire for alcohol and had never had another drop. The counselor praised God with him.

The second man had a slightly different testimony. He said that since his salvation he had craved alcohol every day, but God gave him grace to say no and he had never had another drop.

Sometimes God is glorified as much or even more when He does not answer our prayers but gives us grace to live with the problem or issue that we are trying to pray out of our lives.

I looked up these verses from John in another Bible. The English Standard Version aims for accuracy to the author’s intent. The difference is slight, but it clarifies the answer to my question.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:7–8, ESV)
The context of these verses is about bearing fruit by those who are abiding in the Vine. This vivid imagery depicts branches grafted into the grapevine — who is Christ. If we draw our strength from Him as the graft draws from the parent plant, then we will produce spiritual fruit. By producing this spiritual fruit, Jesus Christ is glorified and we give the evidence that we belong to Him.

Sometimes I pray for what I think is the best thing. To me, it seems that my notion of the answer will most honor God. Yet God shows me how little I know. His ways are not my ways. I look for the spectacular and dramatic. Sometimes that works, but more often He responds by showing me more about abiding and fruit-bearing in my own life. To use another image, instead of removing the rocks from the streams of my life, He makes the water deeper.

I’m learning that God is most glorified when His people abide in Him no matter what He does with our prayers. If I keep praying thirty years for someone’s salvation, my steadfastness can glorify Him just as much as a change in the other person’s life. While I’d rather put my own character development in second place, God says that He is glorified by the fruit of patience and persistence.

Abiding in Jesus means giving up all reliance on other things. Whatever I trust besides Him has to be abandoned, including my own way of doing things. I think life would be much easier for me if God would just answer my requests the way that I pray them. Heal Lyle, save Carla, and so on. Instead, He offers a greater challenge. He asks me to be like Jesus, to rely on His sustaining power and continue to believe that He knows what He is doing — even when His answers do not match my requests.

October 17, 2010

To Live is Christ — Abiding and praying

The Bible has lots to say about prayer, but perhaps the most meaningful passage in my mind is this promise from Jesus as recorded in John’s gospel.
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:7–8)
“Abide” means to stay, remain, live in, dwell, endure. The verse is telling me to stick with Jesus, living in Him as my only place to dwell. This “abiding” cannot happen when I sin. As soon as I do, I step outside of Him.

So the whole idea of abiding in Him is about keeping my life clean. I cannot do that unless I am abiding, so the two go together. Forsaking sin and abiding in Christ keeps me out of trouble.

The verse also tells me that His words need to abide in me. That is, the Word of God must live in my heart and mind. It needs to be the foundation for my thoughts, words and actions. Of course, when I sin, His word is simple not there. I have ignored it or forgotten it or just disobeyed it. One thing I know is that I need His words to keep my life clean. It is as the psalmist says . . . 

How can a young man (or an older woman) cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. (Psalm 119:9–11)
With those two “abidings” in place, Jesus then says I can ask God for whatever I want and He will do it for me! This is the key to having prayer answered all the time.

I don’t get all excited and think things like a mansion or a Porsche, because He has taught me a little bit about this abiding business. When I abide in Christ, then I am wanting things He wants. He isn’t into fancy houses or cars. When His word abides in me, I am praying His thoughts back to Him, and none of those are self-indulgent gimme prayers. Abiding is a change of where I live — not in my old sinful, selfish ways, but in a new place, in Christ.

Verse 8 adds a couple more strings to this “always get your prayers answered” promise. It is about more results — after the praying is done. I’m going to think about them tomorrow. For today, abiding gives my heart plenty to think about and aim toward.

October 16, 2010

To Live is Christ —trusting

My devotional book calls today’s entry “The Good, the Bad, the Meaningless” which covers the spectrum of life experiences to which I can apply these favorite verses:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:28–29)
It seems to me that what seems “bad” has the most potential to change my life. At least the “bad” events turn my mind toward God more quickly than most other circumstances. When I feel alone, or helpless, or upset, or something that I don’t like, I call out to God for the why of it. He always reveals that He wants me to be like Jesus and this “bad” situation is a perfect opportunity to practice godly responses.

