April 30, 2011

Precious thoughts

We have a big wedding anniversary this year and it has me thinking how fast time flies. I’ve also been thinking of how two people who know each other well can seem to read each other's mind. Sometimes we say the same thing at the same time, and then laugh. At other times, we get it mostly right, like yesterday when the notion struck me to bake bread. When my husband came home from work, he brought a loaf from the store, saying he was craving fresh bread.

Occasionally we discover we don’t know each other as well as we thought. One time he said that I liked looking at show homes because they are so uncluttered. I did a double-take because that thought never entered my head; I like looking at show homes for creative ideas to use in our home.

When two people marry, neither of them offers a book of thoughts to help the other one know them better. While that might be interesting, we change our minds far too often for such a record to be helpful. However, it is not the same when it comes to our relationship with God. He did give us a book of His thoughts. 

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! (Psalm 139:17)
The Bible reveals the mind of God. Oh, not all of this book is about what God thinks. Some is a record of human activity, revealing sin and selfish attitudes and our history of rejecting God. On the upside, the Bible tells how people of faith trusted Him and how we can do it too.

The psalmist called the thoughts of God precious and vast. I would add to that, “unchanging.” While He uses different methods in varying situations, the nature and character of God never change, nor do His opinions. He is dependable and true to what He reveals about Himself.

Yet I cannot read the mind of God. Even though He reveals so much in His Word about how He thinks, and even though He never changes His mind, that little word “vast” puts me in a constant discovery mode. I have read the Bible daily for forty years, read it from cover to cover many times, yet I still cannot claim to know all the thoughts of God. This is a subject too large for any human brain.

Lord, Your mind is an incredible wonder. Just when I think I have figured You out, You show me that there is much more to discover.  Even though You do not change, my understanding of You changes and grows with each revelation. Thank You for faithfully revealing Yourself. You use Your book to show me Your thoughts. You also reveal who You are in creation, in Your people, and most of all in Jesus Christ. Each day brings new and precious truths, and for that I am grateful.

April 29, 2011

A “second childhood” is a good thing

The small daughter of a young family in our church often goes into the aisle while we are singing. Oblivious to everyone around her, she gracefully dances to the music in what I see as an offering of praise. 
Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation. (Psalm 149:3–4)
I cannot say if this little one senses the pleasure of God, but it appears so. Besides, the rest of us sense His presence as we worship so she may feel it and not know how to describe it. Instead, it makes her want to dance.

How does God feel when He watches her? Because her sweet worship is precious in my eyes, I imagine that His heart overflows with joy. 

Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:14)
Today’s devotional reading focuses on the comprehensive love of Jesus for all of His children. It says that there is no part of our interests which He does not consider, nothing concerning our welfare that is not important to Him. He rejoices when we are joyful; He weeps when we are sad. He wants us to come to Him like children.

Not everyone thinks that God cares about every detail in the lives of His children. One of our Christian friends laughs at the idea of praying for a parking spot, but the Bible says “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way” (Psalm 37:23) and “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:30). Why then would anyone suppose that God does not care about the mundane details of our lives?

For many years God has been teaching me to rely on Him for all things, to pray about everything, even the details. This is partly because I, like a child, often don’t know what I am doing, but also because He loves me. He cares about me like a father for a child and, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). He wants me to experience His blessing in everything, even the small things.

This child at church, like any child, has her moments of wilful and stubborn disobedience. She says NO to her parents, fights with her siblings and resists help when she needs it. Am I not much like her?

Why do I resist my Father? Or just forget to ask Him for help? Isn’t it because my heart is fiercely independent and selfish? I am proud and determined to do it myself, forgetting that this is not a grown-up way, but the way of an immature child.

Father, Your love never stops, even when I act in unthankful and undeserving ways. When I resist You, You scoop me in Your arms and whisper words like, “Just ask me” and “I’m here for you.” How amazing that You should care for me even when I resist You or fight with You.

Thank You for the example of worship in small children. And thank You also for reminding me that Your love covers every part of my life, that You even take pleasure in me! Help me grow up and stop acting like a little brat. Instead, help me worship and serve You with the trust and abandonment of an obedient child.

April 28, 2011

“All” — includes me

In context of trying to ‘fix’ people, a friend once said, “It is much easier to make Scrabble words for the other players.”

How true. I can more easily see the faults of others and am more apt to give advice (wanted or not) to them than I am willing to look at my own sins. This is pride. God speaks to me about it in what Spurgeon writes in today’s devotional reading about this verse . . . 

But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. (Ezekiel 3:7)
All the house of Israel; Spurgeon said there were no exceptions. God’s chosen people are described as all this way, even the best of them. But he does not point fingers. If this is true of Israel, then it is also true of the entire human race, including himself and including me.

The first charge is hardness of forehead. These words mean a stiff-necked impudence, having little or no godly shame for sin and being bold about doing evil. This is a harsh condemnation.

Before my conversion I could sin and feel no sense of violating any moral code. If told that I was guilty, I remained proud. I can’t remember ever admitting sin and certainly had no inward humiliation or grief about it. I even went to church on occasion and acted as if I was praying to God and praising Him. Spurgeon says this is a brazen-faced attitude of the worst kind! Impudence.

Yet since my new birth I cannot claim innocence. I have doubted God, complained without thinking about grace and His sovereign care, been lazy and self-seeking in worship, even sinned without getting on my own case or grieving over it. Again, it is easier to ‘fix’ others. This focus is a mere and most impudent diversion.

The second charge is hardheartedness. I cannot plead innocence here either. Before Jesus came into my life, my heart was like stone. Yet even now, with a new heart where Jesus lives given to me by grace, many of my former stubborn attitudes still lurk.

God has reminded me this week that I am not affected by the death of Jesus as I ought to be. Hours go by when I do not even think about Him. Sometimes I care nothing about the sinful state of others or the wickedness of the world we live in. At times, I lightly pass over God’s chastening and my own failures. He bids me to do His will and I agree, but then ignore Him and do my own thing. This is hardness of heart.

As Spurgeon says, such a disease is curable. I know that I cannot save myself. I also know that the blood of Christ is the universal solvent. He can soften my hardness and turn my attention from fixing others to seeing my own need for purification and wholeness.

Father, it is easy to criticize others, to focus on their sin instead of my own. It is also easy to write these words, say a prayer, and go into the day the same as usual. I’m tired of the usual — just as You must be tired of my stubborn and unyielding heart. I confess these things to You, knowing that You alone forgive sin and change lives. I am a new creation in Christ Jesus. Help me act like it. Help me be more like Jesus and less like my old self — and may You be glorified.

