January 31, 2011

Joy in the journey

Today was a good day. For each task and challenge, I asked the Lord to give me wisdom and whatever else I needed to do it in a way that pleases Him. He did that, helping me also to keep my thoughts on Him — resulting in peace of heart and joy throughout the day.

Then tonight’s devotional reading points to the value of thinking about Jesus. Spurgeon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Spurgeon) reminds his readers that before giving strength for the daily things of life, Christ first gives His righteousness. He begins with: “It will always give a Christian the greatest calm, quiet, ease, and peace, to think of the perfect righteousness of Christ” — words that were icing on my cake. 

In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’ (Jeremiah 23:6)
Sometimes I look around me at a worship service and notice how few people are smiling. I wonder what they are thinking about. Are they focused on the words of the songs we sing? Are they thinking of You, dear Lord?

Oh, there is a place for sorrow, but for most of us, a worship service is not the place. There we are reminded of all You have done for us. There we know our sin, but also ought to be keenly aware of our salvation and that in You, we are perfect. I remember a man who scolded a congregation for always moping about their sin. He said that in Christ we have victory over sin. Why mope when we can defeat it?

Too often sin is part of my life, but You are always there to give me what I need to overcome it. Salvation and new life presents me “perfect in Christ Jesus” before Your eyes. Should I be overtaken by sin, I ought to be sad, but if I am walking with You, how can I not rejoice?

Yes, life is distressing at times. Yes, Satan assaults me often. Yes, trials come. Life is as Jesus said, “In me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation . . .” then adds, “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

I acknowledge that my world was not too threatening today. It may have been -25 C. outside, but I was in a warm house with food and comfortable clothes. My chores were manageable for the average person (even though in Christ I feel far less than average). What then is the big deal about being in Christ and relying on Him for ordinary tasks?

It is a discipline of sorts. Just like saying no to things not forbidden improves self-control, calling out to You for grace to clean the bathrooms or answer email improves total dependency. Besides, when I ask for help, You also give me a good attitude. I could grumble about humdrum or unpleasant tasks, but instead I am joyful. This is not a game or an illusion. I know that apart from You I could not draw another breath. Then why not live all parts of my life with that in mind?

One more thing comes from thinking about Christ, His finished work, and the power of God. I noticed that the television news is losing its power to raise my blood pressure. That is because You are in charge. Also, You changed my life. You know what to do with world events and nothing is too difficult for You.

Note: Charles Haddon Spurgeon died 119 years ago today.

January 30, 2011

In Christ

Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life, begins with, “It isn’t about you.” If I say, “But I am all that I really know” then the Holy Spirit reminds me that I also know Jesus. My life is supposed to be about Jesus, not so much about me.

While I struggle and strive to make that truth a visible reality, Spurgeon reminds me that the life of Christ was and is about me also. He begins with thoughts based on this passage . . . 

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11–14)
When Christ died, He died for me, for all those who believe. In Him we are forgiven and made righteous. We can do nothing of eternal value apart from Him. Yet without us, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ would be pointless. What He did is tied to who and what we are — sinners who need a Savior. But then, in a dichotomy that shakes my ability to reason, He gives me the privilege, even the ability to glorify Him.

Imagine the most gifted artist finding a mud-spattered waif in the gutter. The artist reaches down and grasps the filthy hand. He pulls the muck-encrusted mess close to himself, washes her, feeds her, gives her all she needs. At the same time, he gently and firmly puts to death in her all that she used to be. Then, even as she is frail and wondering, he hands her a paintbrush and enables her to paint. From the end of the brush comes a glorious portrait of himself. And even though the portrait is all about him and glorifies the artist, the little one, who knows she cannot paint at all, was still part of the grandeur of its display. Such a mystery.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Lord, I am again blessed by Your words to me. You have bequeathed an inheritance to me that I did nothing to obtain. Your Son died that I might have all that is in Him. And He died also that I might be called Your child, Your heir. Because of Jesus, I am named in Your will.

Further, You give me great hope, not in myself, but in You. And in the hoping, You give the ability to bring praise to You, the Giver. It began when I first believed. At that moment, You sealed me as if putting a mark to declare that I belong to You. That seal is the Holy Spirit, continually affirming in my heart from that first moment of believing until now that this inheritance is definitely and rightfully mine, but not because of me. When I come into the full possession of the grand inheritance that You say is mine, it will be Jesus, not me, who is glorified.

Such a mystery this is — the sharing of the life of Jesus Christ. As Warren says, it is not about me, yet as You say, all that Jesus did was because of me and for me, an undeserving and unworthy sinner. I stand amazed in Your presence and am humbled by Your incredible and mysterious ways.

Rest in Him

After four days of driving, some of it through nasty weather, I am so glad to be home. Yet getting groceries, unpacking, putting things away, making supper, then sorting a month’s mail and email almost did me in. Not only that, the simplicity of holidays in a large vacation rental, culminating with an ungraded hotel room last night (the hotel was full of basketball players so they gave us an enormous suite for regular room price) made my household seem far too complicated. Too much to-do and too much stuff.

At the beginning of this month, I wondered about using Spurgeon’s devotional as a guide this year. The very first day, it seemed You were saying that You would use the food You gave Charles Spurgeon to feed me. I now realize that You are doing just that. Each day, this man’s writings point me to Jesus in a way that fits with my experiences and blesses my heart. 

And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. (Genesis 8:11)
This is the dove Noah released from the ark after the rain stopped. He wanted to know if the flood waters had subsided. Spurgeon sees the dove as a symbol himself and some of his own experiences. As I read what he said, I could see that too.

He blessed You for another day of mercy even though he was totally spent from the day’s events, much like a dove that had flown all day. However, just as the dove found no rest out of the ark, and therefore returned to it, he also learned that there is no satisfaction found “out there” in earthly things. Only in returning to the ark of God could he find rest for his spirit. “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Psalm 116:7).

Tonight, as the day comes to a close, I can identify with the weary dove coming back to the master. I need You and I must return to You. Sleep is vital for the body, but You alone can refresh my soul.

Like the dove could not endure hovering over the restless waters, I could not spend another minute with the complexities and long lists of things that must be done. I need to be with You and receive the peace of heart that You offer to the weary.

Spurgeon (I’m beginning to adore this man) also noted that the dove did not merely light upon the roof of the ark, she “came to him.” He saw in this how his own longing spirit was not satisfied with anything less than deep intimacy with You. The image of that dove fluttering to her master’s hand is exactly how I feel tonight. I’ve been “flapping” but now it is time to let You support my tired body and mind.

As for the olive branch, Spurgeon sees that as a memorial of the past day, and a prophecy of the future. Some might say that this application takes a leap, but it is based on Spurgeon’s vast experience of following You. Along with him, I also am reminded to bring You an olive branch. This symbolizes thankful offerings for Your mercies today: a wonderful place to sleep the night, eventual clear roads, safe travel, a good supper, and our warm home. You have blessed me today. I also need to look ahead, not only renewing my desire to serve You in the days to come, but also knowing that You will give me all I need to deal with the complexities of tomorrow.