But what about the “good” times, when life is comfortable and nothing seems negative or hitting me with unpleasantness? How can I be like Jesus then? Didn’t He have “good” days? Maybe not. I’ve read the New Testament many times, and can think of only a few situations in His life when He experienced “good” and that for only part of a day. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus perfected obedience through the things that He suffered, so that could explain why all the negatives in His life. 

Yet He must have had “good” days, and if so, what did He do with them? Or maybe the Bible writers simply didn’t record days where Jesus had His feet up and no one was hassling Him. Or maybe there were no days like that. After all, He didn’t come here for His own pleasure.

I’m not into inflicting pain on myself or searching for trouble just so my experiences match up with Jesus. However, this is making me think about what I do with my discretionary time. I can be extremely self-indulgent. I don’t think that conforms to His image.

Jesus was very busy from what I read, yet He did take time to pray and rest. He even fell asleep on a boat in a storm. I know He didn’t watch television, but did He sit around a campfire and swap stories with His friends? Did He have a hobby? Did He play games? Maybe like to cook? How can I be more like Him in my “spare” time? Or should I have any? I’ve lots to learn.

Then there are events which could be called meaningless. For instance, I’ve discovered that a pair of my shoes are missing. It isn’t the end of the world, but they were far from worn out and one of the few pair I have that fit my oddly narrow feet. I’ve not traveled anywhere with them in a suitcase, and so far cannot find them in the normal places for shoes. If they never show up, this could be classified as an insignificant event.

Yet these verses tell me that God uses “all” things for my good. How can I become more like Jesus because of some lost shoes? He had a parable about lost sheep, but I don’t think turning this into an object lesson will make me more like Him. I have to conclude that unless He specifically shows me, I’ve no idea what God expects from me in this issue — one more that falls into that category of “all” things.

A Bible verse says, “Great is the mystery of godliness . . .” and while it is talking about the deity and incarnation of Jesus Christ, the phrase comes to mind regarding Christian living. At times it is also a mystery. Often I do not know what God is up to or why. It is a good thing that He doesn’t demand comprehension or I would be in trouble. Because He is God, I can never fully figure out what He is doing. Yet He does ask for faith, and because He is God, I can trust Him with all things — the bad, but also the good, and even the meaningless.

October 15, 2010

To Live is Christ — no pity parties

The most annoying thing about a pity-party is when I’m having one, I cannot go to sleep. Actually, this turns out a good thing. It forces me to take another look at alternatives for feeling sorry for myself.

Another good thing is God’s timing on these verses as part of my devotional reading. This week’s dental appointment had me angry and not wanting to ever see another dentist. It was partly about having to get teeth fixed again after they had already been fixed, but more about the runaround they gave me and being treated like a “case” instead of a person. My reaction was a little like my sister’s line in a grade school skit, “Nobody loves me. Everybody hates me. I’m going out into the garden to eat worms.”

Nevertheless, God kept whispering these verses in my ear, and because I know them so well, and know they are true, I could not help but listen.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:28–29)
I was still complaining. Okay God, how is this situation supposed to make me like Jesus? I don’t get it. What are You trying to tell me or show me?

My first positive thought was that Jesus was also treated unfairly. Maybe I was simply going through this so I could identify with His suffering? This was a goal for Paul, so maybe for me too? The Bible says that Paul considered all the “good stuff” in his life as rubbish, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10).

Paul knew the value of dying to self, and he also knew that when he did, he would know Jesus in a deeper way, both His power and His suffering. Was that what I needed to learn?

The next ideas that came to mind were a total surprise and obviously from the Holy Spirit. They were two passages of Scripture that instantly brought an end to my party. The first was a prophecy about Jesus:

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)
This verse was God’s polite way of saying, “Shut up.” I did. Then He gave me this one from the New Testament:
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 may not have needed a dentist, but His Father sent Him to a far worse fate — and He didn’t protest. God had a purpose for what happened to Him and the Son trusted His Father.

