November 30, 2011

Never-ending War

When I became a Christian, I did not realize that I also enlisted in an army. There is a war going on, unseen yet nevertheless real and totally brutal. It started in heaven between God’s angelic beings and those others who fell into rebellion. It is now centered here on earth and all who align themselves with Jesus Christ are in the middle of it.
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:7–9)
Spurgeon says that war always will rage because peace between good and evil is an impossibility. Even the very pretense of peace would be a triumph for the powers of darkness because this enemy delights in falsehood and anything fake.

I know that God’s angels are determined to fight evil. Jesus is also the dragon’s foe, active and vigorous to exterminate all ungodliness. But what about me? I was reborn to be a warrior, yet at times wonder if I recognize the battle or the enemy’s schemes. How often do I do things that are more on the side of the enemy than on the side of righteousness?

At the cross of Jesus Christ, my life changed. In my heart, I desire no truce with evil, yet the enemy is not only incessant, he spares no weapon, fair or foul. The well-know book, Screwtape Letters, describes how Satan and his demonic servant plot against Christians. Some of his plans are devious. If he can dupe us into selfish contentment (as opposed to the real kind), he has us. If he can make us think he is not active and leaving us alone, he has us. One of his most effective lies is to get people thinking that God doesn’t love us.

I am foolish to think I could serve God without opposition. Spurgeon says that the more zealous I am, the more certain I will be assailed by the myrmidons of hell. I can be lazy and apathetic, but my antagonist will never call a truce. He hates Jesus and His Body, the church. He would destroy all of us if he could. His servants are active to accuse, deceive and foil anything that God’s servants do to increase the kingdom of God and glorify His Son.

I once was puzzled that many senior Christians seem to retire from service and lose their zeal for God. It grieved me that some become sour, fearful, joyless or without enthusiasm for Christian ministry. However, now I understand. The relentless enemy takes advantage of aging. So easily he turns our focus from serving God to caring for our fading faculties. Again, he spares no weapon. Whatever he can use, he will use it to get God’s people to stop praying, stop sharing, stop doing anything in the name of the Lord.

Lord, the past few days have been particularly difficult. This time the enemy took advantage of my fatigue and magnified every problem to the point that I could not see You or even think You were at work. This is war, and I am not a strong soldier.

However, I do know the outcome. Your Word says that the great dragon will be cast out and forever destroyed. Jesus and all who serve Him will be victorious. This battle is more important than any physical war ever fought. Help me sharpen my sword and always wear the spiritual armor You gave me. May I stand guard, taking my place in this battle, well-protected by the shield of faith and all You provide, remembering that You have promised Satan will be trampled under my feet.

November 29, 2011

Humility vs. pride

One thing important in becoming what God wants me to be is that I cannot do it on the outside. Obedience has to be from the heart. Perhaps others can fake it, but I’ve found out many times that I cannot.

The Lord commands me to love Him with all my heart, soul and strength, and to love my neighbors as myself. I’ve heard some say how much they love people, but I honestly cannot say that. At times, my love for God is not one 100 percent either, or I would obey Him and be thankful all the time.

Last week I read a book about the impact of words and the importance of speaking well about people. The Lord convicted me of those times I’ve inwardly complained about others and verbally expressed my complaints. I confessed my bad attitudes and inappropriate speaking, hoping that would be the end of it.

But I found myself feeling annoyed with someone yesterday. I tried not to say anything, and didn’t do too badly with my mouth, but went to bed with that irritation in my heart. Even as I write this, I’m thinking that I just have to speak against that person, more evidence that what is in the heart will eventually come out.

But God knows what I need. He does not deal with the other person (as I wish He would), but gives me these verses from today’s devotional reading.

You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD. You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:16–18)
As I read this Old Testament Law, it’s beyond me how anyone can think they could be saved by keeping God’s Law. This one alone would condemn most of us. It certainly nails me to the wall. I might be able to keep my mouth shut about the way I feel (or more likely not), but the attitude of the heart condemns me anyway. Jesus even said that anyone who hates is the same as a murderer, and out of the heart comes all the garbage that shows humanity to be sinful.