Today’s reading ends with a prayer of gratitude for Your tender mercies that are fresh every day, and a request that You will put forth Your hand and take Your dove into Your bosom. To this I respond with the same gratitude and with the same request. Thank You and amen!

January 28, 2011

Perfection — someday

We have been driving from the middle of Arizona home to Alberta. On our way down, the roads were good for one day and then the snowstorms hit. We had a couple of days of very unpleasant driving. However, on our way back home, we have driven three days on bare and dry roads, with blue sky and sunshine. Only the last hour and a half looked more like winter. We loudly thanked God many times today for blessing our journey with almost perfect travel conditions.

Perfection has been on my mind in another way. Yesterday’s Bible readings told me that the fullness of Christ is in me. Lord, this makes me glad to be Your child, but at the same time even more aware of how short I come in measuring up to what You have done. With Christ in me, I’d like to be more like Him than I am. I feel so imperfect.

Today’s reading begins with the same topic. As Spurgeon says, I feel in my soul the imperfection that is in me. Every day teaches me that I fall short. Every tear that wells up in my eyes weeps imperfection. Every cross word that I speak mutters imperfection. Every sour thought smacks of it. I too often see inside my own heart to think for even a brief moment that there is perfection in myself. 

Yet even in this discouraging realization of imperfection, You give me comfort. You tell me that I am “perfect in Christ Jesus” and that in Your sight, I am complete in Christ and accepted in the Beloved. That is my encouragement and comfort. I do not have to be perfect because in Jesus, this is how You see me.

Yet there is a second perfection yet to be realized. This is as certain as what You have already done, and is a longing in my heart. 

To (His people) God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:27–28)
The teaching of the Bible works alongside Your Spirit to make me mature, yet one day every stain of sin will be removed from my life. Jesus will present me faultless before Your throne, without spot or wrinkle, no blemishes and totally mature. Not even Your eye that sees all will see anything but the perfection of Jesus Christ in me.

Then I will know and feel the great joy of this enormous yet brief promise: “Complete in Christ.” Now I cannot comprehend the heights and depths of Your salvation, but my heart leaps for joy at the thought that one day all that is ugly and sinful will be no more because You will transform all into the purity and perfection of Christ.

Perhaps it is pride that makes me wish this could happen sooner and quicker. Forgive me for that pride, yet increase my desire to walk with You in maturity and my patience to wait for You to do it in Your perfect timing.

January 27, 2011

His Fullness

After a month of eating out several times a week, I want vegetables. Not salad. It is too chilly outside and I’ve been eating salad every day. Finally we found a restaurant that serves peas, beans, carrots, corn, asparagus and broccoli. At last, a meal that does more than make me feel full. Veggies make me feel satisfied.

I chuckled when I read tonight’s devotional verse. It is about Jesus Christ and says, “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Of course this is a far different kind of fullness.

Before reading what Spurgeon had to say, I found several other verses about the fullness of Christ. The most important are these two affirming that the fullness of Almighty God lives in Him. Jesus is the Son of God, but also God the Son . . .  

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. (Colossians 2:9)
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. (Colossians 1:19)
My mind tries to connect this with what John wrote, and I cannot wrap my head around it. The fullness of You dwelling in Christ is easy, but the fullness of You dwelling in me? That makes my brain hurt.

By appearances, I cannot see You living in me. Sometimes You do things through me that make me smile or feel amazed because I recognize that it was You, not me. Yet most of the time my life is very ordinary. The fullness of Christ is way more significant than a full meal deal, but how can it be more of a reality in my life?

Paul gives one answer. He wrote how You gave gifted leaders to the church to help each of us live in the fullness of You.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11–13)
Every Christian needs to be taught and equipped to serve You and Your people so that we all become mature — like You and filled with You. It sounds much easier on paper than I find it in actual life.

Paul also thanked You that You are at work to this end. Again, I cannot see it in myself, but I do see it in others and also pray something like Paul prayed . . .  

For this reason I bow my knees before You, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of Your glory You may grant them to be strengthened with power through Your Spirit in their inner being, so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith—that they, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that they may be filled with all the fullness of You. (Adapted from Ephesians 3:14–19)
As John said, the fullness of God is in Christ. Spurgeon calls it the fullness  of essential Deity and adds that in Jesus there is also a fullness  of perfect manhood, for in him You, God, are revealed bodily.

There is a fullness  of atonement for “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.” There is a fullness  of justification for “there is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” who is “able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by Him because He lives forever to make intercession for them.”

There is a fullness  of victory in His death, for through death He destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil. His resurrection is fullness  too for by it “we are born again into a living hope.”

Spurgeon wrote of more, yet as I read the list, my eyes almost glaze over. What a wonder of all that there is in Jesus Christ — and I know that from this fullness I have received grace. You live in me.

What could be more astonishing, more wonderful? I can only think of one thing — that You not only live in me but my life becomes totally transparent and obedient that You can be seen.

You bid me come and get my need supplied. Spurgeon says to ask largely and receive largely. This fullness  is inexhaustible. It is treasured up where even I might reach it — in Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. God with me.

January 26, 2011

Wonder and awe

While driving today, I began thinking again about all that God has done for me. He saved me. I wonder why me? How amazing is His grace. As I thought of it, my heart was filled with awe. Nothing changed externally. I was not singing nor praying, but struck silent with the marvel that the Creator of the universe should send His Son to die for me.
And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:18–19)
Tonight’s devotional reading describes what happened to me today, and again I am in awe of the way You align my circumstances with Your words. Just as Mary treasured in her heart the events of her life, I also ponder and treasure the goodness of You.

Spurgeon’s words are more than one hundred years old, beautiful but strange to modern ears. Writing them in my words brings home the delight of worshiping You and having You affirm the wonder that fills in my heart.

I must never cease to wonder at the marvel of You. I cannot draw a line between holy wonder and genuine worship. When my soul is overwhelmed with the majesty of Your glory, even though I do not express it in song, or bow my head in humble prayer, yet this wonder simply and silently adores You.

You are to be worshiped as wonderful. You considered this fallen creature when You could have easily swept me away in destruction. You undertook to be my Redeemer and to pay my ransom. How incredibly marvelous!

As my mind considered earlier today, I again think of Your great redemption. What a miracle of grace that Jesus should forsake the throne and royalty above to suffer ignominiously below — for me. My soul loses itself in wonder. Then wonder becomes a practical emotion. It leads me to grateful worship and heartfelt thanksgiving. It causes in me a godly watchfulness. I do not want to sin against such a love as You have shown to me.

Feeling Your presence in the gift of Your dear Son puts me on holy ground. You move me to great hope — since Jesus has done such a great thing for me, heaven itself is not too great for my expectation. How can I be astonished at anything after being astonished at the manger and the cross? What wonder is left after seeing Your dear face?

I feel that far too often I fail to imitate the shepherds of Bethlehem who told others what they had seen and heard. However, I can more easily be like Mary and join all those who worship You before Your throne, treasuring You in my heart and being in awe of all that You have done.

January 25, 2011

Remembering and forgetting

We went to a hockey game tonight. Our team from home defeated the team here where we are on vacation by scoring a goal in the last 21 seconds of the game. Probably a third of the fans were on their feet cheering. The rest of them looked like they wanted to simply forget the whole evening.

