Tuesday, August 31, 2010

To Live is Christ — hating sin, loving sinners

Yesterday’s vague message became clearer as God kept speaking to me. I’d read an old journal entry that made me think something had gone awry in my spiritual life. As I prayed, He showed me that my heart’s desire had been to trust people because doing so makes life much easier. This is also naive. Everyone lets other people down. I do too. God even says, “Do not trust in princes” etc. He wants a simple acceptance of the fact that we are not trustworthy creatures.

I’m fighting this. I’ve always fought it. I want people to be trustworthy. I get upset when they let me down and don’t want that to happen. I want dependability and reliability. I suppose that isn’t a bad desire, for God wants that too, but instead of trusting God with what others do or do not do, I’ve been spending far too much energy trying to cope with the facts. Instead of acceptance, I’ve been digging for reasons why this person or that person cannot be trusted. How silly. No reasons are necessary. The Lord says, “Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar.” (Romans 3:4)

This seems an odd problem. I’m acting as if I need to prove that what God says is right, and I’m angry that it is true. Why do we have to be so unreliable? How do I deal with not being able to trust people? Getting mad at them certainly isn’t working.

The model is Jesus Christ. He knows what is in our heart and that we are sinners, yet He also considers us more important than Himself. He was willing to die for our sin and did so without complaint. His Spirit nudges us when we sin, but His love always expects the best (1 Corinthians 13).

That balance seems utterly impossible for me, but of course it is impossible. If I could do it, I would not need Jesus. He would not have to forgive me and cleanse me and change my life if I could live perfectly all by myself.

I talked with Him about this, and He lifted my frustrations and helped me see the reason behind it. I confessed my lack of simple faith, even fighting such a basic concept that all people are sinners. Then, as if I didn’t know already, He amazes me with His grace. I fall into pits, pity-parties, and griping sessions. He should yell at me, but instead He whispers, coaxes, hugs, and pulls me out again.

Today’s devotional reading is about that amazing grace. It is from an Old Testament passage that talks about the spiritual idolatry of Israel. God is angry at their sin and the way they have strayed from Him. But then He uses poetic and beautiful language to describe how He will restore them. He doesn’t have to restore. He has every right to banish them forever from His presence, but instead He talks about them as if they are seeds. He promises to plant them and make Himself a lovely garden. 

“It shall come to pass in that day That I will answer,” says the Lord; “I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth. The earth shall answer with grain, with new wine, and with oil; they shall answer Jezreel (means “God sows”). Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’ ” (Hosea 2:21–23)
God hates sin, and I do too. He wants obedience, reliability and integrity. But the only way any of that will happen in anyone’s life, mine included, is by God sowing for Himself the Seed of righteousness in our hearts. That Seed is His Son, Jesus Christ. With Him living in my heart, I can hate sin and love sinners, just as He does.

Monday, August 30, 2010

To Live is Christ — tugging at my heart

A video making the rounds on Facebook shows a man finding a stethoscope on the sidewalk. He puts it on and presses the end of it to the cookie he is eating. Out comes the song, “Sugar, sugar.” He tries it on a few more things with appropriate results. Then he decides to try his own heart and to his delight, he hears the Alleluia course. The last message is written on the screen. It is about Christ living in you, the hope of glory.

The ending made me smile. I know that Christ does not live in every heart, as indicated by the video, but when He came into my heart, that was the best thing that ever happened to me. I often feel like singing, and wonder if my heart can talk. I know it can listen.

Today’s devotional reading asks how I know God is speaking to me. Is it audibly, or visually, or through my emotions? While science might call it something else, I’d say that other than His Word, He speaks most often to and through my heart. I am not loony. I hear Him, and that He speaks is affirmed by His Word. 

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1–2, NIV)
The main message God speaks is His plan of salvation and all that He wants us to know about Him. Yet His speaking is often very personal and about daily matters. He also wants me to know about myself, about what is going well and what needs changing.

Example. Last week I was sorting one of my “memory” boxes. I read a little bit of a journal entry I’d written more than twenty-five years ago. It blessed me, but that still small voice started tugging at my heart. God was trying to get my attention using this note I’d written.

At first, I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. Comparing the journal entry with today, I’ve changed. I don’t think the same way or do the same things that I’d written about, but I began wondering if the change was a bad thing rather than progress.

During those two dozen years, I’ve become less capable of trusting people and more inclined to hold back, to not be so open or gullible. Things had happened to me, so I knew why this was so, but that little tugging from God nagged me to think more deeply, to ask myself some hard questions.

I’ve not totally figured out all that God is saying about this. I know the Bible says that we should not put our faith in people, for they will let us down, but have I gone too far? Have I stopped trusting God with how people will treat me? Perhaps.

Meanwhile, these verses and His still small voice remind me over and over again that God speaks. He spoke to the prophets and to the men who wrote the Bible under His inspiration. He speaks to the whole world through the life, death and resurrection of His Son. The Word of God is living and speaks to those who read it with open hearts. He speaks through life experiences and through people.

He also speaks through the Holy Spirit. I cannot explain how that works. I know that I need discernment for there are many voices, including my own imagination. All that I hear needs to line up with what has been written. The Bible is the sure and certain test.

I think of verses like Psalm 34:18. It says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” It means that God is close to me when I have a humble and contrite spirit, and I know that these qualities make me more receptive to Him. He asks me to listen, to pay attention to the tugging. I don’t know how, but if I will listen, He will make clear the message that I need to hear.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

To Live is Christ — enjoying short chats

A well-known book called Love Languages explains that each person feels loved in different ways. It might be when they are given gifts, or spent time with, or engaged in meaningful conversation, or touched.

I feel loved when I am spoken to and given undivided attention. How delightful that God does both. I experience His love as His word speaks directly to me and the needs in my life, and gives me specific direction for each day and situation. I also experience His love through the reality of Him listening to my prayers, even answering them.

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (Hebrews 1:1–4)
These verses are so majestic that I have to shake myself and remember that God not only sent His message to the world through Jesus Christ but that He also speaks to me. Personally. One-to-one. He made the universe, but He also talks to those in His family. He sits at the right hand of His father, but He stopped first to purify my sins. How lovely is this One that I worship.

We drove to Canmore in the Rocky Mountains on Thursday night. The weather report called for almost winter weather. Brrr. My hubby was invited to a golf tournament for Friday and wanted to get out on the links again on Saturday. The forecast didn’t look good for either day.

As we were driving, I heard this small voice. Well, it was not audible, but I heard Him anyway. He suggested that I pray for good weather. Seems a bit selfish, but it wasn’t for me. The golfer in my life didn’t know that I prayed. It was for him. So I prayed.

Friday was windy but sunny and clear right up until the tournament ended. DH had a great game and came in with some loot and a big smile. The sky on Saturday was almost perfect — cool but clear and sunny, not a cloud in sight, odd for the Rockies in August. DH smiled after his game, and even more when I told him that I’d prayed.

Some might say coincidence. Maybe. However, I would not have prayed without the hint to do so. This is a small thing, but these itty conversations are just another cool reason why I love being a child of God.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

To Live is Christ — listening

Last night we ate in a crowded pub in Canmore, not for the spirits but because the food is good. Everyone was talking loud and laughing. The noise was almost earplug level, yet no one voice was distinguishable. This made me think of all the voices in the world. What is it like for God? How does He manage to hear the prayers of millions?

Later we watched a documentary about a country where many languages are spoken. What must it sound like in the streets and marketplaces? Can anyone pick out the sound of their own language in a myriad of languages? Would I recognize a friend calling my name through such a din?

In a movie about penguins in the Antarctica, I learned that each parent can distinguish the sound of their own chick, even though hundreds of them are making noises. It is similar on a crowded playground. All the children are talking and yet a mother will hear her own child through all of that chatter.