I got it. The daughter needs to trust her Father too, even with dentists. As soon as I said, “Yes” my anger and anguish were replaced by a deep, incredible joy and peace that only God can give.

With that, I fell sound asleep.

October 14, 2010

To Live is Christ — it is not all roses

Just because this has been a key verse all my Christian life does not mean that I escape being tested on it.
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. (Romans 8:28)
Yesterday offered one of those tests. A couple years ago, an oral surgeon put two dental implants in my jaw. The first one-hour session included an extraction, a bone graft/transplant, and the titanium posts. A few months later, the implants were screwed in and crowns put on top. This was expensive, but all was well, or so I thought.

A few weeks ago, one of the implants was painful at the root. My regular dentist opted that we “wait and see” but in three weeks, the crown was loose. He sent me back to the oral surgeon who said the implant had to come out. It took some drilling and a torque wrench.  I kid you not. He then put bone in the space and told me to come back in a month. This was expensive too.

Then the office called and told me to come back again, yesterday. I saw the oral surgeon’s partner who said I had healed well and they could replace the implant. It would take eight months. He told me his partner and my regular dentist planned a meeting after my appointment. He said it was to decide the best course of action at the least expense. After hearing what this dentist had to say, I wondered if they were meeting to get their stories straight. I’ve heard at least two versions of what went wrong and left the dental office yesterday wanting to punch someone.

So I know that God works all things together for my good — to make me into the image of Christ. He says so. I keep telling myself this is true. He has always proven it true. But I don’t want to do this all over again.

I keep telling myself that God is good and He has a plan. He has never let me down and always works so that I am changed and blessed. But I don’t want eight months of not being able to eat much more than mushy food.

I keep telling myself that there is a Christlike response to this, that I can rejoice and know that He is taking care of me. After all, I had no pain at all after the implant was removed and the freezing wore off. But Jesus likely never had a dentist appointment in His life. And this is going to be expensive.

The problem isn’t the promise. The problem is I-don’t-want-to-itis. I’ve a bad case of it and need more than the annoying overdose of “cheer up, this is fixable,” which is what I got from the second surgeon. Great chair-side manner that guy has.

Sometimes I just want God to hug me.

October 13, 2010

To Live is Christ — Amen

When Christ came into my life, one of the first Bible verses I clearly understood and took to heart was this one from Romans:
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. (Romans 8:28)
Then, I understood it to mean that no matter what happened to me, God had good purpose for it and everything would turn out okay.

While that is partly true, what I didn’t understand then was the exact meaning of “good.” Like most Christians, I associated it with blessings and comfort. My idea of “okay” was a happy ending. I needed to read verse 29:

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)
The “good” that God has in mind is to transform me into the image of Jesus Christ. He is like the sculpture who chips off all the stone that does not look like the horse he is carving. He does the same with me, except that all of my trials, joys, struggles, negative and positive experiences, mistakes, and everything else in life are His tools. With them, He chisels away all that does not look like Jesus Christ.

I cannot complain about this correct interpretation of His “good” for my life. Nothing could surpass such a result. However, the process is not as comfortable as I first hoped or thought it would be. Not only that, the results can be uncomfortable too, particularly because a few chips of my old nature still remain in the carving.

To be like Jesus means that I will experience some of what He experienced. He was misunderstood, alone, and endured incredible trials and temptations. While He always had the joy of the Holy Spirit and the power God gave Him, I can expect that I will experience (and have already) some of those negative things. If any of my old nature gets in the way, instead of meeting them with steadfast faith and constant trust in the Father, I will experience fear, sorrow, loneliness, abandonment, and all sorts of negatives that don’t seem much like “good” to me, at least not at the time.

Yet the promise of Romans 8:28-29 is mine and it endures. It says “all” things — which means I cannot experience useless situations. God can use them all to produce in me that image that He wants. This makes life very interesting, even exciting. It is like playing I Spy with God. 