Cheering for a favorite team is easy. Forgetting a defeat isn’t quite as simple. God wants me to cheer and rejoice in the victories that He gives, and forget all the times I’ve fallen and failed, because those are forgiven and covered by the blood of Christ. 

I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. (Isaiah 63:7)
On the way home, I thought about some of the good things that God has given me in the past few weeks. It brought joy to my heart. Tonight, my devotional reading is also about remembering the goodness of God and challenged me to recount some of them . . . 

I can remember the holy hour when Jesus walked into my life. You revealed who He is and made me Your child. Because of Your grace and saving power, that was the most significant day of my life.

I remember also several major victories over major sins, sins that I wanted to shake but could not do by myself. I cried out to You and You took them from me, snapping the chains and setting me free.

I can remember a time of great physical pain and You gave me such joy that the pain was nothing by comparison. I can also remember a long period of great emotional pain. You came to my side and cried with me, then bore me through it — as a father carries his hurting child.

There was a time when I was so poor that I could not pay a major bill and You provided unexpected funds from an unexpected source. There have been many occasions where I needed wisdom or ideas or just endurance, and You have never let me down.

The Bible tells me to remember all Your goodness, but it also tells me to forget “what lies behind” that I might press on toward the goal You have for me. 

One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13–14)
I used to tease my father about his selective hearing, and now see that You desire that I have “selective” remembering and “selective” forgetting. I’m not to remember that bad stuff and dwell on my failures. I’m not to forget Your great power and goodness. Instead, I’m to be selective — like You are selective with Your remembering and forgetting.
Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! (Psalm 25:6–7)
How grateful I am that You forget my sins and instead remember mercy and love. Thank You so much for remembering me. Tonight, I’m also thankful that pressing on toward the goal includes both forgetting the past, yet not forgetting the history of You in my life.

January 24, 2011

Saved from snares

A “fowler” hunts birds. When I was a child, the comic books showed boys building bird traps by putting a cardboard box on a stick with fishing line tied to it. They put bait inside the box and hid behind the bushes. When a bird came, they pulled the string and the box dropped over the bird.

Other traps or snares are less or more sophisticated. Their value over guns or shotguns is that their meat is not damage by pellets. However, a snare works only if the hapless bird is interested in the bait. 

For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. (Psalm 91:3)
For me, this word picture depicts two ways the Lord delivers me. One is getting me out of the snare after I have been trapped. That is, when I see something that appeals to my sinful nature and go for it, then I wind up boxed in by some sort of sin. The bait could be from people hurting or provoking me, or just doing something they shouldn’t and I wind up doing it too. My “box” could be gossip, rude speech, a hissy-fit, or any number of things.

When the trap falls and I am caught, my God makes me aware of my error, but the deed has been done. What now? If I were a helpless bird, my goose would be cooked (pardon the cliche and the horrible pun). However, I am not a mere bird but a child of God, helpless but still Your child.

You promise to deliver me from snares and from the power of my sin. Deliverance is Your specialty. You do it in the same manner that You delivered me from the penalty of sin. 1 John 1:9 says that if I confess my sin, You are faithful and just to forgive my sin and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. With confession and forgiveness, the guilt is gone. With cleansing, my desire to sin gets a good scrubbing.

Sometimes my bait-snatch involves others because my sin has hurt them too. I must also offer confession and ask forgiveness from them. Forgiveness is always Your way of deliverance.

A second way that You deliver me from that fowler’s snare is by working in my life so that I lose interest in the bait. That is, I walk by the temptation because it just isn’t one. This is my preferred way, but before it happens, I usually have to experience a few episodes of being caught in the snare.

Just as some birds are slower to learn than others, I consider myself quite a dodo, yet Your patience is greater than the fowler who holds the fishing line. You know what I need to keep me out of that snare. I know what Spurgeon says is true; no bird of paradise shall die in the fowler’s net. This is not because I am a wise owl but because You are my Savior. You know and care when a sparrow falls, and You are incredibly faithful in keeping Your promises, including this one!

Image source

January 23, 2011

Everlasting love

The very first lie ever told was not a brazen statement, but a suggestion. When the serpent (Satan in disguise) came to Eve, he tempted her by insinuating that God had forbidden the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because He didn’t want the best for her. In other words, God did not love her.

Satan’s tactics haven’t changed much. If he can persuade anyone that God does not love them or want the best for them, then he has them. They will never trust a God that does not care.

The most heart-rending example is that of people who have been abused by their earthly father. Even the word father makes them cringe. Because of this horrible treatment, they cannot believe that any heavenly Father cares about them.

If a man cheats on his wife, no matter how much he apologizes, tries to prove himself and win her back, she will think that he does not love her and perhaps never has. This sense of being unloved takes a large chunk out of her ability to trust him.

If a parent tells a child that a visit to the dentist will not hurt and the visit does hurt, the child may forget eventually, but something happens in that little one’s heart. Trust becomes more difficult because being loved and giving trust goes together.

Today’s devotional verse is from an Old Testament book about the love between a man and a woman. Some compare this to the love of Christ for His bride, the church. The verse is the response of the people to this lover.

We will be glad and rejoice in you. We will remember your love more than wine. (Song of Solomon 1:4)
Spurgeon uses this verse to affirm that You will not let Your people forget that You love us. Your love was proved when You sent Jesus, proved when Jesus died for my sin, proved when You raised Him from the dead. Your Word tells me over and over that You love me. Obviously You do not want me to forget.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31–39)
Satan still tries. When things don’t go well, he whispers that You don’t love me. When people mistreat me, he whispers that God’s love is gone. But he is wrong, a liar. I am sure of that.

Your love was established two thousand years ago when You sent Jesus. He now lives forever to intercede for me. No matter what the devil says, Your words are true and he is telling lies. No matter what else happens, Your love has been established and made sure. Because of Christ, nothing can separate me from Your love.

The LORD appeared to me from far away (and said), “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jeremiah 31:3).

January 22, 2011

Why I have troubles

In a discussion about the sovereignty of God, a younger woman was angry. She blurted, “Why does everything have to be caused by either God or Satan? Can’t it just be the way life is?”

I didn’t have a satisfying answer for her, but wondered if her question had more to it than her frustration. When bad things happen to people who seem to have done nothing to deserve it, hearts begin to doubt if God is in control. Why allow innocents to suffer? On the other hand, no one wants to think that Satan is running the world, so what options does this leave?

Lord, I know that You are almighty and sovereign. If that were not true, You could only do some things and would be helpless with others. I could never trust a god like that. Besides, Scripture and history affirm Your power.

I also know that Satan is on a tether. He is not almighty and can do only what You allow him to do. This is clear from the story of Job. 

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:8–12)
You allowed Job to experience some terrible events. In this, You were demonstrating to Satan something about You, not about Job. You showed him that the faith You grant Your servants is powerful. It does not depend on things going well all the time, or on the “good” life. It is based on who You are, not on experiences and events.

For me, this raises another thought. When bad things happen in my life, are You doing the same with me as You did with Job? Are You proving something about Your grace and faith in my life? Or is it just the way life is?