When it comes to hearing the voice of God, how am I doing? Can I hear Him in a crowded eatery amid the noise of happy beer drinkers? Can I hear Him in a foreign place where everyone is speaking unknown languages? Can I hear Him when He is speaking to me in particular, with a word that I need for that moment in time? 

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son . . .  (Hebrews 1:1–2)
He has spoken, and He still speaks. In fact, Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).

This is part of my experience and I am very accustomed to Him speaking to me. Yet if I step back and look at this objectively, I’d have to think one of two things; either I am as crazy as a bronc with a burr under its saddle, or this is the most awesome privilege that could ever happen. Jesus Christ speaking to me? Utterly astounding!

How do I know His voice? Apart from the fact that He said I would be able to hear Him, I read the Bible daily and have for almost forty years. This is His Word. If anyone who knows Him becomes familiar with the written version, it is much easier to detect the “whisper in my heart” version. Also, as I take time to listen in times of silence, it is easier to hear when it is noisy. As I pay attention when I am alone, His voice is clearer in a crowd.

Language isn’t a problem. He does not limit Himself to “King James only” nor does He always use words. Sometimes He simply smiles (or frowns), and on a few occasions, He chuckles or roars with laughter.

To those who know Jesus, conversation with Him has no equal. This is God Himself speaking to His people through His Son. I am humbled and blessed that He speaks to me.

Friday, August 27, 2010

To Live is Christ — listening to God

Without being an enthusiast of genealogy, I somehow found myself in charge of researching our family tree. Some parts are exciting. For instance, I have a cousin who is in his early nineties. I enjoy hearing him relate visits he had with my parents when they were young. It gives me a sense of connection to the past. Family history books do the same thing. Reading what they did and said many years ago imparts the feeling of being there and being part of that heritage.

I wonder what the Jews at the time of Jesus felt like when they read their Old Testament Scriptures. Did they feel part of that history? Did they desire knowing about the life of their ancestors? Or was it just dry history for some of them?

It should not have been. Jewish history is not like any other history. The Israelites have a unique record of how God chose them and spoke to them. For those born since the time of the prophets and who retained the faith of their forefathers, reading that history should be exciting indeed.

At the end of that Old Testament period, I wonder if any of them had given up on God? The prophets were silent for four hundred years. Maybe they thought God was finished speaking — but He was not!

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds. (Hebrews 1:1–2)
John wrote about the coming of Christ. He called Him “the Word” and said that the Word was with God and was God (John 1). Then he wrote that this Word became flesh and dwelt among us! How incredible. God spoke to the world, and in particular to those who would listen, through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Canadian theologian, Eugene H. Peterson offers a contemporary translation of these verses from Hebrews. He says,

Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son. By his Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. (Hebrews 1:1–2, The Message)
If the Jews were excited about God speaking to them in the past, Christians should be very excited about the New Testament portion of the Bible! This is God speaking as plainly as He can speak.

I sometimes use object lessons to convey a message when I teach. What could be more powerful an object lesson than God becoming a man to show us what He is like? Hebrews 1:3 says “This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature.

The wisest human being could not have devised a better plan or a better mouthpiece for God than this awesome object lesson. Jesus is God in the flesh — to listen to Him is to hear the very voice of God!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

To Live is Christ — being equipped

Several times today issues came up that illustrate how often people do not know the difference between doing good and simply being selfish. In one, I was told about a group who prepared for a meeting with some new clients. This meeting involved a video presentation. The hosts arrived first and every one of them sat in the middle seats. Someone reminded them that the clients should have that privilege and asked them to move. Most of them shrugged, acting like they had not thought of this courtesy.

I can’t talk. Social graces are not in my natural skill set. I sometimes blame being ill as a child and missing those years at school when a person becomes properly “socialized” — meaning they learn what to say and not say by the reactions of other children. By the time we are adults that openness is gone and others react to our mistakes behind our backs.

However, not learning much as a child is not an excuse. Courtesy, good manners, and doing good involve thinking about others, putting other people first, and not being rude, vain, and self-centered. These are principles taught in the Word of God. 

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
The last phrase in these two verses is especially meaningful to me. I came into the kingdom of God feeling very much like a person with an empty platter. How could I serve others? I didn’t have a clue what other people liked or wanted. I was just under thirty years old and yet felt much like the klutz of every gathering. I still often feel awkward with people and am not sure what to do and say.

These verses offer wonderful hope. They promise that God’s Word will equip me to be the person God wants me to be. I didn’t have to learn it in school. In fact, what I might have learned there may have had to be unlearned once I entered God’s school. 

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8)
What I may have learned about doing good before Christ came into my life would not have fit God’s definition of good. In fact, Isaiah wrote about the difference. He said, “But we are all like an unclean thing. And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. . . .” (Isaiah 64:6).

Human righteousness does not measure up. The question is how to know the difference. An unsaved person might do things that look good. Yet God says no to that and uses His Word to equip His people to do good, the kind of good things that please Him. Most people don’t know the difference, or that there is a difference.

I’ve learned that part of it is in the motive. Motivation is a hidden thing, hard to guess, easy to keep secret. I can take a pie to a shut-in. Am I doing it to bless that person, or to show off my pie-making skills? No one would know but me — and God.

The other thing that makes a difference is the source of strength. I can do things ‘for God’ in the power of the flesh (again, for selfish reasons), or I can do things because God is motivating me, filling me with His Spirit, and giving me all that I need to do it.

These things are hard to explain. Walking in the Spirit is a bit like trying to step into my shadow. As soon as I do, it moves. It is also like humility in that as soon as I start examining myself to see if I have it, I’ve lost it.

The good news is that by faith I can trust God to do the equipping. I might fumble, drop my platter now and then, even set it down to go do my own thing. Nevertheless, He persists and His Word persists. Not only that, when He does something, no one can undo it. His plans will prevail because He is God.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

To Live is Christ — letting the Word do its work

Yesterday morning I had a dentist appointment. In the few hours before, my head kept filling up with nasty thoughts. I knew they were nasty (Duh) because the Word of God had reproved or convicted me on such thoughts before. That I needed to quit thinking like that was a no-brainer. The problem was in how to quit! It was as if someone told me not to think about apples. Guess what? That was all I’d think about.

However, my devotional verses did manage to get through the mess. I remembered them several times. 

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
These verses describe how the Bible is profitable for reproof. This word means to examine and show error. Lots of people don’t like reading Scripture for that very reason. It makes them feel guilty of sin — but that is what it is supposed to do. 
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12–13)
God’s living Book knows what I’m thinking and discerns my motives. Most people cannot do that, but He can. I am not hidden from His sight, nor can the inner workings of my grey matter escape His reproof.

However, I already had the “reproving” part yesterday morning. What I needed was the “correction” part — and perhaps the “instruction in righteousness” part, but try as I might, I could not get rid of the nasty thoughts. They needed replacing, but I was having a tough time doing that. Everything I did seemed to remind me of what I didn’t want to think.

Then the Holy Spirit showed me the answer to my dilemma. Of course I needed to agree with Him that these were nasty thoughts. No problem; 1 John 1:9 is a favorite verse. It says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I confessed.

Then He reminded me that He is here to help me . . . and into my head popped more Scripture. This I used to ask for His help . . . 

