February 28, 2011

That last landmine

Last night we watched a not-very-good movie, Beyond Borders with Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen. It could have been good if made as a movie about suffering refugees and how organizations like “Doctors without Borders” help needy people. Instead, the story line bounced to several parts of the world and mixed in a romance that was not very convincing.

However, one part of the movie stayed in my mind, besides images of starving children and desperately hungry people. It was near the end when Jolie is running from danger, steps on a land mine, hears the click, and knows that her next move will be her last.

I thought about that all day. What would it feel like to be that close to death knowing that nothing could save me and my next movement would make it happen? Without being in that situation, it seems impossible to imagine, yet I know one thing for certain — this would test my confidence in the promises of God.

The entire nation of Israel had promises from God regarding a Messiah. They assumed He would be a political leader, likely born in high places and with great charisma and power. Their confidence was tested when Jesus came, proving their assumptions could not have been farther from what really happened.

Everyone knows the story. Jesus was born in a manger in a small town. No fanfare. No bodyguards. No royalty coming for a visit, unless the Magi count. They were “king-makers” who heard about His birth and looked for a star. Very likely their insider tip came centuries earlier from Daniel, a prophet of God who lived and worked with them. But they came later, after Mary and Joseph moved into a house. They were not at the manger.

The only visitors to the stable were a group of shepherds. Some say they were special shepherds who tended the sacrificial lambs, but there is little evidence to prove it. They were likely unwashed, simple men, but they knew the promises and knew also that this was the Messiah for whom the nation waited. 

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:20)
After seeing Jesus, they went back to the sheep, filled with praise. All they had heard now matched up with all they had seen. This was cause for great joy.

God, this makes me think about the things I’ve heard about You and how You have shown them to me in my experience. I heard and was told that You answer prayer. I’ve seen the reality of that. I’ve been told and heard that You take care of Your people, right down to daily details of life. I’ve seen the reality of that also.

I’ve heard and been told that You give peace, not as the world gives. This means Your peace does not depend on peaceful circumstances. And you have shown me this is true by giving me peace in situations where peace should not have been possible. You have verified so many of Your promises.

I’ve also heard and been told that when I die, I will be immediately in Your presence. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). My heart sings that this is true, but of course You have not shown it to me yet.

It is this singing that I thought about today. If my foot were on a landmine, would I still sing? Or would I freeze, a deer-in-the-headlights terror on my face and fear in my heart?

Then I remember that it is only by Your grace and the power of Your Holy Spirit that I now rejoice in my heavenly hope. I cannot predict what would happen in that moment before I die when I know for certain death is immediate. I’ve never correctly second-guessed You. You always surprise me.

This tells me that when I stand on that landmine (or whatever means You use to take me from this world), whatever fills my heart will be a surprise. I cannot figure it out ahead of time. I just hope that by Your grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, I will glorify and praise God for all that I have heard and seen — and am about to see — just as You have told me. Yet my experience suggests that You could go above and beyond even that and surprise me once again.

February 27, 2011

Treasure in an earthen vessel

In two recent proposal stories, both young women said “Yes” before the box was opened. They knew the diamonds were inside. Neither of them would say that the box was more important that its contents, but the box was their clue to the treasure inside.

In the same way, the verses I’m reading tonight remind me of two biblical truths. One is that in Christ dwells a beauty that goes far beyond the box of His body.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . .  And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (John 1:14,16)
Verse 14 begins to describe Him. He was ordinary looking according to Isaiah, but what was on the inside causes those who perceive it to be drawn to Him. This is the glory of God in a human container, a man yet more than a man. He was filled with grace and truth. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Colossians 1:19)

The second truth I see is in verse 16. This is also amazing. It says that from His fullness we have all (meaning all who believe in and have received Him) received. That is, God gives to us from the fullness that is in His Son. This gift begins with His power to make us eternally alive as He forgives our sins.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
When I look at these words and think about what they say, I’m ashamed to admit that most of the time I do not live like someone filled with the fullness of Christ. Most of the time I look like an ordinary box, living like other people and containing nothing special.

This is so odd. With all that God has done, why should the fullness of Christ seem invisible? It makes little sense, yet for me the cause is simply my selfishness. It is like mud on the box, blocking both the person I now am and the contents inside.

However, God is patient. In Jesus is all that I need. He promises that “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)

Jesus Christ prays for me, asks His Father to forgive me, and works in my life to make the box more transparent. If I fail to cooperate with Him, I block all the fullness of God. But . . . 

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
Being cleansed from sin is sort of like having the mud washed off a box that survived a flood. When the sin is gone, the box can be seen. However, the analogy breaks down, because in my case, the treasure is not the box but what God has put in it — His own fullness in the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. Wow!

When God presented Jesus Christ to me, I said “Yes” without fully realizing all that this meant. I wanted to be accepted and forgiven. God did that, but He does more. When I think about His fulness in Christ and then that fullness given to me, I am astonished and humbled. 

For what I proclaim is not myself, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with myself as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in my heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But I have this treasure in a jar (or a box) of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to me. (2 Corinthians 4:5–7, personalized)
Lord, forgive me for the many times that I am so clumsy and thick a vessel that Your grace and glory  cannot be seen in me. I’m grateful that You are not only able to wash away the mud, but also shine Your light brightly. My prayer is that when people see me, they are deeply impressed by the light inside and are drawn to You. May others also say “Yes” as they realize You are offering them a great treasure.

Image source

February 26, 2011

On medication

This morning, I felt critical of someone whose conversation is entirely wrapped around themselves. In my not so humble opinion, they needed to quit complaining and take a good look at Jesus Christ. Who can think of “me, me, me” with such a wonder to consider as the God who became man!

This afternoon, I felt weak and dizzy, not wanting to finish my chores. My thoughts became entirely wrapped around my needs and me. Was God laughing? Maybe, because He quickly reminded me that I need to take a big dose of my own medicine. Tonight’s devotional reading says, 

And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:18–20)
Once more I am rebuked. Spurgeon writes decades ago, yet his words cut to the heart. Instead of pointing fingers and instead of feeling sorry for myself, I also need a deeper look at Jesus Christ.

Selfish thinking puts a damper on the marvels of God, yet when He fills my mind, I cannot make a distinction between “holy wonder and real worship.” When my thoughts are overwhelmed with His majesty, I may not express this in song, or even prayer, yet this is silent and absolute adoration.

How wonderful that God should consider me, a fallen creature. He could have swept me away in judgment. Instead, He took it upon Himself to be my Redeemer and to pay my ransom price. Because of Jesus, I am set free from the penalty and bondage of sin.

This is a miracle of grace. Jesus left His throne and royalty above and suffered here on earth for me. This fills my heart with head-shaking wonder. And as Spurgeon says, wonder is a practical emotion.

Wonder leads me to gratitude and worship. It produces in me a diligent desire to never sin against this One who loves me so much. It makes me feel as if I am standing on Holy ground. It gives me great hope. It takes my mind off me.