April 27, 2011

All of my ambitions . . .

When Jeremiah was the prophet in Israel, he had a scribe named Baruch. This young man took the prophet’s words from God to the authorities and was in just as much danger as Jeremiah because those words were not popular or well-received. God was judging the land and disaster would happen. Baruch didn’t want it to happen to him, but through Jeremiah, God gave him words too. 
Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: You said, ‘Woe is me! For the LORD has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.’ Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land. And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the LORD. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go. (Jeremiah 45:2–5)
In Baruch’s situation, this message was intended to produce a response of faith. God was going to overthrow what He had built and uproot what He had planted, but the realities of this judgment against the nation clashed with Baruch’s personal aspirations. Instead of being sad that he didn’t “have it all” Baruch should have been thankful that God gave him great responsibility. He should have rejoiced that he had been spared and would escape with his life in the midst of the calamities all around him. But he wanted more, and God told him not to seek great things for himself.

I’m not in the midst of a great calamity like Baruch. Some might argue that God is judging the world with earthquakes, floods, financial upheaval and so on, yet I don’t feel part of that like this man was part of what was happening in his nation. However, the words “Do not seek great things for yourself” resonate in my heart. My hopes and desires in any situation are to be fixed firmly on God, not personal desire, comfort or ambition.

This is a warning to me. I’ve always been an ambitious person with all kinds of ideas to “make the world a better place” yet mixed with visions of my own grandeur. God has often knocked me off my perch and pointed out that what I do is for His glory, not mine.

He did it this week. I wanted to tell someone about a new opportunity that was obviously from God. Yet in my heart was a pride that I had been chosen for this task. As I started to talk, an interruption happened and the listener was distracted. I stopped talking and waited, but the conversation never came back to my story. At first, I was ticked at what I interpreted as rudeness, but the Holy Spirit quickly brought to mind that God orchestrated this to prevent me from boasting. He was not going to allow me to sin by making this new venture about me instead of about Him.

Lord, You truly are my Savior, even at times when I blunder on and do not notice that I need saving. I’ve prayed about ambition and having a selfish focus. I’ve sung Robin Mark’s song, “All for Jesus” and thought I meant the words, “Jesus, all for Jesus, all I am and have and ever hope to be . . . all of my ambitions, hopes and plans I surrender these into Your hands.”

You know what to do to make that happen. The least I can do is be more cooperative.

April 26, 2011

Remember? or forget?

Is true love signified by constant thoughts of one’s lover? I’ve heard it said that you can tell what you love the most by what you think about the most. This convicts me. As much as I love Jesus, He is not always on my thoughts. 
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23–26)
Did Jesus have to tell us to take the cup of communion to remember Him because He knew that we would forget? That we would get so caught up in this life and its activities and concerns that we would neglect to proclaim His death, or be too busy to meditate on Him?

When I wake up in the morning, my first thoughts sometimes are of God, but lately they are more often about the way I feel and the aches in my bones. When I go to bed at night, I do better and usually pray before falling asleep.

The hours in between are a mixed bag. I pray for others as they come to mind. I ask for help with perplexities, blessing on the food that I eat, and occasionally offer praise and thanksgiving. This does not even come close to “Pray without ceasing” as commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. For me, it seems that the saying, “Out of sight, out of mind” is very true. Distracted by ‘stuff’ means that I struggle with putting my thoughts on the One that I cannot see with my eyes.

I’ve also been told that Christians learn easily to pray, but it takes a lifetime to learn how to meditate, to think deeply about the Lord and spiritual matters. To make matters worse, recent studies reveal that the current trend runs counter to meditation. That is, these days, people do not think very deeply about anything.

Living for the moment without considering the future or any consequences of what I do, or thinking about why I do what I do seems opposite to how God wants me to live. All of this is much easier if I remember Jesus.

For instance, He is my future. All of life will culminate in that final transformation when I see Him face to face. Even this hope changes how I behave.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:2–3)
Further, when I think about Jesus, I think about the consequences of what I do. Apart from Him, I can become totally preoccupied with things of this life, not bad things, but activities that have no eternal value. Thoughts of Jesus change that.

He sets a standard for motivation and the reasoning behind all activities. For instance, I can make a quilt for my own pleasure, but when Jesus occupies my thoughts, it becomes a project to give joy or comfort to someone else. Or when I tell a story about a personal incident to someone, it can be a thinly disguised way to boast or elevate myself, but when Jesus is in my thoughts, I can tell it to edify the other person, or otherwise keep my mouth shut.

Thinking of Him also changes how I think about the trials and tests of life. He is my example and His way of dealing with difficulties shows me a different way to live than I might otherwise choose.

Jesus, You make such a impact on my life. However, as You knock on the door of my heart, I must first let You in. If not, I will do my own thing and even forget that You are there, waiting to transform all that I do into something that will have eternal value and that will bring You glory. You do not want me to waste my life on trivia, but You are not pushy. You want me to think of You and invite You in.

Forgive me for forgetting. It seems so rude. Not only that, as I grow older and face the idea of failing body and mind, the idea of forgetting You becomes even less controllable. What can I do but trust You to keep me centered on You. I know I cannot save myself, even from forgetting. I need You more and more each day. Help my memory to be stayed on You.

April 25, 2011

Is there a knock at the door?

Our granddaughter ate an Easter dinner with us on Saturday. She asked many questions about our lives. We told her how poor we had been, both before we met and after we married. We also shared how good God has been to us. My husband loves his work, and I was able to stay home and raise our family.

Yesterday was an example of the difference between back then and the way we live now. After an Easter Sunday breakfast and the worship service at our church, we relaxed in our comfortable home. After awhile, my husband called my sister who lives about five hours away. For both, our family members were either working or elsewhere, so we decided to meet halfway and have turkey dinner together, a whimsical choice that we could afford and enjoy.

However, there is a danger in blessing. Just as trials can be a test of faith, so can the good life. Prosperity and the freedom of discretionary time and money can draw my heart away from God. 

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:15–21)
As I read from these words of Jesus this morning, I think how easy it would be to forget God, or at least forget that all we enjoy is because of His grace. How often have I been more thankful for the gifts than I have been for the Giver? How often has Jesus knocked at the door of my heart and I have been too busy with the stuff of life to even hear the tapping, never mind let Him in? How easily do I forget that without Him I am nothing?