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)
At that instant, the Word of God demonstrated how it is profitable for correction and instruction in righteousness because the thoughts vanished. Gone, totally gone. Even now, I can remember what they were, but am not thinking them. They are like birds flying over, but not stopping to build a nest.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the battle yesterday morning called for a settled mind. The dentist (an oral surgeon) had put in a couple of implants two years ago. Today he had to remove one of them. It’s a long story, but when he asked the assistant for a torque wrench, I knew I was in trouble. The implant failed because the crown had been improperly placed AND improperly glued in place by my regular dentist. That meant the cement worked into the screw threads of the implant. This is a cement that is meant to last forever, but it needed to be unscrewed and removed. God knew I needed a godly attitude and a clear head to go through a painful ordeal.

His Word came through for me. His Book is not merely for church work or to give direction for huge moral issues. It is about daily life, even about random thoughts that can mess up attitudes and cause all sorts of problems. The pain killer is keeping my jaw from torturing me, but the Word of God and the Holy Spirit are keeping another sort of nastiness under control. For that, I am totally and humbly grateful.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

To Live is Christ — paying attention to doctrine

Doctrine is not a popular word. I’ve heard people say, “I don’t want to hear a bunch of stuffy doctrine. Just tell me what the Bible teaches” or “Doctrine divides, so let’s not get into it.”

The word doctrine comes from the same Greek work as didactic. It means “teaching” or “that which is taught.” I’m not sure where the bad reputation comes from. Perhaps it relates to the way doctrine is interpreted (or disobeyed) than the actual teachings themselves.

Paul puts a positive spin on this word in these two verses:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
The word doctrine appears mostly in the Pastoral Epistles where Paul used it often to refer to a body of teaching rather than the points he was writing about. This body of teaching, sometimes called “the Apostles’ doctrine”was the standard used to measure genuine faith. Paul also talked about false doctrine and warned people to not listen to the doctrines of men rather the Word of God.

This word has good connotations for me. I think of it as referring to the things Jesus taught, and to the teachings God inspired others to write about. In both cases, this isn’t about my interpretation of those teachings, but about what the Bible says. Various people and denominations could have various views on what those doctrines mean or how to apply them. Nevertheless, the teachings of God are in Scripture and, as Paul wrote to Timothy, Scripture profits us.

For one thing, those teachings help me become more mature in my faith (complete). They also equip me for the good things God wants me to do. When I was young, my parents were told that my childhood illness would take my life before sixteen. They didn’t teach me many things. (I understand how difficult that must have been for them.)

However, my heavenly Father fills in what they missed. His Word is complete for everything I need to know. Part of that equipping is in passages like this one that offers instruction about how to think! 

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8–9)
Other doctrines show me how to treat people, do my work, and how to respond to unfairness, or abuse. The teachings of the Bible cover moral issues, relationships, leadership, using God-given gifts, money, even eating and exercise. Of course the more important topics get the most coverage.

No, it does not tell me what brand of soap to buy or how to unlock my car without a key. Nevertheless, it does tell me how to keep my heart clean. I also know how to escape many mental and psychological prisons where my spiritual enemy would love to trap me. The keys are in God’s Word and the Holy Spirit hands them to me when I need them — with one caveat. I must keep reading His Book and doing what it says.

Monday, August 23, 2010

To Live is Christ — life from His Word

I’m nearly finished a quilt inspired by a photograph of a Japanese Cherry tree. Once I had a dream that inspired me to write a poem that took a prize in a contest. My friend has a fitness trainer that inspires her to do exercises that she would never try on her own. My husband is inspired by good golfers he watches on television. Inspired. Is this what the Bible means when it says Scripture is inspired by God? 
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
When translated to English, the Greek word theopneustos might have been better left as “God-breathed” since our English word, inspired, has many nuances that do not describe how the Bible came to be. As humans, we are inspired by many things and for many reasons, but this is not the way the Bible is inspired.

I’ve tried various explanations. In one, I think of the biblical writers as a glove and God as the hand that moves the glove. This isn’t quite right, but it does show that apart from the hand, the glove could not have written anything like it.

However, these men had life and personalities. They could have written something else without God’s help. Perhaps this is why so many people assume that the Bible was penned by mere men, period. However, it doesn’t read that way.

There were other books written about the same time and making similar claims, but I’ve read them. They read like they were written by mere men, gloves without the hand. Flat, lifeless. Without the impact that Scripture has. There is something about the Bible that makes it different from anything else. Even our best literary efforts are missing something. They don’t have that special spark, that life-giving power.

I once thought otherwise. I read the Bible daily from age thirteen to age twenty-seven. I didn’t understand any of it. It was just a book, but because my mother read it every day, I thought I should. I didn’t feel anything or notice, but it was doing something inside me for those long years.

Then one day, I read a Bible verse in another book. When I did, something happened. Suddenly I knew that the Bible was true, that Jesus is God, and that He saved me from sin. The warm glow in the room was more than the late afternoon sun. I felt the presence of God and was deeply aware that the Bible was His Word speaking to me.

Of course my years of habit helped me continue to read, only with new understanding and a new sense of the value of God’s book. I also was aware that He was using it to change the way that I think and behave. This book is not like a novel or even like the best self-help books. It brings dead hearts to life, opens closed minds, and as the verses say, teaches sinners how to live a new life.

I’ve since heard many stories about people whose lives were changed simply by reading this amazing book. Three men fled their families and went way north. In the boredom of a long winter, one of them started reading whatever he could get his hands on. He read aloud. The other two soon got tired of him reading the same magazines over and over. Then the man found a Bible in the bottom of his suitcase, put there by his daughter. He read it aloud too. By the end of the winter, all three had put their faith in Christ. Their lives were transformed.

The same thing happened to our next-door neighbor. Her father became ill. She and her mother were very concerned. They started reading the Bible. Soon they were reading it aloud so he could hear its comforting words. All three of them put their faith in Christ. The parents have since gone to be with the Lord. Our neighbor rejoices in the new life He has given her. Everyone can see that she is a changed person.

Some have read the Bible to prove it wrong, only to have their lives changed. Others have read it because it was part of their schooling, or out of some other duty. It doesn’t matter the reason. This book can breathe life into a hard heart just as well as one that is seeking God. It can do that because God breathes life into it and while we read, He can use His Words to somehow breathe life into us. No other book can do that.

Remember the word to Your servant, upon which You have caused me to hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word has given me life. (Psalm 119:49–50)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

To Live is Christ — profiting by His Word

For the past few days I’ve thought about how God created the world. The Bible says that He spoke and by the power of His Word, everything else came into existence. This very Word later became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, God in human flesh, Jesus Christ.

If something like this happened in a Sci-fi movie, would it be believable? Special effects could make a being speak, then make the words spoken morph into a person. That person would then personify what was uttered. Few modern movie viewers would have a problem with that depiction. They could easily put aside their rationale and enjoy the movie.

Yet what so few realize is that nothing is fiction with God. He spoke and His Word created the world, then later materialized into a man. This is powerful stuff. This is the Word who died for the sins of the world, then rose from the dead. Nothing is too difficult for God. He does not need a special effects crew.

But there is more. God spoke and men recorded what He said to them and how He dealt with them. This written Word tells the story of creation and of sin, and of redemption. It is a very powerful Word that changes lives. It changed my life and is still changing it.

After Jesus returned to the Father in heaven, Paul’s life was changed by the Word. He later wrote to a struggling young pastor named Timothy and reminded him of the power of Scripture and how Timothy must remember it and persevere. 

But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14–17)
Scripture made Timothy wise for salvation through faith. This faith is from Jesus Christ and imparted to the human heart through the written or spoken Word of God. With this book, God still speaks.

I clearly remember the day that God used one verse of Scripture to open my heart to Him. I cannot recall which verse, but I do remember what happened. Suddenly I knew that the Bible was true, that Jesus is God the Son, that He died for my sin, and that I was forgiven. Jesus was in the room with me. I felt bathed in light and in lightness. My burdens were gone. The Word of God and the Spirit of God changed my life. He changed me.