Because Jesus has done so much for me already, I know that heaven and eternity with Him is a future reality. He died for me. He lives forever to intercede for me. One day I will see Him and be like Him, for this is His promise to me. Jesus did this. He is amazing.

Spurgeon asks, “Who can be astonished at anything, when he has once been astonished at the manger and the cross? What is there wonderful left after one has seen the Savior?”

He is so right. I cannot be perfect, but I can look at Jesus. Seeing Him and loving Him takes my mind off the “light momentary affliction” of this day. He gives me a glimpse of the eternal. I imagine His face with a broad smile. He even laughs — because this prescription that I thought was my idea is actually just what He, the Great Physician ordered.

February 25, 2011

Law and Grace

Whenever I see a speeding police car, I wonder if the law no longer applies to policemen. Is it okay for them to break the posted limit? What about a soon-to-be dad racing his wife to the hospital? Or a person with an important appointment? Can some people legitimately break traffic laws but not others? Where do the powers that be draw the line?

The Laws of God are much clearer and without loopholes. No one can claim a good reason for lying, or that stealing was the only choice, or that they had to covet, or to curse God.

Actually, the Bible says if we break any one of these commands, we are guilty of breaking the whole Law. It seems that God considers His Laws as one unit, not a group. Break one of them and the whole Law is broken.

This was a serious thing for the Jews. They considered the Laws of God so important that they created 600 more to “protect” the ones Lord gave them. No work on the Sabbath became “no lighting a fire” and thus no cooking that day either.

Then, along comes Jesus Christ and turned everything upside down, at least in their minds. The Gospel preached by the Apostles says that we can please God — not by law-keeping (obviously no one could do that anyway), but by believing in His Son. I can imagine their reactions to these words . . . 

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21–24)
Salvation is a gift. Righteousness is a gift. Redemption is a gift. Everyone falls short and everyone can be gifted with righteousness through Christ and faith in Him. Why then the Law? Other verses explain that the Law was given to show the Jews that they were sinners, not to provide them a way of becoming perfect.

But they didn’t like this “good” news. For them, the claims of Jesus were so contrary to their thinking that they crucified Him. Then, when He rose from the dead, they tried to cover that up and say it didn’t happen. When His disciples joyfully proclaimed it, they tried to kill them too.

When Paul wrote to the Romans, he had good news for them as well. The God that the Jews worshiped was not just a Jewish God. His law was for the entire world and His plan of salvation was also for everyone. Paul quoted the Old Testament to prove it.

Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one — who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 3:29–4:8)
This is a complex passage. The important part is that Abraham simply heard what God said and believed him. This faith pleased God so He declared the man righteous, not because He obeyed the Law, but because He believed what God said.

Paul quoted Psalm 32 at the end of these verses. It says that God forgives those who break the Law. He covers their sin, not counting it against them. The New Testament fills this in: God put our sin on Jesus. Jesus bore the penalty we deserve, and by faith in Him we are forgiven, our sins covered.

I once thought that I was a good person and didn’t need a Savior. But everyone sins. How much good would I have to do for my good deeds to out-weight the bad? If sin was like speeding, where would God draw the line? Would it be okay to sin if I had a good reason? If I was a person of authority?

Those are excuses. Now I know better. Even if I sinned only once (sigh) that would be enough to make me a Law-breaker. God knows that no one could ever reach the standard of perfection that He requires. It is for that reason He sent Jesus. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son. Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

February 24, 2011

High price of distractions

My ADD tendencies cause me to be easily distracted. If this were not nuisance enough, the same ADD problems also mean that I can focus on a project with such concentration that I forget to eat and sleep. Much of my daily energy is spent trying to focus on the right tasks and at the same time stay open to God’s direction to stop one thing and do something else.

Today I had some problems with praying even though I’ve learned to walk and speak aloud to avoid getting sidetracked. However, working on next week’s Bible study material was almost impossible. I kept thinking of things to do, jumping up to do something left undone, and dashing off to mindlessly surf the Internet a couple of times.

Interesting that Spurgeon should select this passage of Scripture for this day. It describes me, but I thought I was more like Mary . . . 

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42)
Writing a Bible study or any service to Jesus is not wrong. Martha’s serving was not wrong either. Followers of Jesus Christ are called to serve Him. Even Martha’s “much serving” was okay. She had the honor of making a meal for Jesus and His disciples. This was a good thing and doing it with all her might was also a good thing. More Christians should be like that.

However, Jesus scolded her. If the passage is read too quickly, it looks like He scolded her for serving, but not so. He said she was “anxious and troubled” about her service, and that was her problem. She became distracted by the task and neglected the One she served. As Spurgeon says, she “allowed service to override communion” and by that, she ruined her service with anxiety and a trouble heart.

Mary sat at Jesus feet and listened to Him. He commended her for doing so and said that it was the “good” choice that would not be taken away. That is, sitting with Him is never a bad thing and whatever she got from it became a permanent part of her life.

I never met these two women, but if they were like I am, both needed to sit with Him. Mary knew it and I know too. I cannot do anything without His grace and strength, or at least not do it well. I need time with my Master. Martha took the other option, and it spoiled her service.

Spurgeon says it is easier to serve than to commune with God. I agree. Spending time with Jesus requires all of my concentration. Focus is a challenge. As Spurgeon also says, the more spiritual the exercise, the sooner we tire in it. I’d add that the more intimacy I need with God, the more frequently I am distracted and anxious. Prayer is the hardest work.

Writing a Bible study is hard work also, but if I don’t spend time in prayer before and during, I might be putting down words, but they will be unpalatable and unfruitful. Unless I abide in the Vine, whatever I do is fruitless.

This is not just the writing task, but my other chores. Everything on my to-do list needs grace and prayer. This is the “good portion” I must choose. Whether I am writing or leading a study, or making the bed, or washing cups, I first need that living, personal fellowship with Jesus.

Sitting at the Savior’s feet is neglected at my peril. My soul needs this to be healthy, to glorify Him, and to be useful to Him. Martha neglected it and was out of sorts, even blamed Jesus because He “didn’t care” that Mary left her to do the work all by herself. Whether I am distracted from Jesus by my work or by other stuff, I tend to be crabby, resentful and complaining. People get the brunt, but I am really upset with God and start telling Him what to do. 

On the other hand, spending time with Jesus before and during my work changes my attitude. As Jesus said to Mary, this is a good choice and it will not be taken from me. Yet Jesus was gracious to Martha and spoke gently. He does the same when distractions make a Martha out of me. As I bring the ugly results to Him. He reminds me that I’ve strayed. As I confess my sin to Him, He does take it from me — then directs me back to choosing the good portion that will stay with me forever!

February 23, 2011

Serious about obedience

At least one of my family members has called me “crazy” because I believe and follow Jesus Christ. I’m not sure what offends them. It might be that I’ve done something out of line and their complaint is legitimate. If not, then I am comforted by these verses.
Then (Jesus) went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20–21)
As the crowd gathered and Jesus taught them, His family arrived. They sent a messenger to fetch Him. The text does not say what they planned to do with Him once they got hold of Him, but that was not about to happen.
And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31–35)
His response was strong. He did not do as His mother asked. Instead, He expressed that having a relationship with Him based on “doing the will of God” is stronger than all family ties. He was deeply serious about obedience to God.