Yet my part in this is more than being a game player. God wants my full cooperation. I know His promise and it gives me great reason to seek His face for wisdom and grace with each situation of life. If He is going to use all of it for good, it seems reasonable that I be willing to learn about Jesus, be determined to respond to everything as Jesus would, and rely on the power of God to give me whatever I need to do just that.

Clipart credit

October 12, 2010

To Live is Christ — deciding to be part of the solution

Our newspaper has a “venting” column. While it might be a good place to protest things that the venter can do nothing about, most of the vents are by people who are upset because someone has violated their comfort zone. Noise is too loud, air is too smoky, streets have too many potholes, streets have too much construction happening.

My DH, in his usual leadership positions, has a response to those who whine and complain. He suggests that they must decide if they are going to be part of the problem, or get involved and be part of the solution.

I’ve heard people complain about the sin and evil in the world too. Few can offer solutions. Some educators think that teaching people would fix it, but some of the worst criminals are well educated. A friend suggests that we hang them by their thumbs, but we both know that condemnation will not work. The sad part is that even with all our suggestions and all our complaining, we are just as much part of the problem as those we point fingers at. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

God’s Word makes it known how much He hates evil. Humanly speaking, we have all kinds of ideas how He should fix it. Some think evil would stop if everyone read the Bible, or if we followed those harsh Old Testament laws. Others wish God would strike sinners dead, but that would eliminate the problem by eliminating the population. There has to be a better solution. Complaining, condemning, or making the Bible required reading? I tend to like that last one, but I know that none of these will eliminate sin.

Today’s devotional verse offers God’s solution. It is from a modern version, The Message

God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. (John 3:17)
God’s answer to sin and evil is Jesus Christ, His Son. Jesus died for our sin, taking our condemnation and paying our penalty. Then He rose from the dead and conquered that problem too. But there is more . . .

Jesus also offers to come and live inside those who put their trust in Him. By doing this, His sinless life and His power over sin are made available, as is His never-ending life. Christians do not have to sin or do evil things. We have escaped the snare of sin and selfishness because of Jesus.

I know that I don’t always live by the life of Christ. Sometimes I think that I know better. I’d never say it out loud for if I did, the sound of it would set me straight. But sin just sneaks in there at times. I know that it doesn’t have to. I can live without it. So can everyone else, if they put their faith in Christ.

What would that solution do to the venting column? Well, there would be no offenders to whine about, but even if there were, those who once complained would be more concerned to help the offenders with their problems. They would be telling them about Jesus and that they can overcome all selfishness and sinful behavior. Instead of whining over petty things, the venters would be content and thankful.

I know that putting the world right is a big job, but it is not too big for God. What makes it slow going is that God has decided that we need to cooperate. While He can be persuasive, He does not force sinners to change their ways. Like my hubby says, all of us must decide — are we going to be part of the problem? Or with the grace of Almighty God, are we going to get involved with Jesus Christ and become part of the solution?

October 11, 2010

To Live is Christ — Be not afraid

A Greg Olsen print in our living room reminds me of the relationship I have with Jesus. In this painting, Jesus stands on a rock at the edge of a stream. He has a child in one arm and another is stretched out grasping the hand of another whose feet are caught in the water and rocks.

The painting suggests other thoughts and symbols, but the title, “Be Not Afraid” echos today’s devotional verse.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17)
Jesus came to pull people from the clutches of sin. Yes, we wade into it — either without thought or on purpose, and yes, we are like children in many ways. We haven’t a clue how much trouble we can get into until we are in it. However, Jesus is there for us.

Olsen captures the mood of His rescue. The scene could have conveyed the terror of the moment, but it doesn’t. Instead, it evokes peace. The child in arms is safe. The other one still has his feet in trouble, but because he has responded to Jesus’ outstretched arm, safety is eminent. You know that he will be rescued.