Jesus once offered a solution to this problem to a rich young man. He said, “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). This man could not do it and walked away.

Jesus does not ask me to get rid of His blessings (at least not yet). Instead, He asks me to have a right attitude toward them and toward Him. I cannot think that I am without need. He knows, and I know it too, that without Him, I am as He says: wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked — physically and spiritually.

The story of Job tells me that God isn’t nearly so concerned about my health and wealth as He is about my response to Him. He wants my wholehearted devotion, not part of it while the rest goes to the baubles of this life. He wants me to hold things loosely so that if He asked, I could easily let go.

This does not negate enjoyment. Jesus went to weddings, went fishing, ate and laughed with His friends. He lived, but He also was willing to leave all that for our sakes and die.

Jesus, may I never take life and Your blessings for granted. Eating with You is more important to my joy than anything else that I do. You give my life purpose, whether I am rich or poor. You can use Me to impact eternity using the blessings You give me to assist in Your wonderful plan. If I ever get to a place where I cannot or will not hear You knocking at the door of my heart, then please pound harder. Nothing compares to the wonder of intimacy with You.

April 24, 2011

We serve a Living Savior

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers says our biggest snare is “taking the pattern and print of the religious age we live in (and) making eyes at spiritual success.” He calls it spiritual wantonness.

The pattern of success in this world is bigger, better and more. Full churches, big crowds, many souls saved. The higher the number, the more esteem. However, Jesus says something different about rejoicing in the power and ability to serve God. 

Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:19–20)
As God’s child, I need to measure my “success” by God’s grace toward me. I cannot fill churches or save souls. In fact, the Bible is clear that Christians cannot “save” anyone. This is the work of God. Instead, we are told to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18–19).

Making disciples is not a commercial venture. Literally, this verse says, “as you are going, or as you move through life, make disciples.” It didn’t take me very long to realize that this cannot be done without the Holy Spirit. It is a work of God. “Soul winners” are mere gloves on His hands, tools to do His will.

This, and any other work of ministry begins where God’s grace lays a foundation. Salvation and spiritual growth happen because of God’s sovereign grace. Christians are to teach others what He has taught us until together our lives are totally yielded to God. As Chamber says, one life wholly devoted to God is of more value to God than one hundred lives simply awakened by His Spirit.

The proof of this “one life yielded” is in Jesus Christ. God claimed an entire nation as His children and gave them a mandate to glorify Him in the world. They disobeyed and did not accomplish their task. Then God gave one person, His Son, a far more difficult task. He sent Him to die for the sin of the world, the sin of all mankind for all time. Jesus did it. As He yielded His life on the cross, He declared, “It is finished” meaning that our debt for sin was paid.

Yet at that point, to the world and even to His disciples it appeared that Jesus failed. His short ministry touched many lives, but what good is a dead Savior? How can a corpse save anyone from sin? In confusion, the disciples scattered. Then they discovered that the tomb was empty. Hope rose in their heart. Jesus was alive.

The resurrection is key to Christianity. If Jesus is dead, we have nothing to believe. Paul knew this would be an issue when he wrote these words,

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12–19)
Without the resurrection, there is no point in “soul-winning” or making disciples. Why ask anyone to follow a dead man who promises life if He Himself does not live? This would make Christianity senseless.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)
This chapter in 1 Corinthians answers several questions about the resurrection, then at the end links it to the ministry God has given His people.
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (over sin and death) through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:56–58)
Jesus, because you live, I live also. Your eternal life is my eternal life. For that reason, the work that You gave me is not about ‘success’ in this world valued by using superlatives. Instead, it is about being steadfast, immovable and faithful. It is knowing that whatever I do in Your name and by Your leading has eternal value.

Your obedience to Your Father never matched the standards of success that the world looks for, but by Your obedience all Christians in all parts of this world celebrate two things this Easter day: You died for our sin — and You rose again to give us eternal life! Praise God — it is finished and You are alive!

April 23, 2011

In all these things . . .

My uncle Edward was one of those story tellers who offered a hook so you wanted to hear the story, but then took you on a convoluted journey down many rabbit trails until he finally fleshed out the story and finished with the punch line. Sometimes the Apostle Paul reminds me of Edward.

For instance, today’s devotional reading is based on a verse that says, “In all these things we are more than conquerors. . . .” so my first thought is, “All what things?” Where does Paul’s thinking begin? I had to go back two chapters to find some clues.

His hook could be this statement: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Since this is the gospel in a nutshell, and certainly a hook, I’m going to consider this as one of “these things” and trace through to the punch line.

First, those who have accepted the “free gift” know that sin still happens. This hook raises a question: As a Christian, do I still earn sin’s wages?

Paul struggled with that too. In the next chapter, he describes how he did what he didn’t want to do, and didn’t do what he wanted. Could this be one of “these things” that he lumps into his punch line? At the end of the chapter he hints at it.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:24–25)
Is one of “these things” conquered this dilemma of having a Savior and still having sin? Paul knows that he is delivered, but also knows that in this life sin will always reside in his flesh. How then is he delivered? The answer immediately follows these verses,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
It is not that Paul still sins (or that I still sin) that makes him a conqueror, but that because of Jesus, there is no condemnation from God. All the condemnation that sin deserves was put on Christ. He sets His people free from the wrath of God against sin.

However, the flesh does remain a problem, so Paul describes God’s solution. He gives His people the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we have the ability to serve Him instead of the flesh. For us, it is a choice.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. (Romans 8:12)
Yet there is a catch to this too. We are to “put to death the deeds of the body” and be “led by the Spirit” but this is not automatic. In fact, it is a learning process.

The story continues as Paul says we learn how to obey by suffering. We are God’s children . . . “and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17).

At this point, Paul has clarified two roads. I can choose to do whatever my flesh wants, which will not rob me of what God has done, but it will lead me into sin and death. Or I can follow the Spirit and learn how to obey Him through suffering.

At this point in the story of Christian living, some encouragement is a must. Paul offers it in his next statement. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Suffering is now and glory is a future thing. Can I endure the suffering of learning how to walk as Jesus walked without being able to see this glory in my future? I like visible rewards. Yet Paul seems to anticipate my question. He goes on:

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. . . . (Romans 8:24–26)
Again, the Holy Spirit will help me. I am weak. I don’t like to suffer. My body ached this morning and I didn’t want to get out of bed. I’ve suffered in many other ways. I’m a wuss. How will I ever deal with anything more? But he says the Spirit of God will help me. Then he offers this marvelous truth that has sustained me since I first became a Christian . . . 
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. . . . (Romans 8:28–29)
When Paul said “these things” he included the “all things” in this passage. God is so powerfully involved in my life that nothing happens to me without purpose. He is working to make me like Jesus and will use good things and suffering, all things, toward that goal.