For me, being that serious about obedience has gone through some growing pains. At first, I thought I was, but then learned it was mostly emotion and not a very deep commitment.

Then I went through a time when it seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I could not do anything right. God taught me that growing in Christ must be by faith. I cannot follow Jesus in my own strength. He will help me but never forces Himself on me.

I also went through a long spell where I was more serious about other people doing the will of God than I was. This is called being a pain in the neck. It may have been during this period — which is closely related to hypocrisy — that turned off some of my family.

God is patient. He isn’t finished with me yet. I’m still learning what obedience means and still discovering more each day about my Savior. One thing I do know — He was sinless and perfect, but His family still thought He was out of His mind.

While I’m willing to accept responsibility for my failures, this tells me it is possible, even though remotely possible, that the problem is not entirely mine.

February 22, 2011

Along for the ride

I’d not want to be a crash-test dummy. How would it feel (if dummies could feel) to be used by others as part of a protection system check? The dummy has no say in the matter. He is either going to be smashed in the crash, or, if the car’s design is superior, survive one crash only to go for the same ride again the next day.

After reading the book of Job several times, I’ve stopped questioning why God never told this man the reason for all his sorrows, but the real reason is revealed in the first part of the book.

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)
Almighty God allowed Satan to test Job. First, Satan was allowed to take his possessions and his children. Later (chapter 2), he also took this man’s health. However, the contest was not so much about Job as it was about the faith that the man had in the Lord. Faith is a gift from God. He makes it ours as we hear His Word. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing . . . the Word of God.”

That means that the faith Job had was something God gave him. Satan was challenging that gift. In essence, he said that Job only trusted God because God was so good to him. If everything was taken away, Job’s faith would fail. That is, God’s power to keep His people was being challenged. While God knew Job was blameless and upright, it was not his goodness being put in the crucible. It was his faith, yet not his, but the faith God gave him. Would that faith stand the test?

There are different kinds of faith. One is the hope-so kind. I heard of a Mormon man say on his death bed, “Now I will find out if what I believe is true.” How sad. He had no assurance, probably because his “faith” was based on the teachings of a man and not God. Job’s faith was not a mere “I hope it is true” kind of faith.

Faith can also be temporary. This is the trust a person puts in God in a crisis. They pray for help and deliverance. When life gets better or back to normal, God is forgotten. Temporary faith isn’t good enough for eternal matters either.

Faith can be intellectual as well. The Bible says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19) Evil spirits know in their minds that God exists and that Jesus died for the sins of the world, yet this makes no difference in the way they act or in their eternal destiny. Job’s faith was not merely intellectual.

Instead, Job trusted God to save him from the penalty of sin (death). This faith changed his life. He became a godly and respected man. He also knew that he would be resurrected from the grave and spend eternity with God. He said, “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26).

His assurance was based on the promises of God and he knew God was true because of the faith God had given him. Several New Testament verses that say the same thing. 

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)
Satan did take almost all Job had (not his wife), but only because the Lord allowed it. This was a huge test of his trust in God. Would the kind of faith God gives stand the test? Or would it fail and let the crash-test dummy fail with it?

Satan asked to take away all that Job had and then did it, but he could not take away this man’s faith. No matter how hard he crashed Job into walls, dead ends, and over cliffs, his faith held. Job complained and moaned and felt sorry for himself, but he knew that when it was all finished, he would “come forth as gold” (Job 23:10), not because he was faithful, but because God is faithful.

At the end, Job’s losses were restored, but it appears that God didn’t tell him why he had experienced all this. Those who read the story see the reason because it is spelled out in the first two chapters. If I had been Job, I’m not sure I would want to know. In a case like his, I would have very little to do with what was happening to me — and only be along for the ride. 

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February 21, 2011

He has said . . .

Retirement dinners sometimes include a “roast” where co-workers make fun of the retiree. However, the last one we went to was not like that. This man was honored for his integrity and for being a good man, both at his job and in the way he treated others.

Another much admired trait is faithfulness. People want others to keep their word. When someone says they will do something, we hope they will do it, not forget it, neglect it, or get too busy. We want their word to be dependable.

The focus for today’s devotional is that God keeps His Word. When He makes a promise, He keeps it. When He says He will do something, He does it. 

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6)
God says He will never leave me or forsake me. He will continually be with me, yet this is more than constant companionship. When God is with me and promises to never forsake me, He is promising to also take care of my needs and help me with whatever I do. He can be depended upon because He keeps His Word.

The writer of Hebrews makes a connection to God’s promises and being afraid of what people can do to him. I’m trying to think of how that works. What can people do that I might be afraid of? Physical harm? Emotional damage? Spiritual attacks? Yes, these and more.

For years, I was afraid of rejection. I’ve had my share and don’t like it or want more of it. However, because God is with me and will never reject me (I am accepted because of Jesus Christ), I will never be totally outcast, even if everyone I know turns their back on me. As difficult as that would be, God would still be with me. I’ve learned that His presence seems the most near and real in the greatest difficulties and challenges. Besides, rejection isn’t the end of the world.

Ridicule for failure can also be hurtful, but these verses promise that God will help me. When I rely on Him, failure isn’t in the equation, but even if I do fail, He is here with me to pick me up and help me start over. That is far more encouragement than possessed by those without God’s help.

Money is mentioned. I suppose people could take away my money and all that I have. Yet everything comes from the hand of my sovereign God. If I need it, He will supply it. I do not have to be afraid of losing my possessions either.

This week I saw a “quote of the day” on a website that mocked the US president. It said, “What the president says on Monday is true on Wednesday, no matter what happened on Tuesday.”

Apart from the reality that most of us are stubborn about our opinions and what we think is true,  this quote could be a blessing if it were worded like this: “What the Lord Jesus Christ says on Monday is true on Wednesday no matter what happens on Tuesday.”

Better yet: “What the Lord Jesus Christ says in His Word was true then, is true now, and will be true forever, no matter what anyone else says or does.”

Because He is 100% faithful to His Word, I can confidently count on Him to be with me and take care of all my needs, both now and for the rest of my life.

February 20, 2011

Purging heart and home

Perhaps getting old makes me notice how many of my possessions are worthless, at least to me. As I work in my home, I notice items that have not been used in a year, five years, maybe ten. Friday, I found a box of Chinese tea that we once liked, but it hasn’t been opened since 1978!

Today, my hubby and I sorted Christmas ornaments. We put half of them in giveaway boxes. Yesterday we packed up a knitting machine and all its accessories to ship to a dear lady in Ontario who can hardly wait for this 72 pounds of equipment that I haven’t used for more than twenty years.

I am finding homes for my books, perhaps the most difficult to part with. However, many are “read once” books and I’m certain that someone else needs that experience. A few are duplicates. It is a sad thing to have so many books that I forget what I have and buy the same thing twice.