If I thought the latter, then I would miss something wonderful. Of course the trials are not fun, but when they happen, if I dismiss them as “that’s life” then I do not seek, recognize, or glory in Your grace. Even though You take me through situations that press me to the wall, You keep me believing in You, no matter what. Nothing can take away the faith that You give.

There is another aspect to trials. Jesus said that “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).

A tree might not feel the knife, but when You prune me, I feel it. It hurts. Some of those hard times are part of the pruning process. You are at work to purify my love for You and wean me from all else but You. You console me, assure me, but also cut out the selfishness and sinfulness that keep me from being all that I can be. If I thought that the pruning process was just “life” then I would miss the marvel of what You are doing, and perhaps never change at all.

The Bible doesn’t say whether or not You explained Yourself to Job, a great man of faith. When I seek Your face in trials, You often show me the purpose of those trials. This does not make me closer to You than Job was. Instead, it shows me that I’m still a babe in the faith — because I still need the explanations.

January 21, 2011

God is in the details

Very often I’ve not made the connection between a day of great blessing and having the wheels fall off the next day. If Sunday was awesome and the presence of God very obvious, Monday will bring irritations and a sense that the whole world has stopped praying.

While I’ve experienced this and learned to expect it, I’m now beginning to see why the Lord allows this to happen. Today’s devotional gives more light using a passage from Judges. Sampson had a day of victory where he destroyed one thousand enemy soldiers single-handedly. Right after that, he falls into a funk over a drink of water. 

And he was very thirsty, and he called upon the LORD and said, “You have granted this great salvation by the hand of your servant, and shall I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?”
Lord, of course You came to his aid. “And God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came out from it. And when he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived.”

After that, Sampson went on to judge Israel in the days of the Philistines for twenty years. (Judges 15:18–20)

Spurgeon explains that this is God’s way of teaching us that none of our strength is ours. We tend to puff up after we “hit the ball” or “sing the song” but need to understand that we need You all the time, for the small things of life as well as the gigantic challenges.

A friend claims that he would never pray for petty things like parking places and help with little things. He reasons that You gave us a brain and You expect us to use it.

While You do want me to be strong, wise and sensible, You also want me to realize my source of strength, wisdom and common sense. Without You, I can do nothing (John 15:5). I used to think that this verse meant “nothing of a spiritual nature” but now believe that all of my life is useless without Your input. Unless I am abiding in You, whatever I do can be evaluated as a big zero.

Paul says that it is “in You that we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). By relying on You for everything, a drink of water, help with shopping, grace to teach a class, wisdom to select a gift, all things big or small, I demonstrate my understanding of who You are. I also confess who I am — a needy person without strength or wisdom to do anything.

I suppose I could do many of these ‘small’ things without calling on or acknowledging You. That would mean that after the next big thing, when I cry out and You help me, I can continue to expect to falter with the little things. Mondays will be irritating — until I admit that I need Your grace to clean my house and do the ironing just as much as I need Your grace to write a Bible study and teach a class.

Many times You have provide grace in those ‘little’ things just as water was provided for Sampson. In fact, Your provision is often given in some extraordinary way that produces awe in my heart and praise on my lips. I am revived and more convinced than ever that I need You and that You care about every detail of my life.

January 20, 2011

Grace more amazing

Thinking about myself as dead to sin and alive to God clarifies what it means to abide in Christ. Last Sunday’s illustration of the dad teaching his tot how to swing a bat sticks in my mind, continually reminding me that I am like a glove, and Lord, You are the hand.

Tonight’s verses are another reminder of how much I depend on You. Apart from You, what would I be?

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. (Psalm 119:33–37)
If You didn’t teach me, I would be wholly ignorant of spiritual matters, and no doubt many other matters. You open my mind and heart so that I understand your ways. You lead me to know how to obey them and give me strength so that I can follow through. Without You, I would be a rebellious and selfish sinner.

Besides that, You help me delight in your commands. So many times I’ve heard people say that being a Christian would mean no fun at all. They have no idea how much joy You give. This delight is for Your people, a wonderful gift from the hand in the glove. Without this joy, I would grumble at every command and resent all that You ask of me.

The psalmist asks you to incline his heart to Your truths. Delighting in them is an amazing grace, but turning toward them instead of looking out for myself is also an amazing grace. I cannot claim any credit for wanting to know You or Your Word. You put all of this in my heart.

As for my part, I’ve often said that at least I can say “no” to trouble and sin, but these verses contradict that too. The ability to turn from sin is Your work as well. The psalmist asks You to turn his eyes from evil. You know that I cannot do that myself. For example, the temptation of watching television when my time could be put to better use is too much for me, particularly when I am tired. I need you to turn my eyes from looking at all worthless things. Even knowing that I need to do that, and even asking You to help me is of You. I’d never want this apart from Your grace and the work of the Holy Spirit in me.

You continually give me life in Your ways. Anything else is dead, useless, without value in this life or for eternity. You teach me to crave You and Your work in my heart. For this I am filled with joy and overwhelmed with Your amazing grace.

January 19, 2011

Open minds

A young girl told me that to be saved she must do good works. I opened a Bible and asked her to read these verses out loud:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
After she read it, I asked her, “According to these verses what does a person have to do to be saved?”

She replied, “They must do good works.”

Oh Father, at that time I knew that spiritual blindness is a reality, yet I was surprised at her inability to see the black and white words of these verses from Ephesians. Even after she said them herself, she did not understand, and in fact thought they said the opposite.

Tonight’s devotional reading is about the need for a change in a sinner’s brain. I can remember reading and reading the Bible, daily and for many years. It didn’t make any sense at all. After You came into my life, something happened. Instead of a dark and obscure book, the Bible changed. But it was not the book that changed, it was You changing me, just as these verses describe.

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:45)
Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18)
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14)
Not only do You open Scripture, You also open minds. While You can use preachers and Your disciples to speak Your Word, even explain Your Word, not one of us can open the minds of those who listen. Only You can do that.

Even the best of speakers and teachers can engage the ears, the mind, even the emotions and will, but You alone can open the deepest part — the human spirit. You even give sinners a hunger for truth. No one has to be a scholar or experienced in Bible study to grasp what You are saying when You open their understanding. No matter who it is, that is exactly what happens; they understand You.

Spurgeon says, “How many men of profound learning are ignorant of eternal things” and I say “Many!” I’ve heard of people who memorize great portions of this great Book yet have no idea what it means. Many children and uneducated people know more about You than those with doctorates or who call themselves theologians.

Yet such was my situation before You entered my life. I was utterly blind to truth, to You. If it were not for Your great love, I would have remained in that darkness and ignorance. If You did not open my spiritual understanding, I could not grasp anything of Your will and Your ways.

It is in Your classroom and at Your feet that spiritual knowledge is not only imparted but received, understood and believed. This is grace and a wondrous thing. Again, while I have proudly thought at times that I have done something, I know that You swing the bat and You sing the song. You are the hand in the glove, the One who imparts to my heart all that You want me to know.

January 18, 2011

Christian Truth

A large bookstore a few miles from here has a religion section. Along one wall are several shelving units with the word “BIBLES” above each one. A few more shelves are labeled “CHRISTIAN INSPIRATIONAL” and even more are dubbed “CHRISTIAN FICTION.”