That is the intent of John 3:17. This verse conveys hope. Although the world deserves condemnation, and although some fear for their eternal security, Jesus came to save us. He offers no superficial pat on the head and a ‘pass’ on what we have done. Instead, He takes our punishment and condemnation on Himself and dies in our place. Sin is the real danger and Jesus offers a real solution for sin.

I know that my sin is the reason I deserved condemnation. For those who are aware of God’s judgment, sin is the reason they fear it, but Jesus took care of sin. He also takes care of the fear. Those who believe in Him know that their sin is forgiven and washed away. Fear is replaced with confidence and hope, even joy.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1–2)
I am the child in His arms, one set free from the grip of sin and now safe in His care. Should I slip back into that rocky and scarey place like the child in the water, He stands ready to rescue me. I belong to Him and my eternity is secure.

Scripture is my best reminder and encouragement, but I’m thankful to Olsen. He uses his talents to depict the heart of Jesus Christ. His work glows with the warmth of someone who knows that in Christ we can live without fear.

Photo credit

October 10, 2010

To Live is Christ — filled with gratitude

This weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada. Tomorrow, our family will eat together and be thankful for many things. Today’s reading reminds me of the most important blessings in my life, much more than the thirteen I will list . . . 
God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! No one who has faith in God’s Son will be condemned. But everyone who doesn’t have faith in him has already been condemned for not having faith in God’s only Son. (John 3:16–18, CEV)
1. God’s love. I cannot imagine life in a universe created by a hateful God. Would any of us still be breathing? I’m thankful that my God loves the world, me included.
2. Jesus Christ. This is God’s greatest gift. In Christ I have all that I need.
3. Faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “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.” This sentence construction indicates that not only is grace a gift, but so is faith. I’m thankful that God enables me to believe in Jesus.
4. Eternal life. It became mine when Christ came into my life. He brought His life with Him, and because He, the eternal one, lives in me, I will live forever!
5. Hope. The older I get the more aware I am of the end of life, but with Jesus there is no end. I will never really die — meaning nothing can separate me from God. I will step from this world to the next and spend eternity with Him.
6. No condemnation. This is a negative, so I’m thankful for its opposite — God’s acceptance. I don’t deserve it, but this isn’t about my merit, but about what Jesus did on the cross in my place. He removed my condemnation.
7. Salvation. I’m saved from the penalty of sin, am being saved from sin’s power, and one day will be saved from its presence. I’m thankful that God does not do things half way.
8. Condemnation for sinners. This may seem odd, but I could not worship a God who just looks the other way concerning evil. Those who refuse His forgiveness and will not repent must eventually pay for the things they have done. God is just, and I am thankful.
9. Church. I know . . . church gets a bad rap these days, but I’m thankful that the people of God have so much in common and that we can worship together, pray for one another, and share in the goodness of God together.
10. Family. Not all of them believe. Not all of them are even thankful for much, but they are God’s gifts to me and I am thankful for each of them.
11. Friends. Not all of them believe. Not all of them are even thankful for much, but they are God’s gifts to me and I am thankful for each of them as well.
12. Creativity. Made in His image, I’m thankful for creativity. While I cannot speak worlds into existence like He did, I can make a pie, or a quilt, or a garden. I’m thankful.
13. Color. A friend is color-blind; his world is gray. Even on gray days, I’m thankful for color: candy red, sunshine yellow, oranges - brick and pumpkin, blues by the thousands in Alberta skies, greens lush and pale, purples, plums and pinks. I run my fingers through paint chips like Scrooge with dollar bills, and am thankful that God gave me color.

Gratitude is a great gift too. Without it, I am whinny, grouchy, and constantly attending pity parties. Far better to eat turkey and pie, and joyfully give thanks for God’ blessings!

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada.

October 9, 2010

To Live is Christ — His burdens are light

Anything major at the dentist usually means having a shot to “freeze” my mouth. Before the numbness wears off, I have to be careful. I cannot feel anything so it is easy to bite the inside of my cheeks.