I’m not sure what the psalmist had in mind when he prayed about worthless things, maybe more overtly sinful stuff, but I relate to his prayer.

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 119:36–37)
Had this writer been living today, nothing much would change in what he asks God for. Selfish gain is still a problem, particularly in our society and even for many Christians. Looking at worthless things is also still a problem, only today it could include television, movies and the Internet. Not all are without value, but much of it is.

I’ve wasted hours of my life on worthless things like Pac Man and Tetris (when we had an Atari) and Spider Solitaire. Some might say everyone needs a little R&R now and then, but I know when I’m procrastinating or avoiding work. I’ve learned that even the simplest computer games can distract me unless they are completely removed from my computer.

The psalmist had to ask the Lord to turn his eyes from worthless things. He wanted his heart inclined toward the words of God and to have life in God’s ways. He had to ask because these are things we cannot do ourselves. Without Jesus, I might be able to say no to three hours of Minesweeper, but I know that I will not pick up my Bible without motivation from Him. I also know that I will never spend that three hours doing something that has eternal value unless the Spirit of God gives me the idea as well as the impetus and ability to do it.

I also ask You to incline my heart, turn my eyes and give me life. Without You, my heart tips, but in the wrong direction. Without You, my eyes gaze on useless things, or just glaze over and simply shut. And without You, I have no life, at least nothing that will last.

Thank You, Jesus, for the gift of eternal life, for Your power to avert my eyes and my attention, and for motivation to replace the worthless stuff that I do not need to see or have — so that I might concentrate on looking at You.

February 19, 2011

Good news begins where God says to begin

Today Spurgeon’s devotional makes the observation that as soon as a person finds Christ, they are eager to tell others about Him. I’ve experienced this along with most Christians I know. It was this way also with Andrew, one of the twelve disciples that we know very little about.
One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). (John 1:40–42)
After a quick look, I notice that Andrew is not mentioned often in the New Testament. His most noticeable activities are bringing people to Jesus, including a lad with loaves that fed a crowd, certain Greeks who wanted to see Jesus, and his brother, Peter.

This tells me that Andrew had that eagerness to tell others and then some. He was likely gifted in outreach and evangelism beyond the enthusiasm of new discovery.

Tradition says that Andrew was martyred at Patrae in Achaia by crucifixion on an X-shaped cross. According to one ancient historian church father named Eusebius, Andrew labored in Scythia, north of the Black Sea, to reach others for Christ. For this, he became the patron saint of Russia. He is also considered the patron saint of Scotland whose flag depicts his death. Little else is known about him.

Spurgeon makes more of Andrew’s example of bringing others to Jesus. He himself did not become well-known, but his brother did. I can think of other cases where relatively unknown Christians have done the same. A Sunday school teacher leads a child to Christ and that child becomes a giant of the faith, or an unknown preacher touches the heart of someone who later becomes a well-known leader.

However, Spurgeon uses Andrew’s example to also say that believers do well to start at home with their own family. God might call me to teach others, but I am first and foremost called to teach my children and relatives. This is a challenge for several reasons.

The greatest challenge is that I cannot force them to believe. Does that mean I can neglect them over others who might be more willing? I don’t think so.  As Spurgeon says, I’m not to export my best commodity. Rather, I have good news and need to share it, always and with those God puts in my path and on my heart. Do I have any idea who will best respond? Could I be an Andrew and one of my family members become a Simon Peter?

Andrew did what the Spirit moved him to do and God used his brother to stir the church for centuries. I am to put all personal ambition aside — including ambition for my family and myself — and simply do as the Lord asks. I will never be able to guess what will come from plain obedience.

Grace and short accounts

The prodigal left home and squandered in inheritance in foolish living. When he came to his senses, he said, “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you’” (Luke 15:18)

As the devotional writer says, there is a wide distinction between confessing sin as a culprit and confessing sin as a child. I am certain that my sins have already been forgiven, all of them. This was done at the cross when Jesus died. I never need to make a confession of sin as an enemy of God the Judge. Christ has forgiven all my sin. In a legal sense, I am fully pardoned and in Christ am no longer condemned.

However, because I am accepted into the family of God as His child, and offend Him as a child, I need to bow before my loving heavenly Father and confess my sin. This is just as a wayward child would do in relationship with their loving earthly father.

What happens if I don’t keep short accounts with God? Will I lose my salvation? No, for I did not gain it by confession but by grace through faith. Therefore, I cannot lose it by failure to confess. Salvation isn’t about what I do. It is a God thing.

Yet I must confess. If I do not keep short accounts with God, there seems a distance between us. He does not move away, but I do. I begin to doubt that He loves me. How could He when I am so sinful? I begin to be afraid that I will not be welcome, that He will not listen to me. I pull away in fear.

But like the prodigal, I eventually come to my senses. My hunger to be near my Father is too great and I cannot rest until confession restores that closeness, that full realization that no matter what I do, He never stops caring for me. I am secure because Jesus died for me and never ever stops interceding for me.

Again, my salvation is a done deal. If I had to earn it, I know from my experiences with my sin that it would never be mine. Confession and repentance are needful, but it is by grace that I am saved, and by grace that He keeps drawing me back to Himself.

February 17, 2011

God is in control

A particular family situation had me anxious today. Since I don’t have permission, I cannot share the details, but I can say that I’ve battled with negative thoughts. Maybe God is not in this. Maybe what seemed like good news is really a disaster waiting to happen. Maybe the enemy is winning. My theology says that God is sovereign, but at times it doesn’t seem like it.

In the Old Testament, Edom thought the land where God’s people lived would be an easy conquest. Perhaps they heard about God’s sovereignty, but even if they had, they disregarded this knowledge. However, God had words for them. These are verses from my devotional book for this day . . . 

I will make Mount Seir a waste and a desolation, and I will cut off from it all who come and go. And I will fill its mountains with the slain. On your hills and in your valleys and in all your ravines those slain with the sword shall fall. I will make you a perpetual desolation, and your cities shall not be inhabited. Then you will know that I am the LORD. Because you said, “These two nations and these two countries shall be mine, and we will take possession of them” — although the LORD was there — therefore, as I live . . .  I will deal with you according to the anger and envy that you showed because of your hatred against them. And I will make myself known among them, when I judge you. And you shall know that I am the LORD . . . . (Ezekiel 35:7–12)
This applies to me, not because I’m ignoring God and about to attack His people, but because I’m letting the Liar make me doubt that God is here in the midst of this family issue. I’ve worried that the enemy will take possession of something that has been claimed for Jesus Christ — and forgotten that “the Lord was there.”

Yet You are always there, always with us. You do not turn the other way when Your people are distressed. You hear and answer our prayers and surround us with Yourself. There is no place I could go, even if I wanted to, from Your presence or Your involvement in my life.

That includes my family. Some of them are believers and some are not. Those who know You are assured of Your sovereign care for them. Yet those who do not know You and are unaware of Your grace and power, have not been neglected. You care for them too, even if they are unaware of it.