My first thought is that the fiction shelves could stay with that name tag, but the others should be labeled “CHRISTIAN TRUTH.”

According conservative estimate in The New Yorker, Americans purchased some twenty-five million Bibles in 2005 — twice as many as the most recent Harry Potter book.  Christian books also often sell more than those listed on the best seller lists. For instance, Rick Warren’s Christian book, The Purpose Driven Life, is the best-selling hardback in U.S. history with more than 30 million copies sold and translated into more than 50 languages. While some would argue that this is not the greatest in biblical writing, it shows that people are interested in knowing how to live in a biblical way.

The Bible is the only source of information on the One who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6).

Jesus Himself illustrated the value of the Scriptures in an event that happened right after Jesus rose from the dead. Two men were walking along a road discussing the event of His crucifixion and were not yet aware that He was alive. He came up to them but they didn’t recognize Him. After asking them what they were talking about . . .  

Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. (Luke 24:27)
Here was the best teacher in the world, an interpreter with the greatest wisdom and knowledge, making an effort to enlighten two confused men. He used the best of books as His text to show them right from Moses and the prophets that He is the main subject and the best of lessons given in that Book of books.

Lord, how sweet it would have been to walk that road and hear what they heard directly from Your mouth. Yet as I open the pages of my Bible with a prayer on my heart that You will speak, You do. Your voice is not audible, but Your words are there, as plain as words can be. I am so delighted that You speak to Your people, to me. Further, I rejoice that when You speak, Your words are not Christian fiction, but solid and reliable truth.

Image Source

January 17, 2011

Rest from my labor

Today the idea of my main work was again reinforced. Lord, You care about the other things that I do — caring for family, time with friends, cooking and cleaning, the writing that I do, even my artistic endeavors. You want me to be a good influence by living a holy and obedient life. You move me to be involved in my church and I do not feel complete unless I’m teaching in Your name and for You.

However, the task You put at the top of my list again and again is prayer. This is my main work and I’m to give it my all. Yet I must confess that I have not prayed this past couple of weeks the same as I normally do. We are on holidays. I took a break.

Pulling back was not a good idea. Sigh. Instead of this allowing me to feel more rested (after all, I was not “working” so hard), I have felt more fatigued, even emptied. Today I fully occupied myself with my work and came away from that with more energy than I’ve had for many days. How interesting that You give me this verse tonight.

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. (Hebrews 4:9)
Hebrews 4 is about believers ceasing from our efforts in the same way that You did after You created the world. While it hints at the rest we experience when we quit trying to earn our salvation, it is mostly about that future rest which we will experience when we enter eternity.

The devotional thoughts from this verse are expressed in a language from another era, but when I read them, my heart said “yes” and I want to write the same thoughts in my own words . . .  

How different will be my state in heaven from what it is here on earth. Here I am given Your life that I might work as You ask. I do suffer weariness, but there in that eternal home, fatigue is totally unknown. On earth, I am anxious to serve You, yet my strength is totally unequal to my zeal. I constantly ask You, “Help me serve You, O my God.”

At times, I become so occupied in Your work that my energy falters. I become exhausted with the labor. Yet I know that this too shall pass. Just as the sun nears the horizon in the west, my life is nearer to its end. Even so, I will rise again on a brighter day than I have ever seen before, a day where I will be at rest. Here, You sometimes allow times of refreshing, but that rest is partial. In heaven, my rest will be perfect.

So much of life here brings a sense of distress because there is no end to what needs to be done. I feel as if I am never finished and even if I can check off one chore, there is that sense that I’ve never quite achieved or finished. Yet eternity will bring rest. I will be at the top of the mountain, even in the loving arms of my Heavenly Father. I cannot go higher nor achieve anything greater.

This is the rest that remains. All the work will be done, but also all the worries, concerns, burdens and pressures will be over. Nothing rusts or fades or withers there. My eyes will see perfectly.  My voice will be certain and strong. My heart will never waver. My worship will be perfect. My faith will be sight.

Oh, thank You for reminding me to keep looking forward. There is that great and happy day ahead — when mortality is swallowed up with life and perfect rest begins.

January 16, 2011

He swings the bat

This morning’s sermon was about God’s grace behind all the good that I do. The pastor used two illustrations. The first was a child learning how to bat a ball. His father stands with his arms around him and holds the bat on either side of those small hands. Someone throws the ball. The father moves the child’s hands and arms to swing and hit it. The child jumps up and down in excitement. “Look what I did, look what I did!”

The other was an old episode of the Andy Griffith show where Barney wanted to sing a solo in the choir. Everyone knew his voice was terrible except him. Andy rigged a solution where Barney was given the solo to sing, but told that the microphone was really powerful. He needed to sing softly and it would make his voice sound better. Of course the strongest singer in the choir slipped out to another mike and his was the powerful voice that everyone heard.

Using Scripture the pastor clearly explained how God’s grace enables His people to do His will in His strength. We may think we are doing it ourselves, but He is there, swinging the bat and singing the song, making it appear as if we are making the effort. The more mature we become, the more we realize that our spiritual strength is all from God.

Lord, You blessed me with this message. However, something happened during the day. I began thinking that this is fine for everyone else, but would not happen for me. I’m sure that the Liar was behind this doubt and false self-effacement, yet started to feel very sad and discouraged.

Besides that, these messages about grace have made me aware how much self-effort I put into spiritual disciplines. Is that grace? Or is it just me trying too hard? If I didn’t work at it, would grace sustain me anyway? Or would my spiritual life fizzle to a flabby nothing like a popped balloon?

I know these seem like basic questions, things a new Christian would ask, yet lately they keep running through my head like stampeding buffalo. Is this common for Christians at my stage of life? Or is there something else going on?

Yet regardless of the causes, You keep lining up my daily devotional readings to fit with the faith trials that I am going through. Tonight you use this verse to say many things:

Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 41:14)
I am the one who helps you.” Really. I know that. Have You ever not? I have never asked for help from You only to have You turn Your back. You are the God who helps me, a worm regarding spiritual power. You are my Redeemer. You are the Holy One. I am nothing without You.

Spurgeon’s thoughts also create an echo in my heart. He turns my attention to Your part in my salvation. As he says, it is a small thing for You to help me. Look what You have already done. You bought me with Your blood. You died for me. You chose me before the world began. You laid aside Your glory and became a man for me. You gave up Your life for me. You pulled me through many trials in the past forty years. Even before You saved me, You were watching over me. You saved my life as a child when doctors said I would not live. You had a plan for me. Nothing that challenges me is too difficult for You or beyond Your help.

My goodness. Do I need more power than the power of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Do I need more wisdom than You can give? Do I need more love than was shown by Jesus Christ — who now lives in me? What can I face that is too hard for You?

Sometimes I imagine myself (and feel it true) that I am a maidservant with an empty platter coming to You to have it filled. I already know that I can bring You my empty head, my sorrows and empty heart, my weakness and empty hands, my needs, even the needs of others, and You answer those cries for help.