I’ve heard that diseases like leprosy are terrible because the sick person cannot feel pain either. As a result, they are continually taking chunks out of their extremities. That means pain is actually a good thing. It lets us know when something is wrong. Without it, we would be oblivious to physical danger.

Guilt is similar. It is the impression on my conscience when I have violated ethical and moral codes. It can be false guilt in that my codes are faulty, but most of the time, it is a signal to me that I have done something wrong and need to deal with it.

The title of my devotional reading for today is, “God doesn’t book guilt trips.” I don’t agree. How else does He let us know when we have violated spiritual principles? How else would we know that we have committed any sin?

That being said, just like pain often requires seeing a doctor and getting some medication, guilt also requires action. God might have booked the trip, but He wants it to be a short one. Instead of wallowing in “Poor me” or “I’ve done it again,” He wants to treat our guilt so we do not carry it around like a heavy weight.

Jesus has been called the Great Physician. He was noted for healing the sick, but He is also a healer of guilty souls. Instead of thinking that “God is out to get me” for the sins and disobedience in my life, I must always remember this truth:

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17)
He could have condemned us. We are all guilty, from the greatest of sinners to the sweetest saint, because the Bible is clear: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10)

One sin, one small thing can make us guilty before God, even if we don’t feel guilty. However, for those who realize that they have sinned and are sinners and are guilty, Jesus offers forgiveness of sin (all of it) and freedom from all guilt.

He cures the guilt problem the same way a good doctor cures pain – not by giving painkillers but by getting to the root of the problem. Guilt is caused by sin and sin will destroy us. So Doctor Jesus bore that destruction in our place. At the same time, He removes guilt by forgiving and cleansing those who put their faith in Him.

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)
Without a guilt trip, I would never have known my need for the Great Physician. Had I insisted on mere pain killers, the guilt would still be there and real. But in my numbness, I would continue to bite and destroy myself, oblivious to what I was doing.

Yes, guilt is painful. Admitting sin is painful too, but hiding it or ignoring it means that the cause of it will go unchecked. Should that happen, the end will be destruction. If I could choose the carefreeness of no guilt at all (isn’t that a psychopath?) or having the burden of a very tender conscience, I’d pick the burden. It is a light one now, not because I’ve conquered the cause of it, but because I have a Friend who carries both its cause and its consequences — for me.

October 8, 2010

To Live is Christ — good news or bad news?

John 3:16 is a Bible verse known by many. It has been translated into almost every language: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

This beloved verse is the Gospel in a few words. It tells us that God loves us so much that He offered us the life of Jesus, His Son. This is the way to live forever — by believing in Jesus Christ.

The verse does not say what that offering meant for Christ. It hints that our sin carries an extreme punishment — perishing. But it does not say that Jesus bore it for us, or that God sacrificed Him in our place.

Neither does it say what will happen to anyone who does not believe in Jesus. But the next couple of verses describe the other side of this good news — the bad news for those who will not believe. 

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17–18)
Someone told me that whenever anyone faces a decision, they are often already in one of the choices. For instance, if I am deciding whether I should go to the store or stay home, I am already at home. I am in that choice.

This describes what these two verses are saying. The person who is trying to decide whether or not to believe in Christ is already in the one option — they do not believe in Him. Some might argue that in a general sense, Christ’s death covered all sin, but God asks for a personal choice to believe. Those who neglect, reject or refuse to make that choice are already condemned.

Yet Jesus didn’t come here to condemn people. He didn’t have to. We are condemned already. All of us sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We condemn ourselves.

Jesus loves us and came to save us from the condemnation of our sin. The Bible says that, “The wages of sin is death . . .” (Romans 6:23) and Jesus paid those wages. He willingly took my punishment so I could have everlasting life. Yet those who reject that provision, that incredible offer, have no other options. For all of us it is either bad news: refuse and reject Jesus Christ and perish — or good news: believe and live.

October 7, 2010

To Live is Christ — trusting when I do not understand

Two members of a cult came to my door yesterday. One talked and the other, obviously in training, stood and listened. Instead of trying to get rid of them, I let the older woman talk and learned some interesting things.