The people of Edom were totally godless and wanted to defeat Your people, but You would not let that happen. The unsaved people in my family are likewise under Your power. So are those who threaten them, even as we who have submitted to You are under Your care. No one can escape your sovereign plans.

Because of prayer and because of Your great love, I can rest in faith, assured that my family and those I love are never outside of the loving care and protection of Your Almighty hand.

February 16, 2011

My Invisible Friend

So much of what God does and is doing is behind the scenes. He is not one who grabs headlines or demands notice. The work that His Spirit does in the human heart was described by Jesus as like the wind, moving as it wishes, but no one knows where it comes from or where it goes. (John 3:8)

It takes awhile to learn this. For the first ten years of my marriage, I tried to convince my husband of the truth about Jesus Christ. He would have none of it. Then God convinced me to be quiet and let Him do the work. I could see nothing happening, nothing at all.

After we moved to California, I was unsure about churches and where to attend. God whispered, “Wait.” This was difficult, but after a time, my husband decided that our family should attend church. He picked one from the Yellow Pages, and off we went. That first sermon was something from the Old Testament, hardly a salvation message, but unknown to me, the Holy Spirit had been at work. The pastor gave an altar call at the end and my husband went forward and became a Christian.

That was more than thirty years ago. Since then, God keeps teaching me that when I pray, He will not necessarily show me what He is doing in answer to my prayers. Sometimes, because He does not put Himself in the limelight, I almost miss that all the good things that happen in our lives are because of His power and goodness.

You gave your good Spirit to instruct (the Israelites) and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell. And you gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted to them every corner. So they took possession of the land. . . . You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into the land that you had told their fathers to enter and possess. So the descendants went in and possessed the land, and you subdued before them the inhabitants of the land . . . and gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, that they might do with them as they would. And they captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in your great goodness. (Nehemiah 9:20–25)
For the past few days, God has been reminding me again that He is at work, even when I cannot see what He is doing. The ancient people of God were prone to forget Him when they couldn’t see Him at work, and even sometimes when they could see His actions. I don’t want to make the same error.

The Holy Spirit is good. He is holy, pure and true. He does not push, or make Himself the center of attention. He bears me up when I fall, strives with me when I’m wilful, trains me out of my ignorance and leads me when all seems dark or confusing.

He is generous, tender, forgiving, full of good thoughts and quick to put them into my head. He reveals truth when I need it, motivates me when I need that, and even whispers “well done” when I obey.

Like the child learning to swing a bat, I sometimes forget that the Holy Spirit has His arms around me, His hands on my hands. He does it all and I cannot boast in anything. Yet He works so silently, so invisibly. This means that faith is my eyes and ears. Without faith, I’m sure that I would not know He is here with me, sustaining and supporting me.

The Bible says that I can grieve the Spirit and even quench Him by ignoring Him or refusing His leadership in my life. I know that I can insult Him too — by choosing my own way instead of living in His fullness, filled with His qualities and overflowing with His fruit. How could I possibly think that my way is better than is? Yet sin does that. I need the Holy Spirit to keep me from sin.

Children often invent “invisible” friends to keep them company and protect them from creatures that go bump in the night, but my invisible friend is no invention. He has changed my life far too drastically to be a mere product of my imagination. He is exactly what Jesus said He would be.

And I (Jesus)  will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16–17)
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February 15, 2011

Lessons in contentment

This afternoon the cap on my gas tank was stuck. Try as I might, it would not come off. I had a half a tank, but decided to drive over to the dealership service department and see if they could help me. A service person came out, gave it a couple of twists and of course it came off.

I noted my own response. There was a time when I would have been embarrassed that I could not do this simple thing myself. I would have felt foolish that the service person had so little difficulty when I’d tried many times with no results. However, today I was glad and noticed that I was content to be helped, period. No blushing, just joy.

Earlier, I was helping someone at a local business with a computer program. I was supposedly the expert. Two times she performed a task that I didn’t know how to do. Once we discovered a problem that I didn’t know how to solve and had to say so.

Again, I noticed my response. There was a time when I would have felt a failure for my lack of knowledge, maybe even made excuses for it or tried to cover it up. Today, I chuckled, gave her a high five for what she did. I also told her I’d go home and work on that other problem. I was content to be ignorant, in error, and without the expertise I thought I had.

My response to both this and that gas cap situation made me feel very happy. Tonight’s devotional reading describes something about these two incidents. It begins with this verse . . .  

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)
When Paul wrote this, he was an old man locked up in Nero’s dungeon at Rome. Did it take him a long time to learn to be content? I think so because contentment is not a natural characteristic. As Spurgeon says, “covetousness, discontent, and murmuring are as natural to man as thorns are to the soil.”

When we brought in soil for our back yard, we didn’t need to plant weeds. They came up naturally because they are part of the earth. In the same way, I didn’t have to teach my children to whimper when they were hungry. Complaining about an empty stomach, even though necessary, is the first evidence that discontentment will be felt and expressed.

Many times I have said that no one needs to teach their children how to sin. I know that my mother didn’t teach me to sin. Sin is like weeds. Complaining is like  weeds. Without education or much effort, I know how to do it.

On the other hand, roses or wheat or other desirable plants must be cultivated, just as do the virtues given by the Holy Spirit to God’s children. He lives in me and puts contentment into me, but with weeds springing up all over the place, the good stuff barely pushes through the mess. Complaining so easily takes up space where contentment should be growing.

God is teaching me to confess the discontent. Each time I am unhappy with my lot in life, or unhappy with my performance, or with another person, He shows me that He is in charge of all those things. Who am I actually unhappy with and complaining about? Of course, it is God. This sobers my heart to repentance.

Confession and repentance are all I can do. I might be able to hack away at the weeds in the garden, but only God can get rid of the ugly stuff that grows in my heart. When I confess my discontent, I am handing Him the hoe. As 1 John 1:9 says, He then forgives and cleanses my unrighteousness.

Obviously, God is the Master Gardener. He cultivates the soil, removes the weeds, and produces the blossom of contentment.  I am delighted and even surprised when it appears.

February 14, 2011

An ongoing provision for a prisoner

Our January vacation blessed me in several ways. The simplicity was lovely. Except for being in a spacious villa with all conveniences except a telephone, this holiday was something like camping. Basic dishes, basic meals (when we didn’t eat out) and no schedule. I got up early so I could be on the same mealtimes as my golfing husband, but had no pressures at all. I kept busy, but it was not like home with my endless to-do lists.

Because of that peaceful situation, I have a deeper appreciation for the Lord’s provision and for being able to talk to Him often, particularly at each change of pace or activity. While this is not yet perfected, it seems to be much easier. Now the pressures of those to-do lists are not a distraction as much as it is a reminder. The busyness of home has deepened the value of “praying without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Tonight’s reading from Spurgeon focuses on a similar thought. He uses this Old Testament passage about a Hebrew king who was taken captive and imprisoned in Babylon.