I need to celebrate that, not doubt it. I need to go into the night and awake in the day knowing and rejoicing that You are my God — and You are also my helper. You swing the bat and You sing the song. I can lean into You for all things and can even hear You chuckle at those times when I say, “Look what I did, look what I did.” That too is grace.

January 15, 2011

24/7 Employment

Lord, I didn’t pray much today. I know that my spiritual life will not die when I am without discipline or our schedule is filled with other good things. However, prayer is important, not only because You command it, but because I need that intimacy with You, and because there is much need for prayer in the lives of those around me.

Today’s devotional readings are both about prayer. This is not a coincidence for I need You to push me back to work. You do it with the morning devotional verse where David is talking to You. 

And now, O LORD God, confirm forever the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, and do as you have spoken. (2 Samuel 7:25)
He reminds You of the promise You made him and asks You to keep that promise. Prayer is bringing my life and the lives of others before You that You might do as You intend with us. To pray this way, I need to remember Your promises and talk to You about them.

The evening reading also uses the words of David. He has been falsely accused, but does not retaliate, not does this drive him to a pity party or other distractions. Instead, he says, “In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer” (Psalm 109:4).

Spurgeon says this: “As a shadow has no power because there is no substance in it, even so that supplication, in which a man’s proper self is not thoroughly present in agonizing earnestness and vehement desire, is utterly ineffectual, for it lacks that which would give it force.”

He quotes someone else who said that, “Fervent prayer, like a cannon planted at the gates of heaven, makes them fly open.”

This is how David prayed. I blush to remember the day I was walking and praying, but also complaining. I said to You that spending so much time to pray was taking me away from my chore list. I had so much work to do and was feeling anxious about it. You came back to me most clearly with, “This is your work!”

Today, I’ve not worked very hard. I took only moments here and there to pray, I feel like I’ve been lazy, and worse, ignoring You. Then I read Spurgeon who says that the common problem of most Christians and prayer is that we so easily are distracted. “Our thoughts go roving hither and thither, and we make little progress toward our desired end. Like quicksilver our mind will not hold together, but rolls off this way and that.”

This is true and part of my problem. I was distracted today with shopping and reading. Prayer was hardly at the back of my mind, never mind the front. This insults you. As Spurgeon says, what would I think of a petitioner who was given an audience with a prince and he played with a feather or with catching a fly?

He is right when he says that prayer is not my chance work, but my daily business, my habit and vocation. I must addict myself to prayer, be immersed in it as my element, and pray without ceasing.

Lord, work in me that I might be more and more prevalent in prayer. Keep calling me to it, not allowing my laxness or distractions to keep me from the work You have given me.

January 14, 2011

He does it ALL

Tonight as I thought of how You might speak to me, I came up with a small concern regarding guidance and thought You might say something about that. However, You have more important things to tell me.

The devotional reading begins with a verse that speaks of a place in the ancient Middle-East. Edom represents a God-hating world, but this verse declares Your power in dealing with that place. 

Who is this who comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, He who is splendid in His apparel, marching in the greatness of His strength? “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.” (Isaiah 63:1)
Even those who hate You have no power against You. You are far too strong for even the strongest animosity. However, this verse speaks of that power in positive terms. There is so much to consider in that phrase about You being “mighty to save.”

Yet You gave me much more in the words that accompany this verse. You use them to touch my heart about things far more important than my smaller concern. From them, I offer this to back to You.

Oh loving Father, I praise You that “mighty to save” speaks of Your entire salvation, from the first desire You put into my heart to that complete perfection when I step into glory. Such mercy and such amazing grace, but also such amazing power.

While You are mighty to save all those who repent, You are able also to make any sinner repent. You will take to heaven those who believe, yet You are also mighty to give unbelievers new hearts and to work faith in them. You can make the person who hates holiness love it. You can constrain those who despise Your name until they bend their knees before You. Such is Your power to save souls.

Yet salvation goes beyond forgiveness, repentance, and new life. You also work after sinners repent and place their faith in Jesus Christ. My life has become a series of miracles wrought by Your mighty hand. You fill me with zeal. You keep me set apart for You even after You set me apart and made me holy.

I’m so grateful that You preserve me, that salvation is from now to forever. Your might is not about making me a believer and then leaving me to fend for myself. As Paul wrote, “He who began a good work in (me) will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

I know these things, yet there is greater encouragement from You in these words about You being mighty to save. This saving power also applies to the loved ones on my prayer list who do not yet believe in You. These words tell me that I’m not to give up interceding for them. Your strength is sufficient for me, but also sufficient for them. Salvation is Your work and You are mighty in that work. I am powerless to tame sinners, but You are all-powerful. The best evidence lies in the reality that You saved me. Instead of anxious fretting or trying to do it myself, I can grab hold of Your mighty arm and rely on You to put forth Your strength on their behalf.

How wonderful that I do not know You as a God who is mighty to destroy, but as the One who is mighty to save!

January 13, 2011

Making plans

A January vacation is a great time to think about what I should be doing for the rest of the year, even the rest of my life. Sometimes I wish You would lay it out for me, even insert Your plan for my life in Outlook and I could just follow it. Instead, I’ve been praying for direction from Your Word.

Today’s devotional reading selects an unusual passage. It is about a leader in Judah who tried to emulate Solomon’s fleet of ships and even his wealth. His plans didn’t work.

Jehoshaphat made ships of Tarshish to go to Ophir for gold, but they did not go, for the ships were wrecked at Ezion-geber. (1 Kings 22:48)
Another passage gives a bit more information about why Jehoshaphat could not do what he wanted to do.
Then Eliezer the son of Dodavahu of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, “Because you have joined with Ahaziah, the LORD will destroy what you have made.” And the ships were wrecked and were not able to go to Tarshish. (2 Chronicles 20:37)
God providentially allowed Solomon to prosper, but Jehoshaphat made an alliance unapproved by God and his efforts were fruitless. This is a good lesson. One of Your people can succeed and another fail in what looks like identical ventures, but unless a plan is undertaken according to Your direction, it will not come to pass.

I’ve often said that Your work needs to be done Your way, but as I read this, I’m thinking all work outside of “official” ministry also needs to be done in Your way. You do not bless selfishly motivated personal plans any more that You would bless deceit in the church, dishonesty in business, or a life of crime.

Although I teach a class at Family Bible School, and do other things that You have given me as ministry, I have many interests. These do not require all my time, so I need to make decisions about how to use the rest of it. I know I need to be available to the Holy Spirit, but also know that it is not wise to sit and twiddle my thumbs while waiting to hear from You.

Jehoshaphat’s motive to get rich overruled his desire to obey You. However, he learned his lesson. When the king of Israel asked him to join him again, he would not do it.
Then Ahaziah the son of Ahab said to Jehoshaphat, “Let my servants go with your servants in the ships,” but Jehoshaphat was not willing. (1 Kings 22:49)
I don’t know if this man had a verse of Scripture over his desk as a guide, but You gave one to me for this year. It tells me that when I make plans I also need to look at my motives too. Those watching me might not be able to see the subtle ways I am tempted, but You do. For that, You gave me this to help me plan my use of time. 
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself. Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4)
Jehoshaphat failed one test, but he was generally a good leader. I know that I will make mistakes and trip over my own selfishness, but I also know that You will use even my mistakes to help me to learn to be more like Jesus.