The rest of what Paul wrote adds that the Word of God is inspired by God and has great value. Besides salvation, His Word teaches me about Him. It reproves me when I sin and corrects me when I go astray. It fills the blanks in my life and completes me. It gives me what I need to do what God wants me to do.

I’ll be reading these precious verses for a few days. Although I already know what they say, God will bless me with this reminder — I’m also to continue in the things I have learned and that He has assured me of, knowing that all of it has come from His gracious mouth directly into my needy heart. 


Picture source

Saturday, August 21, 2010

To Live is Christ — accepting who He is

His brothers were the first to reject Him. I’m not sure how that went down, but the Scriptures reveal that they thought He was out of his mind. Later, at least two of them changed their minds, James and Jude.

The Bible records that His people, the Jews didn’t accept Him either. They thought He was a blasphemer. Any man who claimed to be God had to be that, or insane, or completely arrogant. They crucified Him for His claim. Later, many Jews believed, including some of the priests.

This is still the line that divides the world. Who is He? Some say He was merely a good teacher. If so, why not do as He taught? And not just the “love others” part, but all that He taught, including giving our lives to serve Him with all our heart.

Some say He was merely a good man. If so, why was He killed? The religious leaders of His day would not have murdered a mere good man. They preached goodness themselves.

However, their ancestors were noted for killing prophets. Maybe that is why some say He was merely a prophet. Prophets told forth the will of God. Even today people get killed for doing that.

But that is not why they killed this man who claimed to be God the Son. They killed Him for His claim, and they totally rejected the idea that maybe He was right. At least at first.

A Pharisee named Saul rejected Him too. He vehemently denied this Jesus and persecuted those who followed Him. Saul was on a road to Damascus to arrest more of them when suddenly Jesus confronted him. When that happens to anyone there is not much else to do but fall down and agree with Him. Saul did. He later became Paul and wrote the following verses.

(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. . . . For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell . . . (Colossians 1:15–19)
The identity of Jesus is the crux of the matter. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). No one can pass through a gate if they reject the gate. No one can come to God the Father if they reject the Son. If anyone rejects who He is, Jesus said that person would be rejected by His Father. Rejection is saying Jesus is not who He claims to be, and calling Him a liar besides. Yet Jesus said He is the truth and the way. Believing in Him means accepting what He did and said, not only His teachings and prophecies, but what He said about Himself and who He claimed to be.

This week’s devotional reading ends with this prayer, “Dear God, I accept Jesus to be the total personification of who You are. Amen.”

The Bible says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12) All those who accept Him, the way, the truth, and the life, to them He gives authority to be His children, and with that, eternal life.

All that I can say to that is a joyful amen!

Friday, August 20, 2010

To Live is Christ — giving everything the Jesus test

When I was going to Bible school in the early 90s (1990, not 1890!), a student arrived from Africa. He could speak basic English but struggled with our expressions and figures of speech. When someone said, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles,” his brow furrowed and he didn’t know whether to laugh or say, “I’m sorry.”

Some other students were not much help. They used lines like, “Go jump in the lake” just to see how this man reacted. He often laughed with them at his own helplessness with such words.

Their poor selection of humor aside, all good literature uses figurative language. Simile, metaphor, and hyperbole are but a few examples. These pop up in ordinary conversation too, but none of them are intended to be understood in a literal sense.

For instance, if I call someone a sap, I do not mean they are that sticky stuff that oozes out of a tree. If someone says they would die for a piece of chocolate pie, they are not asking someone to kill them. Every culture and language group has their own set of expressions like these too. They are also puzzles to anyone trying to learn a language or to those visiting a new place.

The Bible uses hundreds of phrases of figurative language. One I like is the analogy in the New Testament that describes believers and the relationship of Christ to His church. We are called God’s building and called the Body of Christ. This last one is used in the passage I am reading this week. 

(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell . . . (Colossians 1:15–19)
For those not familiar with figurative language, this could cause their imagination to see a human body made of little people, with a head that looked like the Son of God.

Other examples include descriptions of God hiding His people under His wings, or God being our Rock and Fortress. Does anyone suppose that He looks like a chicken? Or a large boulder? Or a castle with thick walls?

Those who translate the Bible into other languages struggle with its figures of speech. To a culture with different idioms, colloquialisms and values than in the biblical era, how do you explain something like firstborn, or heavenly powers called “principalities”? What symbols make sense to them rather than the ones that make sense to us in our English Bibles?

Actually, not all of them make sense to us either. How do Christians know when the Bible writers are using a figure of speech? Sometimes it seems obvious, like the one about God hiding us under His wings, but what about, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”? People have said there is a gate to Jerusalem that called the “eye of a needle” gate. They assume that this is a real gate, one so low that a camel must crawl through on its knees. This is not true; no such gate exists, although this story is still widely told. Perhaps those who demand a literal interpretation have neglected figures of speech to the point of promoting error?

Back to my passage that talks about Jesus, I note that it says He has the preeminence. I know that all teaching, all interpretations, all ideas including figures of speech, need to pass the Jesus-test. Do they fit or mesh with what He reveals about God?

Jesus did not have feathers. He is not a huge head looking for a body. He is not a boulder, or a castle, but a Person. His message requires humility to receive, perhaps pictured by kneeling, but camels do not crawl on their knees. Entering the kingdom of God may seem like threading a needle, but God never makes physical skill a requirement to approach Him. We need humility, but that alone will not save anyone.

I know my idea about testing everything by Jesus comes a bit close to the humorous notion children sometimes get. They tell each other to say “Jesus” to every question in Sunday school and it will work. This is not what I mean. I’m saying that the answer is always Jesus when it comes to perplexities about God. What is He like? What did He do? How does He treat people? What did He demand of His disciples? What did He say to those who rejected Him? By looking at Jesus, I find out what God is like.

It helps to study culture and history to identify the figures of speech, but not always. I’m amazed how much is revealed and how many puzzles are solved by simply taking another good look at the One who is the image of the invisible God, the One in whom all His fullness dwells.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

To Live is Christ — I am not a puppet

Some matters about God seem a contradiction. For example, God is sovereign (can He be any less?) yet human beings can do anything we please without lightning striking. How perplexing. Why wouldn’t a sovereign God at least stop our grossest actions, instead of letting us make such a mess of His world?

That God is sovereign, I have no doubt. He is over all things and in Him we “live and move and have our being.” I know His mercy. Dare I say that I totally control my own life? Could I take another breath apart from His grace? Or wake up each morning?

My pondering comes from a comment on a recent post, plus the verses that I’ve been reading the past few days. They say this about Jesus. . . 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Colossians 1:15–17)
This man who is fully God is preeminent. Everything that was made comes from God’s Word, this living Word, who created every thing, including all who sit on thrones and think they have power. Every king, every continent, every horse and rider, every ant and leaf and flower were created through Him and for Him. He existed before all and in Him all things “consist” — meaning that He holds all things together, composes and arranges all. He orchestrates the universe and He is sovereign.

How then do we mortals get away with murder, literally? If God is God, why doesn’t He stay our hands, sit on our ambitions? Why does a sovereign God allow such evil in this world?

My mind sees a man with a puppet on his knee. The man pulls the strings and by ventriloquism the puppet talks and smiles. He even tells the man how much he loves him. He does everything that man wants.

Imagine if the puppet were a real boy, the man’s child, even. Everyone who has children loves to have their boy on their knee, smiling, saying “I love you, daddy” and doing whatever daddy asks. Everyone who has children knows that this can happen, but not frequently or often. Children do not cooperate.

God didn’t make puppets to fill His world. He created real people and sovereignly chose to give volition to each of us. We can make choices. We can sit on His knee, say we love Him, and do His will — or not. Because of our sin and selfishness, our decision is ‘or not’ every time.