And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, as long as he lived. (2 Kings 25:27–30)
The experience of this man is an illustration of my daily life with my King, the Lord God of all creation. Like Jehoiachin, I too have been set free from prison, only I was held captive by sin. My King removed my old garments of selfishness and gave me a new robe of righteousness, the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Because of His graciousness, I now am able “to put off my old self, which belongs to my former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of my mind, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22–24, personalized).

Like Evil-merodach spoke to Jehoiachin, my new King speaks kindly to me. As Jehoiachin was given an exalted place to sit, my King also has seated me in a place above all the kings of this world.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4–6)
Jehoiachin was taken care of, and so am I. My King invites me to spend each day of my life at His table, feasting on the daily bread that He provides. For the rest of my days, He will supply all that I need. 
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
I cannot find a reason for the way the king of Babylon treated his prisoner. This mercy was unusual. In the same way, there are no reasons that my King has been so gracious to me, other than He is merciful. 
He saved me, not because of works done by me in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on me richly through Jesus Christ my Savior. (Titus 3:5-6, personalized)
No wonder that more and more I want to sit at His table and talk to Him all the time as I serve Him. He takes care of all my needs and blesses me each day of my life.

February 13, 2011

God has it covered

It is not often that preachers deliver a message about judgment, but I heard one today. It was directed toward those who think that just because they prayed the sinner’s prayer, they are okay. They don’t have to live any different from how they lived before. Some seem to think that a simple prayer is equal to signing an eternal life insurance policy.

That is not how salvation works. Yes, salvation is by grace through faith. No one deserves eternal life nor can anyone do good deeds to earn it. At the same time, if a person claims to be saved and their life has not changed, they do not belong to God and will be judged, not by a prayer, but the evidence of their lives. Without Christ, there will be nothing to cover their sin.

Salvation is a powerful act of God. When You saved me, You came into my life and started a renovation from the inside out. You have changed and are changing the way I think, talk and act. It happens because You have put me in an amazing place. The biblical words are that Christ is in me and I am in Christ.

Tonight’s devotional reading is for those who know Christ. Spurgeon points out that those whom God has saved will never be judged. All the punishment and condemnation that I deserve was put on Christ. I am set free from judgment. 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1–2)
Being in Christ and having Christ living in me means that all the law of God has been satisfied — not by me because I cannot do it — but by Jesus Christ who lives in me. When You look at me, You see the blood of Jesus Christ that has covered all my sin. You hear the intercessory prayers of Jesus who say, “Yes, she is a sinner, but I died for every sin. She is set free from judgment.”

Today I can rejoice when I hear a message about God’s wrath against sin, not because I’m glad that Jesus had to suffer, but I am glad that He did suffer and that His sacrifice did not miss any of my sin. There is now no condemnation — forever. Jesus died for every sin, lives in me to satisfy Your demand for righteousness, and even though I sometimes still sin, Your grace has it covered.

February 12, 2011

Comfort balances troubles

There is a joy known only to those who suffer. Years ago, we experienced a family crisis involving one of our children and a friend. As soon as the bad news came to us, we should have been devastated, but with barely a prayer, perhaps breathed more than spoken, we were filled with joy.

It was odd. We could not turn it off. We were calm and should not have been. The friend’s parents were hysterical. We told them God was in control. For us, this was obvious; only You could have given us the emotions we were experiencing.

In a few hours, the crisis was over. The children were okay and everyone relieved. However, we never forgot that unexpected peace and joy in what should have produced the opposite. This was the first time, but You have done this more than once.

In tonight’s devotional reading, Spurgeon writes about the balance of suffering with comfort. He uses this verse . . . 

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians 1:5)
I’d never realized my experiences as “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” until recognizing that You have ‘children’ who get into trouble also. You know what this is like. The Bible says that You identify with my struggles for You experience all that I do as part of Your incarnation.

I can also identify with Your sufferings. You were despised, rejected, mocked, ignored, mistrusted and more. People still reject You, and any child of God who strives to be like You will also be rejected and mocked by others.

Yet this is not the point that Spurgeon makes. He says that the greater the weight of suffering on one side of the balance beam, the greater the weight of comfort that You put on the other. For instance, You give joy and peace to balance out anxiety and fear.

Spurgeon gives a reason for this reality. He writes that trials make more room for consolation because God makes a person’s hearts greater by using great troubles. Deep trouble creates a deeper reservoir for comfort.

Not only that, if You find my heart filled with my own ways of comforting myself, You use the trials of life to break and wean me from those things that I trust instead of You. Then, when those trivial things are gone, there is more room for grace. Spurgeon also says that the humbler I am, the more comfort You will give, because I am more fitted to receive it.

He gives one more reason that peace and joy can be present in my troubles. It is because during those times I tend to drop all else and run to You. Trials bring me into greater intimacy and the closer I get to You, the more I know Your grace and comfort.

I don’t seek trials. No one has to do that because life brings them. Yet I do not have to fear them or go to great extremes to protect myself. When trouble happens, You will not let the balance tip so far as to destroy my hope. You are with me always and You know how to keep enough weight on the other end of that beam.


a mouthpiece

While in Arizona we attended a church where the preaching was particularly powerful. Each sermon refreshed our spirits and strengthened our relationship with God. We discussed this and agreed that the preacher had such an impact because he is completely transparent.

By that, I mean that he had no personal agenda, no hidden thoughts, no pretense. He said what he meant and meant what he said. Christians who are transparent do not cover over or cover up the Lord Jesus who lives in them. God can be heard speaking through them because they have nothing of themselves interfering with His message. Today’s devotional verse reminds me of those sermons. 

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)
Peter and John were ordinary fishermen. They had not been trained in a seminary. They didn’t belong to Toastmasters nor did they have any personal gain behind their words. They stood before a crowd and spoke with power. Lives were changed because of their words.

My Bible dictionary gives added insight into the word “boldness” from this verse, again pointing to the quality of transparency. This Greek word appears 31 times in the New Testament. It is translated as boldness, confidence, open and plain. The word means to have freedom and unreservedness in speech. It also means to be frank, without concealment, without ambiguity or circumlocution. It means not relying on figures and comparisons, but is free with fearless confidence, cheerful courage, a boldness with assurance. It is a manner of speaking that makes the speaker noticed.

We live in a world where oratory skill is praised for various reasons. Often the speaker must be well-educated, familiar with his material, able to put emphasis in the right places, vary his tone, tell a few jokes, and so on. While these learned skills might have some value, I am far more impressed by someone who speaks plainly and honestly.

One of our sons is like that. He might be rough around the edges and have a few strong opinions, but he says what he thinks. After meeting him for the first time, a businessman shook his head and smiled. “Boy, is he ever refreshing.”

Words are powerful, but words given by a person with this biblical boldness and unhindered transparency are more than powerful; they refresh the heart and even change lives.

Lord, I want to be more like Peter and John, more like that pastor in Arizona, more like even my son — because all of them are confident that if they are just themselves when they talk, nothing can stand in the way of Your Spirit. When I speak, it doesn’t matter if they hear me. I want them to hear Jesus.