In trying to cooperate with Him, I sometimes lose sight of His love for me. It seems that life is too hard, the challenges too great. Paul, in the power of God’s Spirit, anticipated those thoughts too, because he writes this punch line about “these things.” I am blessed by his words.

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)
Oh loving God, the enemy’s biggest lie is that You do not love me. He jumps in when I struggle with sin, or when my flesh seems more powerful than the Spirit of God. This lie hovers over me when I suffer and when the “all things” of life include nasty and unpleasant and unexpected things.

Yet Your love is constant. Nothing can separate me from it, not sin, accusations, trouble, even physical harm and death. You use all things, even these things, to shape me like Jesus and You do it because You love me. That is why in all these things I am a conqueror, a winner — even more than a winner. You lift me above it all because You love me. You are an awesome God and I am in awe of You because of all these things!

April 22, 2011

Why this Friday is Good

Good Friday is a sad day when I think about my sin that put Jesus on the cross. It is sad when I think about how much He suffered and the pain of bearing the guilt of the world, of every sin ever committed by everyone who ever lived. It is sad also to think that much of the world curses His name, the One who bought their freedom from sin and their opportunity to have eternal life. I’m sad too that many more have never even heard of Jesus.

However, today is “good” Friday, not just because Jesus did made an incredible sacrifice so many years ago, but because of the place He has now and the victory He has won over sin and death.

The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him. (Acts 5:30–32)
Jesus died, but He did not stay dead. Jesus was and is demeaned and cursed here on earth, but God has exalted Him to the highest place. He was rejected by His own, but thousands, even millions of people have accepted, believed and received Him. We know forgiveness of sins and repentance and this is why Friday is good.
Lord, I’m also touched by the last few words in those verses. The early believers saw all of this with their own eyes, but so did the Holy Spirit. And You gave the Holy Spirit to me — so, because He lives in me, I too am a witness to these things. I didn’t see the events with my eyes, but the presence of Your Spirit in my heart affirms the reality of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I know it is true.

Today we go to a church service that remembers the sad things, but that will also remind us of the greatness of what happened at Calvary and beyond. Because of Your great power and love for sinners, today is a good day!

Photo source

April 21, 2011

Little prayers, big answers

Some will trust God for the big things, like eternal life and deliverance when in dire straits, but they laugh at those who pray about parking places and help with family spats. Their faith includes “common sense” and a claim that God gave them the ability to handle the ordinary issues of life so they don’t need to pray about small things. Was this what Paul had in mind when he wrote these words?
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. (Romans 8:31–34)
Last night on my way to a secular quilt guild meeting, I prayed for two things. One was that I make a new friend. I sometimes feel alone at these events because so many go to them with their friends. I don’t feel like butting in. Small talk is difficult too. However, my biggest reason for joining is to build relationships with others who do not know the Lord. I need His help with this.

My second request was about involvement in the guild. Someone called me earlier asking if I’d serve on the executive or on a committee. I wasn’t certain, so asked God to show me if He wanted me to offer help, and in what capacity.

Both prayers were answered. I met some people that I knew, but when it came time to be seated, they had a spot together — no space for me. So I kept going down the row and noticed a woman sitting by herself. Almost immediately we were chatting as if we’d known one another for years.

After the meeting, we were told that the main presenter had a family problem so a substitute speaker took the podium. I’d met her before, but had not heard her story of how she started a charitable foundation in Canada that gets quilts to wounded soldiers. As she talked, the Holy Spirit nudged. I knew God wanted me to offer help. It was a bit of a surprise since I was prepared to do that for the meeting sponsors. However, we talked after the event and she told me what she really needed. The job fit my background experience and skills and is something I can do from home. We were both delighted.

As I read these verses this morning, I thought of people who would never pray about such matters. They say, “Use your brains” or something like that, without connecting their independence with the verse that tells us we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and that we are supposed to use it.

I’ve been independent much of my life, even as a Christian. I’m learning that any “I’ll do it myself” attitude always works at cross-purposes with the will of God. His thinking is far above mine. When I entered that meeting room, I thought to sit with the few people that I knew. God had other ideas and made sure I couldn’t carry out that plan.

Then I planned to get on board with the larger group sponsoring the meeting. But He had other ideas there too. He knows that me being a treasurer, or a person with a phone list, or doing any of their other volunteer positions would be a bad fit. So He rearranged the speakers and drew me to the one place where the need and the skills He gave me are a great match. He had already given me a passion for the work this speaker is doing too, so I am eager to be involved.

God, You justify me and sent Jesus to die for my sin. These are big issues! However, Jesus also lives forever to pray for me and You graciously hear His prayers and mine. You give me all that I need, even opportunities to serve You. You answer my prayers, big and little. I am overjoyed at Your love for me and eager to share it in ways that You direct. Thank You.

April 20, 2011

Because He died and rose again . . .

One of my relatives belongs to a cult whose members do their best to imitate genuine Christianity. They adopt our words and ideas, but have different definitions for the words and believe none of the ideas. I know this because I ask questions and listen to what they say when they come to my door. The Bible warns us to not be deceived.

Last week, in conversation with this relative, I heard him say many things that sounded good. He even agreed with things I said, which is a switch from years past. However, the conversation ended at the crux of the matter. He said, “Death is man’s greatest enemy.”

I said, “But that enemy has been conquered.”

At that, he hummed, hawed, and faltered. He does not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and in spite of his great confidence about his religious organization, he has no confidence at all about what will happen to him after he dies. How sad.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14–15)
In the minds of these cult members, Jesus is a created being, not God the Son. Reducing Him reduces His power. In their minds, God would not and could not become a man. He would never “lower Himself” to do that. Further, He did not really rise from the dead. Instead of a living hope, they have only a “hope so” faith and have not been delivered from its fear.
Lord, we live in a society that is so gripped by the fear of death and dying that billions of dollars are spent to stop, reverse or somehow avoid the process. On the other hand, when people offer sympathy to my husband for his illness and he says, “We are all terminal,” most respond as if that were an astounding truth that had not occurred to them. Preoccupation with preserving life or dismissing death out of mind does not change its inevitability. Yet . . . 
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27–28)
Death and judgment are bad news, at least for those who do not know the good news. However, You have taken our judgment upon yourself. This is good news! You bore my sin, the greater enemy. Because You took away my sin, death is no longer my enemy either. Such grace! Your salvation is so utterly amazing. Because You have conquered sin and death, I am set me free from fear and slavery. I now look beyond it and eagerly wait to see Your face. Praise Your name!