That does not change God, or His power. Our choices are not His doing. We are responsible. Yet without His help, we cannot do anything about our rebellious hearts. We desperately need His sovereign power and grace to even want to do His will. We need to see His love for us before we can love Him in return. Our lives are ruined by sin and without His grace, we are lost. This is the message throughout His written Word.

That comment recently posted went into a lengthy denial of the sovereignty of God based on the free will of man. Moot point. It is God’s sovereign power that gave us that free will. We are responsible for what we do with it. We cannot blame God for our sinful choices nor can we say He is powerless to stop us from sinning. Colossians 1:19-23 tell the rest of what Jesus is and what He has done. The rest is up to us . . . 

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight — if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven. . . .
God no more wants puppets for children than I do. He wants real live human beings who come to Him, stay with Him, and love Him with all our hearts. He carved mountains and put song in the throats of birds. He has power to make us do His bidding, but that is not even close to His intention.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

To Live is Christ — and Who He reveals

Theists say that God powers the universe, but He is not personal. Several popular belief systems teach that God is within each person, that each of us is a god, which makes that version of God highly personal.

Obviously, both ideas cannot be true — even though it is also popular to say that each person can decide truth for themselves. That is, what is true for you may not be true for me. In their minds, there is no such thing as objective truth, particularly about things that cannot be proven.

God knows about all our supposing and silliness. He knows we have trouble believing what we cannot see and that we have this ability to make up what we don’t know. That is why He did a remarkable thing. 

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1–3).
First, God spoke to people through His prophets. Abraham heard His commands. Moses talked to God. Jeremiah and Isaiah felt inadequate for the job God called them to, and David understood God’s heart. They heard His revelations.

But that was not enough and God knew it. So He sent His Son, heir of all things, the living Word by which the worlds were made. Jesus is the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, the One who keeps everything from falling apart. He is the sin-bearer and the sin cleanser, the revelation of God to the human race.

The ideas about God created by theists, philosophers, spiritualists and ordinary human beings pale in comparison to this powerful statement from God. While He does “power” the universe and while He can live in the hearts of those who invite Him in, God is far more than what people can imagine or devise. That is why He send Jesus to show us what and who He is.

(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:15–20)
Again, I am staggered by the wonder of God’s revelation to sinners such as I. Jesus shows me all that I need to know about God.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

To Live is Christ — knowing who God is

Aristotle, a philosopher who lived BC 384-322, taught that happiness is the goal of life, but pleasure, fame, and wealth would not bring one the highest happiness. Instead, it could be achieved only by a “contemplative and monastic way of life.”

Aristotle also thought that some people were suited to be nothing more than slaves, and “barbarians were naturally inferior.” He also said that the universe was stationary and did not evolve or change. God just created it, but the characteristics of love and mercy do not have their origins in God. His idea of God was that He is only “the divine unmovable mover who does nothing but contemplate Himself.” Interesting perspective considering his view that contemplation was the only way to be happy.

Too bad that Aristotle missed the phenomena of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Had he looked in the Old Testament, he might have seen glimpses. He certainly would have learned that God is far more than Creator. He may also have realized that lasting joy comes through faith and that God is loving and merciful, the source of all virtue. Had this man been born a few hundred years later, he may have witnessed the clearest revelation of Himself that God has given.

(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:15–20)
To me, these are incredible and precious words. Perhaps I feel that way because I have faith in Jesus. I know who He is. I know what He has done. When God spoke the universe into existence, the Word He spoke was this Jesus, the Word who became flesh. This man, this more than a man, walked this earth, ate bread, drank wine, smiled at children, denounced hypocrisy, loved sinners, hated sin, cherished His Father’s house, wept at the death of His friends, slept in a boat in a storm, and chided His disciples for their ambitious arguing.

Paul wrote a few words that bless my heart. I try to write about Jesus in a few words and feel totally inadequate to describe this Living image of the invisible God in whom all the fullness dwells. I understand full well why John wrote: 

And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)
Aristotle missed it. God is so much more than that man’s mind, or anyone’s mind, can grasp. We needed a living, breathing revelation — and because He loves us, God gave us what we needed, Christ Jesus, His own self in human flesh.

Monday, August 16, 2010

To Live is Christ — knowing Who He is

Last year I found a book in the library in which the author personified character traits. For instance, envy, or slander, or grace, or integrity were described as persons. A few of these descriptions were so powerful that I felt like the personified trait was alive with two legs, standing in the room and looking at me.

I get a similar feeling when I read these verses from the New Testament, only they are not about an abstract emotion or quality, but a concrete person, one who is alive and actually is in this room beside me. These words describe how God personified Himself — in a man, in Jesus Christ. 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell. (Colossians 1:15–19)
This passage says far more about Jesus, but the first and the last lines declare that this man is like no other man. He is God’s fullness in human form, fully man and fully God.

Our pastor talked about eternal life Sunday morning. He quoted a few prominent spiritual leaders whose ideas about eternity are far different from what the Bible describes. He also talked about God being invisible, eternal, immortal, far beyond the comprehension of human beings. Our finite minds cannot grasp the reality of God. He is so much more than we are or can imagine.

Although Jesus came to save us from our sin, He also came to reveal this high and holy God to us. God could have chosen visions, dreams, maybe even a You-tube video, but He had a better idea. He pulled on human flesh like we might pull on a pair of trousers, became a man, and walked among us so we could see and touch Him.

But we didn’t get it, at least not at first. John 1:11 says, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” Those who saw Him thought He was a mad man, even a blasphemer because of His claims.

The miracles were not enough. Not many were convinced when He rose from the dead. They thought it was not true because, in their minds, God was not powerful enough to do that, nor would He humble Himself to become a man.  They claimed to be religious yet they rejected this One who came in all the fullness of God and revealed His perfections. Why were they so blind?

Jesus knew their hearts. Spiritual blindness was part of their problem but the root of their inability to see God standing before them in the person of Christ was more about their sin than any other reason. Jesus said, 

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. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (John 3:18–20)
In other words, sin was more important than even acknowledging that God was in their midst, never mind putting their lives in His hands by faith. For that reason, Jesus said to them, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24)

Today is no different. People will believe that Jesus was a good man, or a prophet, or a great teacher. However, the line is drawn at the Bible’s declaration that He is the image of the invisible God and that in Him dwells all the fullness of God. They might say that is too great a stretch for them to believe, but as Jesus said, this is not the real issue. Apart from grace, we human beings simply love our darkness and do not want Jesus to expose (or forgive) our sins.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

To Live is Christ — being expected

Reading through a devotional book that has one selection for each day of the year has value, but reading the same selection for several days reveals more of the richness of God’s Word.

Today’s devotional is about Abraham’s servant again. This man was sent to find a wife for Isaac. He had to travel 450 miles into a place he’d never been to find a family he did not know. When he neared the location, he asked God to direct him to the right woman and God did. Then he said, 

Blessed be God, God of my master Abraham: How generous and true you’ve been to my master; you’ve held nothing back. You led me right to the door of my master’s brother! (Genesis 24:27, The Message)
At the end of this devotional reading is the following prayer. It is simple, with three points.
Dear Lord, I want to follow Your path. Direct me. I want to stay on Your path. Correct me. I will bring others to Your path. Expect me. Amen.
I’ve prayed often for God’s direction. I’ve also prayed often for God’s correction. He has answered both prayers — often. It is the last point in this prayer that catches my attention today: I will bring others to Your path. Expect me.

I’ve never promised God that I would bring others to His path. I can try, but know that no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). I can do whatever I need to do, but their decision to walk with Jesus is not up to me. However, those words “Expect me” have rich connotations.