January 12, 2011

Let Jesus be Seen

A Christian friend often says to other believers who are fearful, “Remember who you are.” I think of him when reading today’s verse.
 . . . and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:23)
This verse is courage to those who know You, because by knowing You, what or who can harm us? We have Your Spirit as our strength and guide here on earth, and if harm should threaten, we know that You will take us to our eternal home.  
So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)
Tonight we watched the memorial service in Tucson for the victims of last Saturday’s shooting, an event we have followed on the news every day since it happened. We have heard many of those close to this tragedy declare their faith in You. Some have shared that loved ones who died also trusted You. It struck me as I listened to them and read these verses the significance of knowing who I am in Christ. How else can I put others first?

Two elderly couples were in the line of fire. Both of the men dove to protect their wives. One of them died doing so. His daughters declared that now he is walking with Jesus.

A tiny woman saw the gunman stop to reload. She dove at him and grabbed the second clip of ammunition, yanking it out of his hands. A white-haired man leaped on the gunman, and helped by a second retiree, they held him to the ground.

Several people rushed into the scene, not away from it. More than one of them immediately applied pressure to wounds, saving lives. The congress woman who was shot in the head is still alive because one man was not afraid to come to her aid and stay with her until help arrived.

Another man said that he was not a praying person, but when his loved one was hit, someone came to him, held his hand and prayed. He was deeply moved by this action of a stranger.

In the memorial service, several speakers read Scripture, including the Attorney General of the United States who had no words of his own, and the President who also spoke of You.

How many of these people know You? From what I heard and saw, many. By that, they ignored their own selves and even their own safety. They ignored politics and rhetoric. Obviously, some of them know the One who watches over them and their destination. They know You and to whom they belong.

Spurgeon had some interesting observations on this fragment of a verse. This is what You said to me as I read it . . . 

It is a sin to be overly modest about what You have bestowed upon me for the good of others. You do not intend that I be a village in a valley, but “a city set upon a hill.” You didn’t light my life so I could hide it under a bushel, but to share it with others. To hide my sinful self is fine, but to hide You who lives in me can never be justified. Further, keeping back truth which is precious to me is a sin against others and an offence against You also. Even as an introverted person, You do not want me to indulge my reticence lest I am useless to the church and to Your kingdom. In Your name and because You are not ashamed of me, I need to ignore and even sit on my feelings — and tell others what You have told me. If I cannot speak or write with great eloquence, then I must use the still small voice. You may not give me a pulpit nor many publishers, but I must still say as Peter and John said, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee.”

If I cannot stand on a mountain, I can speak by a well or in a house or at a mall. If I cannot praise You in the marketplace, then I can do it in a garden or a field. If I cannot talk to the world, I can talk to the neighbor next door, or my grandchildren. I am not to hide the little talent that I have, but trade with it so You gain the interest of others.

You may never call me to dive in front of a bullet, but I must not let any fear — of bullets, or other people, or anything else — stop me from letting Your virtue be seen in my life.

Clip art credit

No Root

When I was thirteen years old, I decided that being a grown woman meant doing what my mother did — reading the Bible every day. This soon became a habit, but habit only. I didn’t understand it at all, yet  it became a matter of pride to mark RMB in my diary each day.

When You came into my life, the matter of “daily devotions” was easy for me. I’d already developed the habit. I have even been proud of it, lifting myself above those who are not so disciplined. I had no idea that this was not as it should be . . .  until now.    

Yesterday, I forgot . . .  No, it wasn’t forgetting, it was more like I didn’t feel like it. Tired, perhaps, but I’ve been tired before, and I simply did not open my Bible or look at my devotional book. However, all this week You have been speaking to me about motivations and about grace. You have made it clear that my disciplines and habits are only as important as the spirit behind them.

This morning, feeling guilty, I decided to read yesterday’s entry from Spurgeon’s convicting little book. Here is the verse . . .  

And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. (Luke 8:13)
And here is what Spurgeon has to say about this verse. 
Have I been making a fair show in the flesh without having a corresponding inner life? Good growth takes place upwards and downwards at the same time. Am I rooted in sincere fidelity and love to Jesus? If my heart remains unsoftened and unfertilized by grace, the good seed may germinate for a season, but it must ultimately wither, for it cannot flourish on a rocky, unbroken, unsanctified heart. Let me dread a godliness as rapid in growth and as wanting in endurance as Jonah’s gourd; let me count the cost of being a follower of Jesus, above all let me feel the energy of his Holy Spirit, and then I shall possess an abiding and enduring seed in my soul. If my mind remains as obdurate as it was by nature, the sun of trial will scorch, and my hard heart will help to cast the heat the more terribly upon the ill-covered seed, and my religion will soon die, and my despair will be terrible; therefore, O heavenly Sower, plough me first, and then cast the truth into me, and let me yield thee a bounteous harvest.1
You have struck a blow at something so simple and basic in my daily life making me realize the insidious depth of human pride, my pride. Instead of doing what I do out of habit, even though I’ve been tremendously blessed by that habit, You want me motivated by grace even in this. Even though this habit has carried me all these years, and more often than not has included an eagerness to hear You speak, I see from my attitude yesterday that mere habit does not sustain. It withers, just like the gourd of Jonah.

You keep showing me that only by grace can I serve You. The deadness of the flesh cannot sustain nor proclaim the life of Jesus Christ. You live in me, but Your life is nourished only by the prompting and work of the Holy Spirit, not by human effort. While I’m sure that many times You have been behind my desire to spend time with You in Your Word, today You show me that far too often I am motivated by habit and pride. Now I understand that by grace alone You serve my daily bread to me.

1 Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings, Complete and unabridged; New modern edition. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006).

January 10, 2011

More Amazing Grace

Oh, Lord, You tell me that I am to be perfect even as my Father in heaven is perfect. And even though everyone who belongs to You longs for perfection, I know this will not be mine this side of heaven. That is why Your promises are so precious. 
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)
No matter how good I try to be, the only goodness that counts is that which You bestow by grace. Any actions of obedience are empowered by You. All desires for obedience come from Your Spirit who lives in me. This means that the wonderful righteousness You promise as a crown and a reward is also given by grace. I will not have earned or deserved it — for apart from Christ, I have no righteousness.

Pope Celestine had it right when he said, “So great is God’s goodness to men that He wills that their works should be merits, though they are merely His own gifts.”

2 Timothy 4:8 also says that this reward is for all who have loved Your appearing. My Greek dictionary says “appearing” refers to a manifestation of You in three ways.

The first was Your advent. We celebrate Christmas at a time of year that may not coincide with the exact time You appeared to us in human form. Nevertheless, that advent is precious to all who believe. How sad for those who shun Christmas yet claim to believe in You, and how sad for those who have turned this holy celebration into a love of all things worldly.

Another “appearance” is Your presence and power seen in the Salvation You offer. How wonderful that day when I literally saw the light of Your glory as You revealed that Jesus is God. At the same moment, I knew that I was a sinner in need of forgiveness and eternal life. Your Advent is special, yet that appearance is even more precious.