Most significant was that their organization puts much value on human reasoning. She said that God gave us the ability to think and understand. Therefore, what a person believes has to be totally rational and make sense.

I suggested that God does not ask us to figure it all out, but to simply trust Him. I said faith is more about the One we believe it than it is about my brain power. I trust God because He is trustworthy, even when I don’t understand what He is doing or what He asks of me. If faith depended on understanding, I would not trust Him at all because His ways are higher than mine, and because my brain is dulled because of sin.

This concept of trusting God simply because He is God was foreign to her. She insisted otherwise. She repeatedly questioned how could anyone trust what they did not understand. First it had to make sense.

In the Bible, Abraham is called the ‘father of faith.’ When God asked him to leave his home and go to a far country, he went — without knowing where he was going. When God asked him to sacrifice Isaac, the son he loved, he took the lad up the mountain and tied him on an altar — without knowing that this was a faith-test and that God would intervene and stop him. Did any of this make sense?

Of course not. The ‘father of faith’ did not have a clue why God asked him to do these things. That did not stop him from believing and obeying. I told her biblical faith is not about understanding it all first.

My verses today are about the omnipresence of God. In context, these are God’s words to false teachers. He says . . . 

Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. . . . Am I a God at hand,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:16, 23–24)
A couple of days ago God showed me that those who speak falsely are trying to hide from God. They do not want to give up their sins, so instead of listening to the good news of repentance and forgiveness and the gospel of grace, they try to hide from truth behind their false teaching.

But no one can hide from God. I cannot hide my pride, sinful motives, or any secret thought. God knows me inside out. He knows all that I do and say and think. This concept might scare some people who are trying to hide from Him, but for me, His presence is a great comfort. I was glad for it yesterday too.

I have mixed emotions about cult members. On one hand, I’m angered at the deception that holds them in its grip and that they perpetuate on to others. On the other hand, I wish I could convince them that they are missing the truth and are in bondage to their fears and to the organization they represent.

Yet I know my appeals to their intellect or any reasoning with their ideas is not God’s way. He fills heaven and earth. His Spirit can soften hard hearts and flood sinners with truth. No one can escape God. Should He decide to show mercy and reveal truth, no one can hide from Him. If He decides to open their eyes, there is no escape. Once it is done, darkness is gone forever.

My prayer for these, and for anyone else who is trying to hide from God, is that the Lord reveals Himself to them and shows them the frailty and sinful pride in their brain power. Besides, He is not interested in what we have. He only desires that we be like little children and receive what He has for us.

October 6, 2010

To Live is Christ — joyful in His presence

After reading and studying the Bible for almost forty years, I occasionally find myself thinking of God as represented by artists. I know that God the Son became the man Jesus Christ, but God is not limited by time and space like we are. God is spirit and He is everywhere.
“Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:24)
One theologian says that the nearest thing he can do to imagine God is air. Me too. Air is everywhere, at least to us who inhabit earth. It surrounds us and it permeates everything.

The big difference of course is that air is inert, without personality. While it moves at times with great power, air cannot hear and answer prayer, forgive sin, or heal the sick. Contrasting God, as the above verse says, air cannot see me either.

In context (see yesterday’s post), this verse is God’s answer to those who try to hide from Him. God says they are deceiving themselves. Hiding from God is impossible. Before Christ came into my life, I may have tried it; I don’t remember. Now, I cannot imagine wanting to flee from His presence. Because I know Him, knowing that He fills heaven and earth and knowing that He sees me is great comfort.

Sensing the presence of God is very much like sensing the presence of a visible person. The young woman that had been living with us since April moved out last week. She worked shifts, so sometimes when she was here, she was sleeping during the day and very quiet. Nevertheless, I sensed her presence. Now that she is gone, I notice that sense of her is missing — and I miss her.

It is like that with God. Most of the time I am very aware of His presence. I can talk to Him and He speaks to my heart. I am comforted to know that I am never alone, and to know that He is watching over me.