When Abraham’s servant was given his instructions, God knew that he would obey. He expected him to show up at the house of Abraham’s brothers. He prepared the heart of Isaac’s future wife to do exactly what the servant prayed to God that the woman of His choice would do. God then waited for this man to show up.

When God sent Jesus to this earth, He expected Jesus to obey Him. He expected that His angry enemies would kill Him. In a sermon after the resurrection, Peter said to the crowds about Christ, “. . . Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:23, italics mine). God knew and expected the death of His Son. He even planned it.

From this, I am thinking that every time God asks me to do something, He expects me to obey. He waits for it, plans that my obedience will have an impact in some way on me and others. He expects me to follow the directions He gives me and expects me to show up where He sends me. This is His determined purpose.

What if I don’t? If the servant disobeyed, would Isaac eventually have married this woman anyway? I doubt it. If Jesus had not come, was there another plan for my salvation? I don’t think so. Will He get someone else to do whatever I refuse to do, somehow who will fill the gaps of my selfish rebellion and sinful neglect? Does God have a plan B? I don’t think so, but even if He does, it seems far wiser to go for plan A and live up to His expectations.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

To Live is Christ — choosing His schedule

The title of my devotional reading is, “Losing is a Choice.” It is about Abraham’s servant and his decision to not only obey his master and do a challenging thing, but also to ask God for help.

Of course no one knows what would have happened had he disobeyed Abraham or not bothered asking God to help him. Maybe he would have accomplished the task. However, I tend to agree with the title of this devotional. The author assumes that the servant’s choices meant coming out on top, whereas choosing his own way would have made him a loser.

In my experience, whenever I do what God says and ask Him to help me do it, things turn out far better than I expected. Besides, I am able to praise God afterward, something like Abraham’s servant did, 

Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master. As for me, being on the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brethren. (Genesis 24:27)
This past couple of months I’ve been making special effort to ask God to help me with the unexpected events of each day. In the morning I may make plans but who knows what will interrupt or change what I had in mind? Life is unpredictable.

For instance, today my ambitions got sidetracked. I’d had classes all last week and was exhausted. I didn’t set my alarm last night, and of course slept late. Just as I began reading my Bible, the phone rang. It was my eldest son calling to let me know he was baby-sitting because of a surgery in the family. Now it is nearly noon and I’ve just started what will be a busy day.

There was a time when I’d have set my alarm anyway, and gone without the sleep I needed. There was a time when I would not answer the phone until I had my quiet time with God. I controlled the interruptions, or tried to. Not anymore.

God knows what is important. I can trust Him to control things. He knows that my attitude of heart is a bigger priority than my schedule. Some days.  He gives me clear sailing. Some days the seas are choppy. In all of that, He never forsakes His mercy and leads me in the way He wants me to go.

God is also teaching me that not all interruptions are from Him, at least as the first cause. Yet even when my spiritual enemy wants to sidetrack me, He allows it so that I might learn to pray for help and have a godly attitude, no matter what. Life is unpredictable, but the loving care of my heavenly Father is a sure thing. I can rely on Him to keep me from being a loser.

Friday, August 13, 2010

To Live is Christ — depending on His mercy

Abraham’s servant asked God for help. God directed him where he needed to go and to the person he needed to see. When that was over, the servant said, 
Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master. As for me, being on the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brethren. (Genesis 24:27)
One other prayer in the Old Testament is similar to this one. Jacob was afraid of his brother, Esau. He prayed to God and said,
O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. (Genesis 32:9–11)
The psalmist says a similar thing in Psalm 98:3, “He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

The only thing I can think of that would make a person bless God for remembering His mercy is realizing what he actually deserves from God. Because God is holy, and because our sin is like a fist in His face, He has every right to destroy us and start over. However, instead of giving us what our sin deserves, He remembers mercy.

Humility knows this is true. Abraham’s servant knew that God did not need to help him with his task. Jacob knew that God had every right to say no to his request. He had been rebellious toward God for much of his life. Why should God help him? As he said in his prayer, God answered Jacob because God is merciful.

Mercy means showing compassion toward an enemy. It means doing good to someone who deserves the opposite. When we rebel against God, or choose to ignore Him, God also has a choice. He could allow us to perish and die in our sin. Yet because He is not willing that anyone perish, He offers mercy and forgiveness through faith in His Son.

The Son is also merciful. Instead of letting us bear the punishment we deserve, Jesus Christ mercifully took our place, bore our shame, and died in our place. Mercy means that instead of eternal damnation, we are offered eternal life.

The gift of life is free, offered to those who take it. However, in taking it, everyone needs to remember that we are like people adrift in a boat. Christ calls us to throw out a rope and a hook and catch hold of Him; He is the shore, the safe place, the place of mercy.

Yet even as I do that, when I pull on the rope I also must remember that I am pulling myself to the shore, not the shore to me. Just because He is merciful does not mean that I can make Him to do what I want. Instead, I must align myself to Him, humbly realizing that if I got what I deserved, there would be no call, no hook, no rope, and no hope.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

To Live is Christ — trusting the God of my Master

When Abraham sent his servant on a wife-finding mission, the servant was unsure if he could do the job. As he neared the city where he hoped to find the right person, he prayed, “You, Lord, are the God my master Abraham worships. Please keep your promise to him and let me find a wife for Isaac today.” (Genesis 24:12, CEV)

How strange. If the servant believed God would answer his prayer, why did he bring Abraham into it? Did he think Abraham had some special relationship with God that he didn’t have? This servant seemed to trust God too. For instance, when God answered his prayer a bit later, the servant said, “I thank you, Lord God of my master Abraham! You have led me to his relatives and kept your promise to him.” (Genesis 24:27, CEV)

Again, he called God the Lord God of his master. Why didn’t he say that God was his God? Later when the woman he found agreed to go with him and marry Abraham’s son, the servant worshiped God.  Throughout this story, this humble man calls Abraham “my master” nearly twenty times.

I’m seeing this as a picture the attitude of those who are servants of Jesus Christ. This man displays so many things that God is trying to teach me.

The first one is obedience without question. The task seems impossible, but this servant doesn’t hesitate. He does exactly what his master says, without hesitation, without questions or protest of any kind.

This servant also perseveres. It is a long way from Abraham’s house to the land where his kin lived, more than 450 miles. The servant didn’t quit and turn back when he got tired. He continued although traveling conditions were harsh.

When the servant prays, he uses his master’s name much the same way God asks me to pray in Jesus’ name. My own name doesn’t matter and neither did his. It isn’t even mentioned. Just as he did, I am supposed to come to God in the name of my master, the One whom I serve. My prayers are supposed to be offered with the same attitude as my Master would offer them. Even their content is supposed to be as if Jesus is praying.

Like the servant, when God hears and answers, I am to rejoice. However, this is not because the answer has anything to do with me. It goes back to a deeply profound reality; the Father made an agreement with the Son, my Master. When I pray in His name, He keeps His promises to Jesus and answers my prayers.

The big difference between me and the servant of Abraham is that he left his master to go on an assignment. When my Master sends me anywhere, He goes with me. In fact, He says that He will never leave me or forsake me.

I thank You God, Father of my Master Jesus Christ. You have led me to the places You want me to be and have kept all your promises to Jesus. I can trust You as the Father of my Master, and also as my own heavenly Father.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

To Live is Christ — following what I know and trusting Him for the rest

A Bible study book sits on my shelf. Its title is, “How to Know the Will of God.” I’ve not read it yet. It seems like too large a topic for such a small book, but this might not be as complicated a topic as it sounds.