April 19, 2011

So be it!

Amen is a unique word. One of my dictionaries says that it was transliterated directly from Old Testament Hebrew into New Testament Greek, then into Latin and into English and many other languages. This makes it practically a universal word. Some say it is the best-known word in human speech.

People say Amen when they want to affirm their agreement with something. These days, that could be anything, but in the Bible it was associated with certainty and solemnness. It means “it is the truth” and could begin a statement of truth, even be doubled for emphasis or style. Here are two examples: 

For truly (amen), I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18)
And he said to him, “Truly, truly, (amen, amen) I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51)
Amen is also used at the end of a passage in Scripture such as in Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

Amen is directly related and almost identical to the Hebrew word for “believe” (amam), or faithful, so Amen came to mean “sure” or “truly” and an expression of absolute trust and confidence. Its use was a custom that began in the Jewish synagogues and became part of Christian gatherings. When someone read or preached or offered prayer to God, the others responded with Amen. This meant that they were stating that the substance of what was said was also their own; they totally agreed with it.

It is also used one more way. As many times as I’ve read the following verse, this didn’t register in my mind until today that Amen is also a title for Jesus Christ. 

The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. (Revelation 3:14)
By calling Jesus the Amen, the Bible affirms that He is the ultimate certainty, the supreme faithful one. He is the only One that can be absolutely trusted. When I say Amen, I am claiming truth, embodied in the One who said, “I am the Truth” and affirming that I am totally agreeing with all that He is, says and does. (One note, in this verse, “beginning” means the “origin or active cause.”)
Lord, sometimes I say Amen rather casually, such as when someone says they like a certain movie or a brand of cookie and I agree. No more. I see how this word is another way of declaring who You are. I’m actually saying one of Your names. I do not want to trivialize this because I see now the importance of this word. Besides the word itself, many rich thoughts that go with it. You are the ultimate Amen, the only secure and completely trustworthy person I know. I want to glorify You each time I say Your name, each time that I utter Amen.

April 18, 2011

A Crimson Reminder

Israel wandered from slavery in Egypt toward the land God promised them. As they neared its borders, Joshua sent spies to the city of Jericho. These spies were in enemy territory, and for some reason wound up in the house of Rahab. She told them,
I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death. (Joshua 2:8–13)
The spies were thankful that God had gone ahead of them and grateful for Rahab’s protection. They warned her to keep their presence a secret and promised to deal kindly and faithfully with her. She let them down by a rope through the window (her house was built into the city wall) and told them how to escape. They said to her,
We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. (Joshua 2:17–18)
Rahab replied, “According to your words, so be it.” Then she sent them away and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window. (Joshua 2:21)

I sit here and try to imagine my city being invaded by enemy armies. Advance soldiers come first as part of the planned attack. They come to my house. I am terrified. Nevertheless, I tell them I will not report them if they will protect me and my family. They agree and tell me to put a small sign in my window.

Whatever my reasons for doing this, I’m then placed in a position of trust. I call my family and they come to hide in my home. Soon bombs are dropping all around me. Will the soldiers keep their promise? Will I be safe? Will my family be spared? Or have they singled me out for destruction? What shall I do? Do I put up that sign?

Lord, I sit back and think of all the promises You have made to me. I say that I trust You, but when life’s shelling starts I often forget all that You have said, panic and become anxious. The simple faith of Rahab is a rebuke to me. She might have had some anxiety, but she put out that scarlet thread to remind her that these men of God promised they would not harm her. If she could trust the oath of these spies, why do I have so much trouble remembering and trusting Your solemn promises? You are far more trustworthy than even the most dedicated and godly person.

My faith is often under attack. When the bombs start dropping, I lose my focus. Even without the bombs, far too often I simply forget what You have told me. But in spiritual war or blissful peace, I want to rest in a simple faith like Rahab. Her scarlet cord was like a sign in the window, yet in biblical history it also points to Jesus. For one thing, its color came from an insect called ‘coccus ilicis.’ The dye is extracted from the dried body of the female insect. That is, something had to die to produce this scarlet thread.

To help me focus and to remember the simple faith of Rahab, I just now tied a scarlet cord in my window.

April 17, 2011

Spiritual war

I’m not aware of what was happening in the spiritual realm yesterday, only that invisible forces were pulling me down a road that I didn’t want to travel. It seemed like both torture and war. I wanted something that I didn’t want. I was being drawn away from God but the temptation had no appeal. I went from praying to not able to pray, seeking God to feeling like I had been in a terrible car accident.

This has happened before. My prayers were specific, but the troublesome thoughts and temptations were a mis-mash without focus. It was like driving in the dark, blindfolded. I could sense the road, but something kept yanking on the wheel and it seemed that if I let go, I would wind up in the ditch. Crying out to the Lord didn’t seem to help. No destination, no directions, no map, nothing seemed clear. By suppertime, I was exhausted.

Then suddenly it was gone. I still cannot figure out what was happening, but that awful road trip ended. I slept quickly and soundly. This morning I woke with a bit of lingering confusion that soon vanished and left me wanting to see Jesus. He is the way. He makes clear the road of life. He is also the destination and my roadmap. I need Him to make sense of things, and even if He doesn’t, I need His comforting presence and assurance.

Spurgeon’s devotional for today led me to these verses and filled me with awe. God always knows what I am thinking and what I need to hear. 

Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:20–21)
Perhaps these Greeks were curious. They may have heard about His miracles and wanted to see what He looked like, a mere mortal man compared to their myriad of gods. Some of them may have been ill and heard about His healing powers. They could have wanted some of that for themselves.

Whatever they wanted, they wanted to see Jesus. The next verses give the response Jesus gave toward their request. The Bible says nothing else about them or whether they ever did get to see Him, yet the answer Jesus gave is powerful and gives light to my confusion.

Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:22–26)
Reading this speaks to me first about my own desires to be with Jesus. Is this for myself, just to make me feel better?  If so, I need to pay attention. Jesus talks of His death and the results from dying that the disciples could not yet see. They had no idea that unless Jesus died, there would be no everlasting fruit. He needed to yield up His life.