During the trials of life, His presence is especially meaningful. Through one particularly difficult time, a song, “You are There,”  became my prayer and the anchor that kept me encouraged. The words of this song came from a Psalm.

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:7–10)
The presence of God is not a fearful thing to those who know Him through faith in Jesus Christ. Instead, He is here to comfort, guide, encourage, stabilize and care for me. He also fills my heart with peace. If anyone sees me smiling for no reason at all, it is because I know God is with me — and I am simply joyful in His presence!

October 5, 2010

To Live is Christ — without hiding

I have moved twenty-eight times, almost half of those since Christ came into my life. God has blessed by leading me to solid, Bible-preaching churches in all those moves. While we’ve had our share of cults coming to the door, no false teachers were in the congregations of those churches.

However, false teachers and false doctrine abound. God has always warned His people to close their ears to them. He used His faithful prophets to give those warnings.

Don’t listen to the lies of these false prophets, you people of Judah! The message they preach is something they imagined; it did not come from me, the Lord All-Powerful. These prophets go to people who refuse to respect me and who are stubborn and do whatever they want. The prophets tell them, “The Lord has promised everything will be fine.” But I, the Lord, tell you that these prophets have never attended a meeting of my council in heaven or heard me speak. They are evil! So in my anger I will strike them like a violent storm. I won’t calm down, until I have finished what I have decided to do. Someday you will understand exactly what I mean. I did not send these prophets or speak to them, but they ran to find you and to preach their message. If they had been in a meeting of my council in heaven, they would have told you people of Judah to give up your sins and come back to me. I am everywhere — both near and far, in heaven and on earth. There are no secret places where you can hide from me. (Jeremiah 23:16–24, CEV)
The bottom line here is that those who speak falsely and those who listen are trying to hide from God. They do not want to give up their sins, so instead of listening to the good news of repentance and forgiveness and the gospel of grace, they try to hide from the truth in false teaching.

This never occurred to me as the basic lure of cults and teaching that claims to be Bible-based but is not. However this hiding to avoid truth is not just in the Old Testament. Jesus said it this way . . . 

No one who has faith in God’s Son will be condemned. But everyone who doesn’t have faith in him has already been condemned for not having faith in God’s only Son. The light has come into the world, and people who do evil things are judged guilty because they love the dark more than the light. People who do evil hate the light and won’t come to the light, because it clearly shows what they have done. But everyone who lives by the truth will come to the light, because they want others to know that God is really the one doing what they do. (John 3:18–21, CEV)
When I think of people hiding in the dark, I picture their ‘darkness’ at the least as ignorance, and at the worst as flagrant sin. Yet the Bible says false teaching is also a form of darkness. Those who do not want to give up their sin can hide in “religion” by putting on a form of godliness. Paul says it this way . . . 
You can be certain that in the last days there will be some very hard times. People will love only themselves and money. They will be proud, stuck-up, rude, and disobedient to their parents. They will also be ungrateful, godless, heartless, and hateful. Their words will be cruel, and they will have no self-control or pity. These people will hate everything that is good. They will be sneaky, reckless, and puffed up with pride. Instead of loving God, they will love pleasure. Even though they will make a show of being religious, their religion won’t be real. Don’t have anything to do with such people. Some men fool whole families, just to get power over those women who are slaves of sin and are controlled by all sorts of desires. These women always want to learn something new, but they never can discover the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, these people are enemies of the truth. Their minds are sick, and their faith isn’t real. (2 Timothy 3:1–8, CEV, italics mine)
The danger of false teachers is very real. The only way to avoid deception is to avoid the root problem. Instead of clinging to sin, I must always want to get rid of it. Instead of trying to look good on the outside and cling to “my way” on the inside, I must be willing to humble myself and admit my sinfulness. God’s grace is there for me. I can try to hide from God, but as Jeremiah says, He is everywhere and knows my heart.

No matter what false teachers do to look good, they cannot hide from Him either.