February 10, 2011

The tests of poverty and riches

When Christ came into my life, I was recently divorced, without a regular income, had two little children and a farm to take care of, and was rapidly learning how to make do with very little. Through this, God taught me that He was going to take care of my financial well-being too.

For instance, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus told His listeners that God cared about sparrows and the lilies of the field. If He cares about that which is here today and gone tomorrow, He cares so much more for His own. 

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:31–33)
During those very lean years, God had me spend a great deal of time in His Word. He used it and my circumstance to teach me much about the value of poverty. Even after I remarried, together we had very little. I made night tables from cardboard boxes and tried not to waste anything. Yet God always made sure I had what I needed.

After ten years or so, God called my husband into His family and he became a Christian. One of the first things God taught him was that He is his resource and could be depended upon to take care of his needs too. He experienced amazing things. For instance, each time he increased his giving at church, he afterward received a raise at work. Together we learned that we cannot out-give God.

Paul wrote about this test of trusting God in hunger and in need, but there is another test in what he had to say.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)
The second test is learning to live with plenty, even abundance. Obviously, the cares and riches of this world are enough to draw people away from Christ. In the parable of the soils, the seed (Word of God) that was planted among thorns (the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches) choked the Word so that it bore no fruit. Paul also wrote in 1 Timothy 6 that the love of money is the root of all evil.

The author of Proverbs knew the dangers too. He asked, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8-9).

One danger of being blessed with plenty is thinking I can get whatever I want without relying on You. Another danger is turning my attention to the baubles of the world and neglecting my relationship with You.

You have taught me so much or I never could pass both ends of this teetering test. My sinful human heart cannot be needy or wealthy. When I was poor, had I not known Christ, I shudder to think what I might have done. Now, with more than adequate resources, You continue to keep my priorities in order. You show me others with great needs and direct me to bless them. You draw me again and again into Your Word. You have taught me to hate even a moment out of fellowship with You.

Perhaps first being poor makes the second test easier, yet with Christ, those who lose all they have will still find You faithful. You ask me to pray for my daily bread, but you continually remind me that I cannot “live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

February 9, 2011

His great patience

For many years I have been such a slow learner. Each time a problem comes, You continue, patiently and with great grace, telling me that I must ask You for guidance and direction. You make this promise . . . 
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. (Psalm 32:8–9)
But I am like the mule, stubbornly determined to try things my way. Without Your bit and bridle, I wander off, forgetting my ignorance, past failures, and how incredibly clever You are. I try to do so many things without giving You a thought. I might ask your blessing, but I’ve already planned my strategy.

Then I go into it with great confidence and fall flat on my swelled head. Only then do I ask You for help. This is an insult to the God of all creation and the Master of all creativity and power.

David knew better. He asked and success came. Then the same problem came at him a second time. Did he do as I do? Did he think that he now knew how to solve that problem so he didn’t have to ask you the second time?

And David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” And the LORD said to David, “Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.” And David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there. And he said, “The LORD has burst through my enemies before me like a bursting flood”. . . .  And the Philistines came up yet again and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim. And when David inquired of the LORD, He said, “You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come against them opposite the balsam trees. And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then rouse yourself, for then the LORD has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” And David did as the LORD commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer. (2 Samuel 5:19–25, italics mine)
Same problems — victory both times, but a different strategy both times. You know that no matter how alike two challenges may appear, each one requires a unique solution.

But that really isn’t the issue. The issue is learning how to bring each challenge to You – every time. It does not matter what it is. And deeper than that, the very bottom line issue is pride — that sinful attitude that has me thinking that I know more than, better than You. 

The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. My soul waits for the LORD; He is my help and my shield. For my heart is glad in Him, because I trust in His holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon me, even as I hope in You. (Psalm 33:16–22, personalized)
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February 8, 2011

Beautiful Words

Robert Beard’s list of the 100 most beautiful words in English includes love, but not mother. He leaves out one of my favorites – holiness, and Jesus didn’t make this list either.

A British survey listed these top ten: Mother, Passion, Smile, Love, Eternity, Fantastic, Destiny, Freedom, Liberty and Tranquillity, all great words, but Jesus and holiness are not there either.

One source says these lists are based on a unique combination of vowel and consonant sounds, coupled with a nuanced or associative meaning of a word. Together this produces an “aesthetically satisfying phonologic harmony and musicality.” Yet none of the lists that I could find included Jesus or holiness

For those who know Him, the name Jesus is the most beautiful name if not the most beautiful word. While other languages use other words for His name, many of them have a similar sound. Yet it isn’t merely the sound. It is all that His name implies. John begins his gospel by saying that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. Matthew tells how He was named and why . . . 
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
The word Jesus means “Jehovah saves” and that is exactly what Jesus does. He secured salvation for me by dying on the Cross for my sin. I am forgiven.

Knowing that God has forgiven my sin is wonderful. “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)

However, knowing that He is saving me from sin is even more incredible. If it were a traffic ticket, forgiveness could still carry the black cloud that some day that judge could change his mind, but if someone paid the fine, then I am free.

Jesus paid my fine.

Because of Him and the power of His name, sin has no power to separate me from God and send me to hell. But Jesus does more than that. He jumps in the car and works to keep me from speeding again. He takes charge (as I learn to let Him) and changes my wild, erratic driving into what it ought to be. Sin is loses its power to govern my thoughts, words and actions.

Spurgeon says, “If your life is unholy your heart is unchanged, and if your heart is unchanged you are an unsaved person. If the Savior has not sanctified you, renewed you, given you a hatred of sin and a love of holiness, he has done nothing in you of a saving character. . . . Christ saves his people, not in their sins, but from them.”

From is a word about separation, a removal word. I am removed from what I used to be as God removes sin from my life. Yet His work is not only subtraction, but also addition. He pours into me His Holy Spirit, enabling me to be holy. This cannot happen without my cooperation, but neither will it happen by my own effort.

As lovely as the word holiness is, apart from Christ I will resist it, yet God tells me to strive for holiness. Without it, “no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). I cannot be holy without Jesus. Making me holy is part of His transforming work. As I call on His name, His beautiful name, He purifies my heart. This is why His name is so lovely. He, in the power of His name, does what no one else can do. 
He sent redemption to his people; He has commanded His covenant forever. Holy and awesome is His name! (Psalm 111:9)

February 7, 2011

Beyond the River

Today I felt rushed, a pressure nagging me that the hours will never be enough to do all that needs to be done. Life will be over too soon. This nagging is subtle, sometimes not recognized even as it stirs me or causes inertia.

While feeling “not done yet” the phone rang. It was my older brother. He tends to see the worst in most things and was going that direction when I said something about life being too short. Soon after, I mentioned how much I missed Mom and Dad. He said he did too, especially when funny things happened. He wanted to tell them. (We laughed a lot in our home.) Then we started talking about childhood memories and soon we were laughing so that we could understand only snatches of what the other was saying.

I wanted to write all of it, remember it forever. Will we? Maybe? Maybe the things of earth will fade away but God will let us keep our happy times. I hope so.