I remember a sermon by John MacArthur. He based his message on the passages in the Bible that talk about the will of God using several “S” words in his outline. For instance, it is the will of God that I am saved, sanctified, saying thanks, serving Him, etc. He ended the sermon using Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.

This verse does not mean God will give me whatever I want. It means that if I delight in Him, my “I-wants” will be in line with His will because He will put them into my heart. That is, if I am delighted in God and within the known will of God as spelled out in Scripture, then I can do whatever I want.

Not only that, when I live to please God, He can make His will known to me. Near the end of the sermon MacArthur said that I should not sit around waiting for God to reveal His will like clues in a mystery. I need to get busy with what I know and, as MacArthur said, “It is much easier to steer a truck when it is already moving.”

This came to mind as I read the following verse from Genesis. Abraham sent his servant a long distance to find a wife for Isaac, his son. The servant knew a general location and had the name of the people he was to look for, but otherwise had little idea of how to find these people or a wife for his Master’s son.

Yet he set out and kept moving in obedience to his master. As he neared the destination, he prayed. God then brought him to the right place. He found Rebekah, God’s choice and God’s will for Isaac. The servant said,  

Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master. As for me, being on the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brethren. (Genesis 24:27)
This story also reminds me an art class I took umpteen years ago. I wanted to paint some elk beside a stream. I knew how to draw the elk and I had some elements of the landscape in mind. Otherwise I was totally unsure of what to do. The teacher said, “Start with what you know. As you do that, the rest will come to you.”

How similar this is to an important spiritual principle — again, the unknowns about the will of God are discovered by doing what I already know. The unknown wife was discovered as the servant did what he knew to do. The painting was finished by starting on the parts that I knew how to paint.

Related to this, I tend to procrastinate when I am unsure of what to do next. However, God is teaching me how to get past this by pushing to start with what I know. It might be to just lift up the phone when someone needs encouragement, but I don’t know what to say. It might be to draw a single line when I don’t know how to draw the entire picture.

It is as my husband sometimes teases — God does not leave notes on the night table, but He does put desires (and burdens)  in my heart. If I begin action, I’m very likely going to hear more from Him about what to do next. This means I don’t need His specific will for me spelled out in detailed instructions. If I just get moving, then He will lead me. In the end, like Abraham’s servant, I can bless Him for showing mercy and truth to me, and for leading me in the way he wants me to go.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

To Live is Christ — aware of the causes

Abraham set about to arrange marriage for his son, Isaac. He sent his servant about 450 miles to find this wife-to-be. She must belong to his family since God forbid marriage those outside their nation and faith. (This was to prevent them being led astray into pagan practices.)

The servant was worried that whomever he found would not be willing to return with him. He was also concerned that he may not find Abraham’s relatives in the first place. However, he went on his way.

When he reached Mesopotamia, he stopped at a well. He asked God, “O LORD God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham . . . let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please let down your pitcher that I may drink’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink’ — let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.” (Genesis 24:12-14)

Before he finished his prayer, a young woman came, responded to his request for a drink, and offered to draw water for his camels. In no time, the servant found out that her parents were kin to Abraham. They invited the servant into their home. He immediately bowed his head and worshiped, saying, 

Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master. As for me, being on the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brethren. (Genesis 24:27)
The dictionary defines a “coincidence” as “a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.” Those who do not know God and who do not pray would call the above described event a coincidence.

Last week, I was having a problem with a quilt design. I didn’t know how to make something work properly. I prayed about it. Later that day, a person I do not know (the spouse of a quilter that I do know) sent me an email. Attached were several photos that this person thought might interest me. One photo showed the solution to the design problem that I was having.

Coincidence?

Several times my husband and I become aware of someone with a financial need. One of us will indicate we should help. Without consultation with each other, we decide an amount. When we compare our thoughts, each of us says the same number.

Coincidence?

A neighbor tells of one evening after work. She was very tired and wanted to go to bed, but thoughts of a friend kept popping into her mind. She felt as if the Lord wanted her to go to her friend’s house. She resisted because she was exhausted, but the thoughts would not go away. She dressed and went out. The friend and her daughter live together. Both of them are without a sense of smell, but when they opened the door, our neighbor smelled the fumes. The house was full of gas. The fire department later told them that one spark and the house would have exploded had the doors not been opened.

Coincidence?

Jesus Christ promised His people an abundant life. Whatever else that means, it includes a life full of coincidences . . . well, that is half true. We experience remarkable concurrences of events and circumstances, but we know the causal connection. Others may not see God at work so the causes are not apparent to them, and we are often surprised at times too. His answers are certain, yet never what we expect. We pray like Abraham’s servant for things that seem impossible or at least unlikely. Then we worship with great joy because He organizes events to answer our prayers.

In the kingdom of God there are no coincidences!

Monday, August 9, 2010

To Live is Christ — yesterday and today

Some say that the Bible is irrelevant, an old book for a different culture. They say that today we are modern, sophisticated and not like the people back then. They behaved differently and had different needs. We have advanced, and are supposedly beyond them.

I’ve done some digging. At the time the New Testament was written, much of that ancient culture was morally bankrupt. Their lifestyle included sexual sins and other corrupt practices. Of course the Bible was written to offer them grace and faith, but it also addresses their behavior.

Those who heard the gospel and believed in Jesus Christ were challenged to turn from the sins of their former lives. They were further challenged to separate themselves from the beliefs and behaviors of their culture. Some of what they had to overcome is hinted at in several of Paul’s letters to the churches. For instance, at Ephesus their past life and some current temptations are spelled out in these two verses:

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:3–4)
In those days, these violations happened in their world. Believers did these things in their pre-Christian lives and some were still behaving this way. Otherwise, Paul would not have needed to write this exhortation.

How is our world different from Ephesus? Today, people live together without being married, hook up for one-night stands, and behave in ways that should not be openly described. Sexual immorality is so common that many think it is normal, not immoral.

What about greed? Isn’t that the main problem that produced the current and worldwide economic downturn? Is our world any better than the one at Ephesus? Not only that, if I stand on any busy street corner in any city, I can hear and see impurity, coarse talk and foul language.

This should challenge anyone who says the Bible is not relevant today. The things that were improper for God’s people back then are still improper. We are called to be His holy people, to be different, to be like Jesus. For us, it does not matter when the Bible was written. To protest its antiquity sounds more like an excuse, a reason to ignore what it says. Christians still need that call to godliness and to thankful speech. Most of us also have “former lives” to turn from as we follow Jesus. We also have to contend with a corrupt culture, avoiding its temptations and behaviors.

Can anyone dismiss biblical ethics because they are for another time and place? I don’t think so. Our world has the same sins, the same needs, and the same resistance to godliness. The protest against the Word of God is not about when it was written, but about what it says.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

To Live is Christ — grateful

Gratitude can have an amazing influence on a person. We took an 85-year-old friend out for ice-cream last night. She told us about the various kinds of people living in the seniors’ facility where she lives. Many of them grumble and complain about various things, particularly being bored. She is not like that. She seldom complains and can laugh at the idiosyncrasies of life. She is a thankful person and delightful to be with — we talked and laughed for two hours.

During our visit, I told her about my mother-in-law. She used to complain about everything, but late in life she began to build her relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. The last time she called, she told me that she was praying all the time and helping others who were not doing very well. She was upbeat, positive, and grateful. While Jesus is the instigator of the changes, her gratitude is like icing on His cake.

I notice it in myself too. Gratitude is calming. When I am grateful, I am not striving or struggling with the “I wants” that can easily be joy-robbers. I’m not worried either for I know that God is taking care of me and I am thankful for that too. I’ve also noticed that when I am grateful, I am not easily tempted to a whole host of other things. I understand how gratitude is an antidote to many kinds of sin, particularly those rooted in greed. 