In that context, Jesus points to my death, not a physical death but an abandonment of all things pertaining to this life. If I want eternal results, then I need to yield up the temporary goodies that this life promises. This is about sin, but also about all the good things that life offers. I know that whatever I gain in a material sense will be lost anyway. The only things that last are those eternal gains, but Jesus reminds me that this fruit will not be produced unless I give up and die toward the temporary stuff.

Do I list it? Some things are obvious, like possessions. None of them last. Some are gone in weeks or months. All things material deteriorate and wind up in the junk pile.

It’s the same with intangibles including fame and success. I watched part of a hockey game last night and remembered our city’s hero, Wayne Gretsky. His trophies are memories. The glory fades. So it is with my glory. It does not last, is soon replaced. Even memories become fuzzy and are lost.

The list of the temporary is longer than this, but His point is made. Serving Jesus means following Him and turning my back on those things that do not last. While I cannot abandon responsibilities like washing sinks and sweeping floors, nothing can be considered precious and none of my selfish “I wants” will last. Even in doing what I need to do each day, Jesus must be the center. He directs, empowers, is glorified and is the focus of it all.

Lord, I still don’t know exactly what yesterday’s war was about. It might have been related to my prayers for others (and the devil wanted me to stop). It might have been about those confusing and shifting temptations to my own spiritual welfare. Either way, I do know that You win. You conquered death, but You also rule over life. All that happens is under Your watchful eye. All that comes at me is by Your permission so that You can use it for my good. I do not understand everything or even much of anything, yet I do know that seeing You and being with You dissolves my pressing need to know. You will direct me through to my destination. Because You are in the driver’s seat, I don’t need to touch the wheel.

April 16, 2011

Battle Weary

When Israel left their slavery in Egypt, life was still a big challenge. They had their freedom, but also their battles. The story of that nation is a picture of Christian salvation. People enslaved by sin are set free from its tyranny — yet we still experience attacks to our faith.

Yesterday I felt bone weary from fighting spiritual battles. I wanted to toss in the towel. I could not see results so it seemed that my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling. Today, God encourages me with a verse about the newly freed people of Israel. They were suddenly assaulted by the Amaleks. Joshua led in defense against these enemies. Moses went to the top of a hill and held up his staff.

But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. (Exodus 17:12)
While Moses’ hands were raised, Israel was winning this battle, but when his hands lowered, Amalek prevailed. As two others came and held up his hands, Israel prevailed and eventually won.

The raising of his hands and staff signified at least two things. Raised hands indicate supplication and intercessory prayer.

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! (Psalm 141:2)
The Bible does not say that Joshua’s hands were heavy in fighting, but Moses’s hands were heavy in praying. One commentator suggests that the more spiritual our service, the more apt we are to falter in it. Praying is hard work. I am full of energy in the morning, but after a time of intense prayer I feel exhausted. Jesus described this by saying that even though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.

But what about the staff? One writer says that by this time the staff was famous and a strong symbol of God’s saving acts. Another says that by holding the staff of God above his head with both hands, Moses  symbolized Israel’s total dependence on the power of God. This would encourage the soldiers as they fought yet another enemy.

The biggest encouragement from this verse is that the two activities were important. It is as important that Joshua fights with the sword as that Moses should wrestle in prayer. Neither would be effective without the other. The battle did not depend on Joshua’s skill, yet it could not be won without him. In the same way, Moses’ prayer was nothing without the practical work of Joshua, yet Joshua totally depended on Moses’ intercession, even though he could not see him or hear him as he did his part.

When I pray, I am not very often the answer to my own prayers. Like Moses, I’m calling out to God, not out there engaged in making things happen. This is okay, but I usually cannot see who is winning either. My arms get tired. I don’t have a staff from God or a vision of an army, only the command to pray.

I’ve been praying more and more for the other warriors, those who are out there like Joshua putting shoe leather to my prayers. When I pray for someone to hear and believe the Gospel, I am also praying for the Christians who know that person. I pray they will be faithful to tell the person on my prayer list the good news that Jesus Christ died for their sin and offers eternal life by grace through faith. I pray these Christian friends will not get discouraged and will hear God, obeying whatever He tells them to do.

But my arms get tired. My spirit feels like plunking down on a rock and giving in to ‘poor me’ because this is hard work. Moses needed help. Sometimes I do too, because some days it seems like the whole world has stopped praying.

John MacArthur says this, “The ebb and flow of battle in correlation with Moses’ uplifted or drooping arms imparted more than psychological encouragement as the soldiers looked up to their leader on the hilltop, and more than Moses’ interceding for them. It demonstrated and acknowledged their having to depend upon God for victory in battle and not upon their own strength and zeal.”

Lord, this is so true. Friends can come along and help, but the battle is Yours. Only by Your grace can the enemies of lies, darkness, evil and sin be defeated. As Moses displays, fatigue may set in, but that will not stop You from giving victory to Your people. Just as the soldiers were encouraged to see Joshua before them in the field of battle and Moses above them upon the top of the hill, I am encouraged that Christ is both. You are my Joshua, the captain of my salvation who fights my battles — and my Moses, who is seated high in the heavens, ever living to intercede for me so my faith does not fail. I am still weary, but also thankful that You are holding up my arms.

April 15, 2011

This journey includes wilderness

Most have read the familiar poem, “Footprints” that describes the discovery of how God carried the author through the rough spots of life. Certainly those times are when we most feel the need to be carried. However, the longer I am a follower of Jesus Christ, the more I realize that being carried is for every day and every situation.
The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever. (Psalm 28:8–9)
David wrote these words. He was a capable leader and King, yet he knew that God was his source of strength and his hiding place in trouble. He also knew how badly all God’s people need His salvation and shepherding. Without Him, we are like sheep that have gone astray.

David also knew that sometimes a shepherd must also pick up His sheep and carry them to safety. Some are injured and cannot move without help. Some become afraid and in fear cannot get where they need to go. Some sheep seem downright ornery and refuse to go in the right direction. These too need to be picked up and carried.

Sheep haven’t been considered the smartest beast in the farmyard, but recent studies reveal that they are more intelligent than anyone thought. Whatever their IQ, God’s Word uses them as metaphor for His people. Having had some experience with these smelly, silly and easily frightened animals, I didn’t like that comparison, yet, I realize it is valid, and some days the carrying part is very comforting.

As one of God’s sheep, I am feeling my weaknesses and inabilities today. I need God’s strength. I’m not sure of what to do next and need His shepherding. Lost and alone, I need Him to carry me.