After the phone call, I opened my devotional book asking God to say to me whatever He wants me to hear tonight. This is the verse that came to my ears and my heart, along with snatches from Spurgeon’s words.

Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. (Revelation 11:12)
Someday, sooner now than ever, that message will come to me. You, God, will ask me to rise from my home, my city, my family and friends. You will say it is time to take my final journey.

When I travel, I can use maps and books and the Internet to inform me of my destination. However, there is only a little that I know about the last destination. Your Word says only a little. The Holy Spirit gives me very small hints. I know that I must cross the river called Death, but after that I cannot guess except that scenes of wonder will unfold and I will experience eternal delight.

However, death itself is not a pleasant thought. I am not excited about the trials of life ahead either, of aging, of failing faculties. No one wants to be weak or sick or unable. Yet You tell me that I can walk that shadowy river bank without fear. You will be with me and You will be taking me to a far better place, Your eternal home. I need to think more about what is beyond the river than the river itself.

This verse from Revelation has a prophetical significance, but it is also Your invitation to Your people. My fleshy response to that last journey is always negative. Apart from Your promises, I tend to have that sense of not being finished here. But if I yield to Your Spirit, then my heart fills with joyful anticipation. You are not calling me to the grave, but to Yourself, to my eternal rest with You.

Another thought from Spurgeon — I cannot know or guess my departure date. You know best when to call me home. You know how to keep me from having regrets, to focus my thoughts on the privileges You have granted rather than the opportunities that I have missed. You point me also to the joy of sin being no more. There, I will be able to perfectly commune with You and worship You.

Today, I trust You to plan my days. I thank you for the pleasant memories and laughter of days gone by, and for calling me to serve You; a most gracious gift. Thank You for giving perspective to those nagging notions as the enemy tries to discourage me. You always know the words that I need to hear. For that, I bless You and love You with all my heart.

February 6, 2011

Intervention or Intercession?

Today I witnessed a fellow Christian being powerfully used by God, then within a few minutes act like a sanctimonious and self-righteous jerk. At first, I was angry. Then I thought about myself and how easy it is to “tip over” and walk in the flesh instead of in the Spirit.

Christians do that. It is confusing for us, never mind for those who observe. How can someone be like Jesus one minute and then pile on the holier-than-thou attitude soon after? It is usually pride that tips me over. I realize that I just hit a home run, and instead of acknowledging that God was holding the bat, I start thinking, “Look what I did” and lose the power of the Holy Spirit.

For a little while, I wondered what to do about this person. Galatians 6:1 says if I see someone overcome by a sin, I’m supposed to correct them, considering myself because I could also be tempted. If this is what God wants me to do, I need to be absolutely certain before doing it. So I asked You, Lord God to show me. You gave me the answer in the reading for tonight and the Scripture that goes with it.

And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:15–20)
Instead of focusing on a sick person who needs healing, I also see in these verses instruction to pray for someone who has committed sins. In some way this person has wandered from the truth and has a need to be brought back. It might require a confrontation or intervention, but before that, the biggest need is intercession.

Spurgeon says that intercessory prayer is the “sweetest God ever hears” for this is like the prayer of Christ. He “ever lives to intercede for us” (Hebrews 7:25).

When Jesus prays, none of what He says is for Himself. All of what He asks is the most acceptable prayer to You, His Father. Obviously, the more my praying is like His praying, the more precious those prayers will be in Your ears.

I cannot pray like Jesus apart from the Holy Spirit who lives in me and prays through me. My prayers can be too often full of what I want or what I think You should do. However, I know when You fill me with Your Spirit and give me Your words and motivations, my petitions rise quickly to Your throne. You hear and answer.

Spurgeon rightly says that when I have Your ear, I need to speak to You about the suffering members of Your body. This might be those who suffer with illness or other needs, yet prayer must also be offered for anyone whose fleshy character traits rise up and interfere with their ability to consistently walk with You.

Perhaps You want a direct approach at times, but I know myself. I am most inclined toward that when I am most filled with my own motivations and desires. When I want someone fixed and try to fix it, my efforts never work.

The principles of obedience and submission to You are teaching me to pray first. You are also teaching me a safe prayer, one that requires sincerity — I must mean it — yet You answer it every time. 

“Lord, if you want this (whatever it is) in my experience (or in the experience of someone else) and have a good purpose for it, then give me a meek heart and a submissive spirit so I can accept this as Your will. If not, then You know what to do with this thing that seems wrong to me. I leave it in Your care, knowing that nothing is too difficult for You.”

February 5, 2011

Why obedience?

We grew up with a black Labrador dog. That dog was smart. He was also more obedient to our mother than we were. Every morning she gave him my brother’s ball cap and told him, “Take it to Jack.” He did. Every evening, she told him, “Go get your dish.” He did.

He obeyed us too. One trick we taught him was to push open doors shut. On a hot summer day, we ran in and out of the house, often forgetting to close the door behind us. Mother wasn’t pleased because the flies came inside that open door. But we didn’t listen. Our dog just flopped in a shady spot and kept cool.

Mother was washing clothes that day. She had a large laundry basket ready to take out to the clothesline, too large for her to easily maneuver. She went out with it, failing to pull the door shut with her foot. The dog heaved a big sigh, slowly got up, and went over and pushed the door shut.

My obedience has improved somewhat. My mother no longer lives so she cannot see the improvement. She would smile if I reminded her about the dog and the door. However, it is not right to measure my obedience by hers, or by that dog’s. The only perfectly obedient person was Jesus Christ. He is my standard.

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. (1 John 4:14)
Jesus was obedient. God said go; Jesus went. Think of it. If my father told me to jump off a cliff, would I do it? Jesus went, knowing what awaited Him — a short life and a painful death. Why would anyone do that?

The dog obeyed because there was a treat at the end of his obedience. He ran with the hat, but ran just as fast back to the kitchen for his treat. He picked up his dish (often a heavy, beat up cast iron skillet) because he knew mom would fill it with his supper when he brought it back to the front door.

We obeyed our parents for various reasons. Sometimes it felt good. Sometimes we just wanted to stay on the good side of them. Sometimes it seemed reasonable. Sometimes we had better ideas and did not listen.

Jesus had one good reason for obedience. We often say it was because He loved us, but John 3:16 says it was God who loved the world — motivating Him to send His Son. For Jesus, the reason He came is a bit amazing.

. . . Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
He obeyed for the joy that would come afterward. A treat might be a good thing, or hearing a “well done” might motivate me, but Jesus did it for the joy set before Him, joy in the presence of His Father.

This joy is the result of total obedience. Jesus obeyed and experienced the utter joy of saving sinners and bringing the lost into the promise of an eternal home. He rescued millions. He brought light and life to a dark and dead place. He defeated death and Satan.

Lord, I’ve thought of many reasons why I want to be like You, and why I want to be obedient. I cannot die for the salvation of sinners, but I can live so that You can use my life for Your purposes. You may not let me see the results in my lifetime, but that is fine with me. You have given enough glimpses of that eternal joy to motivate me. Help me to press on — through difficulties, trials and even persecutions — because I know You have set joy before me also.