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:3–4, NIV)
While I never did like crude jokes or obscenities, I’m sometimes tempted to want more than I have, but not when I am grateful. Gratitude is realizing that God has blessed me far beyond what I deserve. How can I dishonor Him when He has been so incredibly wonderful to me? How can I think or say that what I have is not enough?

Gratitude does something else besides alleviate discontent. It makes talking about the Lord easier. I continually want to tell others something about His goodness. Besides, the contrasts in the way others speak reminds me and become an occasion to share. If someone struggles with greed and expresses frustration about their desire to have more, I empathize, but gratitude means I do not have that same attitude. They may notice this. They may even ask me about it. Gratitude makes it easier to share that even when I feel that I’ve not got all that I need, God has blessed me with contentment. He knows how to override any anxiety about our needs and can help us be satisfied. If I was not grateful, I could not praise Him like that.

Also, I am thankful for the way God speaks to me. I’m sitting here thinking how He is never mixed or muddied in what He says or intends. There is no hint of foolishness or coarseness in Him. I’m amazed how comfortable I am in His presence. He is safe to be around. He never tempts me to greed or to do anything out of place. I belong to Him and He takes care of me. I am blessed beyond measure — and very thankful.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

To Live is Christ — heart revealed by speech

Today’s reading includes this thought: words are windows that give others a glimpse of what I think about myself. The verses that supposedly prompted it come from Ephesians 5.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:3–4, NIV)
It is sometimes said of sermons, “great sermon, wrong text,” but I’m not about to fault the quote for having little to do with these verses. It is still true. Jesus said “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart” (Matthew 15:18–19). Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.

Putting the two verses together, my words do reveal my heart and what I think about, particularly what I think about myself. If I think too highly of myself that is what my words will convey. If I am a humble person who realizes that all goodness comes from the grace of God, my words will convey that.

Sometimes I listen to myself talk far too much about me, or my interests. Part of the problem is that this is the easiest form of conversation. I know the topic well and don’t have to think very hard to say anything. Yet this is not like Jesus. Talking about me might be okay at times, but for the most part it is simply selfishness. Philippians 2 challenges me with this,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. . . .  (Philippians 2:3–7)
Jesus rightly considered His own interests — God sent Him to do the most important thing ever done and He needed to keep His focus on that mission. However, as He did fulfilled His mission, He did it in the interests of others. Although Hebrews 12:2 says that “for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross,” Jesus didn’t die for the joy that would come afterward, but for us. There is no self-centeredness in Jesus Christ.

To live is Christ means to have that same attitude. Certainly it is not there if I open my mouth and out comes the foolish talk spoken of in Ephesians 5. However, it is just as much not there if all I ever talk about is me and my own interests. How I talk reveals what I think — and right now silence seems very appealing.

Friday, August 6, 2010

To Live is Christ — thankful from the heart

Talk is cheap. The person who first said this no doubt referred to those who made promises and didn’t keep them. That kind of talk has little value, but it seems to me that a lot more talk is costly.

For example, gossip can ruin lives. False accusation smears reputations. Harsh words discourage, even cripple and bring down souls. The “venting” column in the local newspaper is funny at times, but grumbling and bitterness robs all joy from those who do it. Lies may be the most expensive words as they lead people astray and destroy trust. Franklin P. Jones rightly said, “Anybody who thinks talk is cheap should get some legal advice.

The Bible has much to say about how God’s people should talk, and how we should not talk. The passage I’m reading offers this:

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:3–4, NIV)
Following these verses is the author’s paraphrase with an emphasis on the talking part. He says,
Use your words wisely. Don’t gossip, use vulgar talk, coarse joking, or participate in any meaningless or harmful talk that tears down instead of building up. Instead, replace those words with expressions of thankfulness and praise to God.
While the focus is put on the outward expression, verse 3 indicates that at the root of foul talk is immoral attitudes, impurity, and greed. As Jesus said, “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:18–19). Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.

Christian integrity means being the same on the outside as on the inside. If I nurture and do not confess any sin in my heart, it will show up somehow. Yet that isn’t the most important aspect of integrity. Jesus Christ lives in my heart. Because He is there, He will show up also. I need to cooperate with that. Those verses from Ephesians are prefaced by “imitate God” which is not an external thing. It is more like, “The life of Christ is in you — let Him out!

One way to that is by being thankful, not mere words, but deeply, from the heart. This is the attitude of Jesus Christ. It comes from the mind of Christ which He has given me (1 Corinthians 2:16). It is taking seriously the words of Philippians 2:5-8 which say, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . . who humbled Himself and became obedient.

Some days all I want to do is vent and complain. I might not speak obscenities, but my heart is wrong. God shows me even then, thanksgiving is a choice, like patience. When I’m caught in a long line of slow traffic, I can decide to be patient. When life hands me sour grapes, I can decide to be thankful. God is still sovereign and He still loves me. Being thankful becomes much easier when I think what my life would be like if God gave me what I deserve and when I remember that Jesus lives in me.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

To Live is Christ — reflecting His image

Yesterday’s newspaper carried a story about a prominent female singer who said, “God put me on Earth [sic] for three reasons: To make loud music, gay videos, and cause a damn ruckus.” I had to think that this person knows very little about God.

Actually, God has nothing against loud music. The Bible says, “Praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals!” (Psalm 150:5). However, I don’t think this entertainer intends to praise God using the noise she creates.

As for the rest of her statement, debate rages about what God says concerning the gay lifestyle. Many of those engaged in this argument do not know what the Bible says, only what they want it to say. One thing is clear to me — God doesn’t put anyone on earth to make videos about something He condemns.

As for making a ruckus, most of what this person does is sexual in nature. Here, the standards of God are so clear and so superior that even some automobile commercials are likely obscene in His eyes. This does not mean sex is sin. God created it — for married people — not for exploitation, prostitution, selling products, or any of the baggage now attached to what is supposed to be “pure and undefiled.”

Today’s devotional reading shows the contrast between what God is like (and what God sends His people to do) and the outlandish idea that God puts people on this earth just to create a commotion. 

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:1–4, NIV)
When I first read this, I wondered why “greed” was tossed into the mix, but as I think about the way sex is used today (and by this entertainer), the connection is obvious. Sex is used to make money. Greed rather than need is behind the drive for wealth. When greed rules, the other rules are thrown out. Instead of saying no to impurity and the things that God (and even much of society) condemns, these are arrogantly claimed as a divine purpose for existing. Hogwash!

God says to imitate Him and love others. His love is illustrated by Jesus Christ, showing that true love is sacrificial. His love wants the eternal best for others. Love never exploits people or uses sinful things for self-gain.

God also says there should not even be a hint of any kind of impurity in the lives of His people. We should never tell off-color jokes, talk foolishly, or be guilty of any obscenity. This short list is part of many descriptions that show the standard of God. It is high. No one can reach it; we have all fallen short. Our only hope is being invaded by the life of Christ, the one who can transform the blackest soul and bring into human hearts the purity spoken of in these verses.

Purity involves saying no. It also involves having a thankful heart. This is impossible in someone who is greedy, and only for those who recognize that they fall short of the glory of God and repent. He can wash away our sin, including greed and lust.

The elements in these verses from Ephesians are interconnected. Greed, lust, impurity, all of whatever God is not — are part of the package called human sinfulness. Instead of living with that package, God asks me to  humbly acknowledge my sin, repent, put my faith in Him, and be thankful for the good things. Any good I have is from Him and far more than I deserve.

I am not here to do whatever I want or go wherever my sinful self leads me. I am here to show others the love and purity of Christ, reflecting the image of the One who created me. Actually, this is God’s purpose for everyone, including that singer. May she recognize her error and experience a change of heart.