Lord, You know my struggles today. I feel like a sheep out in the wilderness, far from where I want to be and far from Your care and attention. I feel like the “Footsteps” author with one set of prints that tell me You have not forsaken me. You do lift me up. You are my strength and my saving refuge. You bless me as my Shepherd too. Carry me through this barren place to green pastures, but first show me what You want me to learn here. Your Word says You use all things for my good — to make me more like You. I don’t like this sense of being in a wilderness, but will stay here until You carry me out.

April 14, 2011

Walk by faith, not by sight

My mother had this wonderful way of accepting whatever life dealt her without resentment toward the unpleasant, or gloating over providential bounty. She would say, “Well, we must need it or we wouldn’t be getting it.”

I thought of her as I looked out the window this morning. On a day when tulips should be blooming, we are experiencing a whiteout blizzard. The wind blows snow almost horizontally. Even though most of winter’s huge drifts and snow piles are melted, it seems as if the season is starting all over again. Mom, do we need this? Where is spring?

My question is really asking God, but I know that if I complain about the weather, I am complaining about His sovereign rule. He knows what is best for us, even when it snows in spring or rains in winter. No matter the adversity, He is in charge and He knows what I need.

Spurgeon writes on similar lines. He says that no matter what our lot in life, those who love the Lord are blessed.

Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for what his hands have dealt out shall be done to him. (Isaiah 3:10–11)
Part of His blessing is the ability to be thankful and regardless of the weather, I have much to be thankful for. I am well fed, and even if not, as a believer in Jesus, I can feast on the wonders of who He is and what He has done. He has given me the Bread of life.

I have a closet full of clothes, but even if all were mere rags, I wear the imputed righteousness of Christ, a spiritual robe that covers my sin. He also calls these the garments of praise, and when I praise God, my heart is filled with joy.

We live in a nice home, but better than that, we are ‘in Christ’ where our security is not just for now, but for eternity. Jesus says this of those who abide or live in Him:

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:7–11)
This means that He blesses with answered prayer, a fruitful life, the assurance of His love and fullness of joy! How much more could I want?

Relationships and marriage are wonderful, yet the Bible says I am united to Christ in a bond that even death cannot break. My intimacy with Him is like no other friendship. Not only that, He provides for me, guides me, and protects me from anything that would harm me. He also filters life’s events and uses “all things for my good” that I might become more like Him. This is blessing beyond all earthly delights.

It is well with the righteous because of divine authority; He says so. His mouth speaks these comforting assurances in trials and daily circumstances. A snowstorm or worse might tell me life is a disaster, but I praise God for faith. He enables me to believe Him, even when all else seems to contradict Him. The Word says the righteous are blessed at all times. Therefore, even when I cannot see it or feel it, I am blessed.

Oh Father, Your divine authority gives me more confidence than my eyes and feelings and certainly more than the good things in life. What You say is truth that goes beyond my understanding. When life seems perplexing, You are still in control. As I wait on You, I’m always surprised and delighted when You reveal even a small part of Your plan. Whom You bless is blessed indeed because You have proven to me over and over that what You say is always more certain than what I see.

April 13, 2011

God’s Perfect Lamb

John the baptizer told people the Messiah was coming. He warned them to repent and offered a “baptism” to signify their change of heart. After an extended period of preaching and performing such baptisms, he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

No one ever called anyone a “Lamb of God” before, but John was born into a Jewish heritage that had practiced sacrificial atonement for their sin. He knew about the lambs offered to God in obedience to Him. He knew His requirement for blood as repeated in the New Testament. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). John may not have known the details, but he did know that this man who was One who would atone for the sin of the world.

The Old Testament sacrifices are a big turn-off for people today who do not understand what they represented. Killing animals as an offering to God seems like a gruesome pagan ritual, but this was not paganism. The Jewish offerings were a shadow of a greater sacrifice at Calvary that would not need to be repeated.  One description says this:

If his (a sinner’s) offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. (Leviticus 1:3–4)
The animal to be offered had to be without blemish. The Bible says that Jesus was like us in every way except He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He was brought to Calvary and our sins were laid on Him. Again, this was not a pagan nor a ceremonial ritual. Jesus bore our sin and accepted full punishment for each and every one of them.

Atonement carries various shades of meaning including, “to make amends, pardon, release, appease, forgive, remove the guilt from a wrongdoing, ransom, pay as a gift to allow someone to keep their freedom, pacify, give a gift of tribute which will establish some level of relationship implying reconciliation.”

In the Old Testament sacrificial system, this atonement was limited in time and until the next sin. It also was never intended to be perfect because it did not change the hearts of sinners. Instead, it pointed to a perfect sacrifice ahead, the Lamb of God who would not only atone for sin but take it away. This perfect sacrifice was offered at Calvary two thousand years ago.

Jesus, I need frequent reminders of what You have done. I also need to think more deeply about it than I do. Life gets busy and demands on my time and thoughts rob me of the joy of remembering Your sacrifice on my behalf. This is the fullest expression of love and acceptance that anyone could give — and You gave it to me and for me. I bow my head in humble gratitude that You are my perfect sacrifice. You laid down Your life to take away my sin. You rose again to give new life to me and to all who will receive You, the perfect Lamb of God. Thank You.

April 12, 2011

Letting go — of what?

Let go and let God is an expression that receives polarized opinions. For many, it is a trite saying that becomes an excuse for disobedience. That is, I can release everything to God; He will do it all and I don’t have to do anything. However, the idea of letting go, if explained, becomes far more than trite. It is the very essence of living for Jesus Christ and in His power.

I didn’t hear from God this morning in Spurgeon’s devotional, so popped open “My Utmost for His Highest” and read these powerful verses about Christian living.

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:9–11)
Oswald Chambers writes about eternal life. He says that this is the life which Jesus Christ exhibited on a human level while He walked this earth. Then he says: “ . . . it is the same life, not a copy of it, which is manifested in our mortal flesh when we are born of God. Eternal life is not a gift from God, eternal life is the gift of God.”

Genuine Christians are those who have made what Chambers calls a “moral decision” about sin. By grace through faith we become children of God who turn from sin because we have a new source of life. That is, all the power that is Jesus Christ now is in us because we are “in Him” and He lives in us.

The Bible says, “You shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit.” Notice that this is not power from the Holy Spirit. The power is the Holy Spirit, not something which He gives to me. The life that is in Jesus is made mine — once I made that decision to be identified with Him.