The third sense of “having loved Your appearance” hasn’t happened yet. The love and longing for this event is in my heart, but Your return from heaven to earth is reserved for an unknown time in the future. Any pause to think about it fills my heart with strong desire to see Your face.

I’m struck too by the context of this verse. It speaks of loving Your appearance, then verse 10 tells of a man who loved something else. “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. . . .” (2 Timothy 4:10)

This is sad, and yet how easily it happens. This present world offers immediate and visible rewards, and some of them are available for very little effort. Righteousness is harder to come by for it means abandoning self-effort and relying solely and without reservation on Your grace and mercy.

To complicate the difficulty of going for the crown of righteousness, one theologian says that this reward will be based more on our motives than our accomplishments. Whatever I do, it must be for You and not for me. “Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:12).

Selfishly motivated good deeds may appear to greatly help other people. You might even use them for Your glory, but they merit no reward for the doer. You want righteousness from the heart, and this means it cannot happen unless Jesus lives there.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6), again giving me assurance that what You have given me, You have also put a desire in my heart for more of it. In the end, on that Day the fullness of this righteousness will be my reward for seeking it . . .  a reward that I would not have, nor even want, if it were not for Your amazing grace.

January 9, 2011

Amazing Grace

We heard a sermon today about grace and why we need it. The pastor used verses about our condition without Christ to bluntly state that we were dead in our sin, dead — as in no life at all. Dead people, walking around, looking as if alive, but in the reality of Your eternal perspective, no one is alive apart from the life that You offer to us by grace through faith.

Tonight’s devotional reading says the same thing, but in a way that requires some thinking.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:31–33)
It seems to me that You are speaking here about the covenant of law which calls for total obedience. However, after You took Your people out of slavery in Egypt and promised them their own land, they refused to go into the land when they got there. But that was not their only act of disobedience. They resisted You and Your law and Your leaders for many years.

The reason for this was covered in the sermon. Sin is not about acts of disobedience in the lives of those who wandered in the wilderness long ago, or the “oops” times in our lives either. Sin happens because we are sinners by nature.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1–3)
No human being, other than Jesus Christ, has ever kept Your Law or perfectly obeyed You. It is impossible because we are sinners by nature, not just by our actions. I sin because I am a sinner, much like a duck swims because it is a duck, or a tulip blooms because it is a flower. Sin is inherit to being human, it is my nature.

That is why I needed a new nature. Salvation isn’t about trying harder, or about doing more good than bad. It is about changing me from what I was, dead in sin, to what I am now, alive in Christ. It is about You putting Your law in my heart and becoming my God. It is about You making me Your child.

And the only reason You did such a thing was because You are a God of grace. Wrath says I should stay dead. Mercy and grace, given because Christ died for my sin. And this is was my sin, not my sins. He died for who I was, not only for what I’ve done.

Because of Jesus, You now call this once dead person Your own. Such amazing grace.

January 8, 2011

Swatted and hugged

Lord, You have this way of anticipating what I will read and therefore opening my heart even before I open my book so that the words are most effective. I’m convicted by Matthew 6 and see myself in the person who “prays to be seen by men.” Far too often I’m wanting to be noticed for my spirituality. This made me mutter, “Sometimes I wonder if I am even a Christian.”

Then You take me to Spurgeon’s readings for today. The first one uses this verse concerning the work of Your priests.

It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD. (Exodus 28:38)
My first thought is how I am to be a priest and intercede for the sins of others, but that isn’t what this devotional reading is about. Instead, You lined it up to line up with my earlier thoughts. I write Spurgeon’s words in my own words . . . 

The sinfulness of my public worship, its hypocrisy, formality, lukewarmness, irreverence, wandering of heart and forgetfulness of God, what a full measure have I there! My work for the Lord, and efforts I make smack of selfishness, carelessness, slackness, unbelief. I see a mass of defilement in me. My private devotions, their laxity, coldness, neglect, sleepiness, and vanity, what a mountain of dead earth is there too! If I look more carefully though, You will show me that this iniquity is far greater than I first supposed.

Spurgeon then quotes a pastor who says that his parish as well as his heart resembles the garden of a lazy man. I see that in myself too. Then, as he also says, I find that so often my desires for the improvement of my heart and my actions proceed from either pride or vanity or laziness. Now I quote his words and am struck by how true they are for me.

I look at the weeds which overspread my garden, and breathe out an earnest wish that they were eradicated. But why? What prompts the wish? It may be that I may walk out and say to myself, ‘In what fine order is my garden kept!’ This is pride. Or, it may be that my neighbors may look over the wall and say, ‘How finely your garden flourishes!’ This is vanity. Or I may wish for the destruction of the weeds, because I am weary of pulling them up. This is indolence.
Even my desire for holiness can be polluted by prideful motives. Just as worms hide under the greenest grass, I don’t need to look long to discover them sliming about in my thoughts. How difficult to find purity. Sin pollutes so thoroughly.

However, the verse from Exodus points to those priests of old who wore on their brow the words, “Holiness to the Lord” and thus it also points to You. You are the ultimate High Priest who bore my iniquity, all of it, for all time.

So then, as Spurgeon joyfully reminds me, Jesus bears my sin and presents before His Father’s face, Your face, not my foolish pride and selfish motives, but his own holiness. And tonight becomes one more of those occasions where I feel as if you have swatted and hugged me at the same time!

January 7, 2011

To stay or to go?

River Dundee
After our last trip over, I discovered the names and addresses of my living relatives in Scotland. It was too late to find them and meet them face to face, but with email and letters, I became instantly fond of them, particularly Wilma. Not much older than I, she seemed vibrant and full of life. I received word this morning that she died suddenly — yesterday.

All day I’ve thought of her. How I wanted to meet her. I even found her home on Google Earth and peeked into her back yard. Now it is too late. This makes me sad and I miss her, even though I didn’t really know her.

Life is precious, Jesus. We are here but a moment. For part of the day, I thought of all the ways a person could suddenly die. Heart, stroke, car accident, stepping unaware into traffic, somewhat morbid thoughts. Tonight You give me these verses to think about too.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:21–24)
Paul had a long and fruitful ministry. He knew that You could take him to heaven at any time. He debated. It would be okay to stay and continue with his ministry. He was an incredible blessing to others. But he really wanted to be with Christ. He knew that being with You would be far better than even the best of living in this world.

I’m with him in thinking that way, but not every day. There is so much to do here. For me, it used to be the things that I wanted to accomplish, but now I see how much needs to be done toward building Your kingdom. I know You are able to do it without me, yet the challenges beckon.

I don’t know if Wilma was a believer. You know and You also know if I will see her in eternity, a far better meeting place than even the green hills of Dundee. But I may not ever get to meet her in that better place. As I think about eternity and my family and friends, one of the things that presses on my heart is to do what I can to make sure that each of them knows about You and has an opportunity to say yes to Your wonderful offer of eternal life.

Yes, I’d like to be with You face to face, but remaining here has value too. Paul talked about choosing, but he and I both know that we cannot make that choice. Thankfully, the decision and the timing is up to You. So also are the opportunities that You give me to serve You here and now. May they be many, and may I be faithful with each one.