The hard part about getting right with God is always that sin issue. No one wants to come to the Light because our lives are full of sin and the Light will expose it. But once we do, the full life of Jesus Christ comes in “that we might be filled with all the fulness of God.”

Chambers points out that this eternal life has nothing to do with time or endlessness as much as it is the quality of life lived by Jesus Christ. He is the only source of it. I, in my weakness and inabilities, can experience this power once I am willing to “let go” of my own.

This is the secret about let go and let God. It is not about sitting back and doing nothing, but about saying no to my own plans, schemes, energies and abilities that “blur the life of Jesus” as Chambers says. I must keep releasing my insistence on these things so that the full life of God will invade and motivate every part of who I am and what I do. It is only by this that I can truly let God have His way in my life. Letting go is about abandoning sin. Letting God is about obedience to Him.

Lord, I need this reminder. I need to be constantly aware that it is in You that I live and move and have my being. All that I do must be done in the power of Your life, not my own. However, this isn’t about a “better power” (even though Your power is far greater than mine) so much as it is about Your glory. If my life and my skills are selfishly and self-centeredly exercised apart from You, I get the pats on the back. No one will see You in me or realize that I am Your child when I refuse to let go. Considering myself dead to sin and alive to You is letting go, but it is also a far cry from sitting back and doing nothing. It remains the greatest challenge of being a Christian.

April 11, 2011

The most important prayer request

In years of travel and moving, the dominant prayer requests in all the churches we have attended are the same. Someone is sick or in trouble and the request is for healing or that God will fix the problem. While I cannot be critical of those who ask God for these things, I do wonder if our total comfort is God’ priority.

In the Bible, many Old Testament prayers are for health, safety, and the removal of affliction. Even so, some of them are instructive. Consider this portion from a prayer of King David:

Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. (Psalm 25:18)
He asks God to look at his troubles, but the emphasis is not to fix them, but to forgive his sins. Are sins and affliction connected? Sometimes. If I sin, I can get myself into all kinds of trouble. David knew this. His infamous sin with Bathsheba brought sorrow into his family for the rest of his life. Yet this is not always true. David was anointed to replace King Saul. Before that happened, he treated Saul with utmost respect even though Saul did his utmost to kill him. David did nothing to deserve this affliction.

In the New Testament, prayer is different. In fact, most that come to mind concern spiritual matters. While Jesus healed sickness, I can think of only a few prayers that focus on illness. 

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 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. (James 5:14–16)
Even in this prayer that asks God to heal illness, it is like David’s prayer. The emphasis is on making sure sin is forgiven. James seems to make an association between the two.

People often wonder about connections between affliction, illness and sin. The Bible does say that  these negatives came into our world after sin came. That is, pain in childbearing is the result of sin. Thorns, thistles and the pain of hard work are also the result of sin. The sins of others can produce pain in my life. My own sin does it too.

Why then do Christians (who should know these things) more often ask for pain-free lives rather than ask for sin to be forgiven and cleansed? It seems more sensible to strike at the root of our problems than the symptoms. That is, while my own sin may or may not be the reason I suffer, having that cleared away gives me greater insight into the will of God about the suffering. May I not forget that James also wrote these seemingly outlandish words . . . 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)
This passage and others, show that God can use suffering for my good. For one thing, affliction always tests my faith. Will I trust God no matter what? Like Job, will I pass the test of suffering even when it comes without explanation?

If nothing else, affliction is a patience builder. When troubles come and I am trusting God but He is silent, what else can I do but be patient? I can ask Him to remove the trial, but if He does not answer that prayer, self-pity or complaining turn my eyes (and faith) from Him. I become obsessed with my own personal comfort. My spiritual life not only stops growing, it declines rapidly. It is far better to trust God.

David was right. We want to make sure that God is considering our situation, and since He is all-knowing, that seems a silly request. Maybe he said it just to affirm what he already knew. God knew about the trouble; David’s focus was on forgiveness and the clarity that comes with it.

Jesus, when you hung on the cross experiencing a trial far worse than anything I will ever endure, You did it that our sin might be forgiven. Clearly, You prioritized forgiveness of sin over Your own personal comfort.

You also brought another aspect to this by saying, “Forgive them; they know not what they do.” It was my sin, our sin, and the sin of those who drove in the nails that caused You such great pain, yet in all of it, You never asked that Your suffering be lifted. Your focus was not on the pain of affliction, but on the deeper need of our sinful hearts.

When I suffer, give me grace to be like You. Rather than be eager to have You “fix it,” help me to see beyond my struggles to the purpose You have in allowing them.

April 10, 2011

Faith calms the heart and clears the mind

Faith is about knowing. It has no explanations, or at least none that can be easily explained. When God says something, those who have faith just know it is true. When that still small voice whispers it will be so, faith simply knows it will be so. Faith is not a leap in the dark. Rather, it is the ability to believe that God is and that He rewards those who seek Him.

Paul was on a ship headed for Rome. However, a storm threatened the ship and the men on board. Paul had warned them to stay in Crete, but the sailors decided they would go anyway. This decision plunged them into the midst of grave danger.

In the night, God spoke to Paul. Paul was calm. He spoke calmly to the rest of the people on the ship.

Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island. (Acts 27:22–26)
Faith knew that events would unfold as God said, even exactly as He said. Paul knew what God said, believed Him because He is God, and that knowledge plus faith produced comfort and peace in his heart.

Faith is like that. It produces peace in my heart and an ability to be calm and think in a level-headed manner. Whenever I get in a flap about something, God often gives me a nudge from His Word. Sometimes His reminders come to mind as if He is speaking inside my head. He tells me over and over not to worry, that He is still on the throne and that He has not forgotten me. In this, I experience peace, even joy.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4–7)
Joy and peace are the by-products of faith. Faith just knows that God is true and His power is exercised for my good. As these verses say about peace, this knowing seems to surpass all understanding. Whatever is happening that causes the anxiety in the first place has not changed a bit. What changes is my response to it — because God turns my mind from the problem toward His grace, power and love. That makes faith rational. When life seems out of control, it makes perfect sense to trust God who is all powerful, loves me with an everlasting love, and keeps His promises.
Lord, sometimes You bestow increased faith as a sovereign act of grace when I need it. Sometimes I’ve come to You asking for help as my ability to trust You begins to lag. Either way, You are quick to respond. You remind me who You are and that nothing is too difficult for You. You reaffirm to me that no matter what is giving me stress, it is under Your control. Trusting You brings peace and joy, even the ability to think calmly and rationally. For this I am grateful.