So what can I do with this? Each time the crud comes up from within, I need to bring it to Jesus. Obviously, I cannot save myself.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8–9)
Jesus forgives and cleanses. This means that yesterday’s attitude can be taken from me, yet I know that is only the fruit of something deeper. In my heart, there is a propensity to pride, to make myself look good at the expense of anyone I can talk about that doesn’t look good. Instead of merely shutting my mouth when annoyed, or instead of never becoming annoyed, the deeper problem is a lack of humility. I think that others should treat me better because I am better? Yeah, right. If anything is beyond faking, it is humility.

These verses offer one other course of action. “Reason frankly with your neighbor.” That is another way of saying what the New Testament affirms. If someone sins against me, I’m to talk to them . . . not to anyone or everyone else, but bring the issue to the person who offended me. This is much more difficult than it sounds because the Lord forbids that I jump all over that person with accusation and condemnation. Instead, I’m to deeply desire that neither the offender nor I are caught up in sin. Speaking to that person cannot be done with revenge in mind either. I know if I am angry with someone, I cannot “reason frankly” at all. Clearly, the problem at this point is with my responses and my heart, not with the other person’s actions.

Lord, this lump of clay seems destined to never become a lovely jar. You keep me on Your wheel, shaping and working out the lumps until I feel dizzy, even discouraged that I will never please You or get it right. What else is there to say? You are correct in Your words and Your warnings. Have mercy on me. You know what I need.

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November 28, 2011

Being transparent

One rule of life is that the inward effects the outward. Just as light shines from a central source into the darkest corners, so also do the attitudes of the heart radiate outward into life, good or bad, true or false.

On occasion, people put defenses up to hide what is going on in the inside. Some live most of their lives that way, yet inner stuff comes out, if not in words, it affects health or activities. The entire Bible tells stories of those whose inner lives became the motivation for great sin or in some cases, great godliness.

The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 1–4)
These verses today are John’s response to Gaius, a person that had no layers. He was healthy in soul because he had truth and walked in it. This news gave John great joy for he was a man also given to truth and walking in truth.

As I read and think about what he says, I think about the people with whom I have a transparent relationship. No layers. No pretense about who and what we are or think. When we slip, we pull each other up. When we speak, we know that the words come from the heart. We trust each other. There is no greater joy than this kind of relationship.

It begins with Jesus. He already knows everything about me. If I have layers, He sees through them and loves me anyway. This eliminates any reason to pretend. I can share my heart with Him as with no one else. I can also know that all He says and does is from a pure and unadulterated heart. He is truth and all that He says and does is true and good.

The New Testament tells what happens when others meet disciples of Christ and experience this transparency of life.

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)
These men were open books, without pretense and without hiding who and what they were like, yet in seeing then, others knew that they were disciples of Jesus Christ. That hidden life of Christ (for He comes in and lives at the deepest part, the core of who we are) was visible. These men walked with Jesus in truth, and because they hid nothing about themselves, people could see both their common state and the fact that Jesus had a profound effect on their lives.

Sometimes this transparency creates a problem. Most of us want to be looked up to, admired, respected and so on. But being myself may mean occasional total silliness, or outbursts of raw emotion, or a display of ignorance, or making known all my inabilities and foibles. What then? A well-known evangelist once said that when she is trying to be like Jesus, all people saw was her, but when she was just herself, people said they could see Jesus in her.

This is the nature of transparency. In revealing who I am, in peeling off all protective layers, I feel vulnerable — or even like a total idiot. Yet if that is what God uses to reveal Jesus in me to others, then I must walk in the truth of who I am, warts and all.

Jesus, walking in truth means just that. If I am not true to You, then I do not walk in truth. Yet if I am not true to who I am at any given moment, I’m not walking in truth either. Pride and fear put up barriers to transparency. Your grace, Your humble heart, and Your assurance of love and acceptance take them down. May I walk in truth today.

November 27, 2011

One set of footprints

Many are familiar with the poem “Footprints” where the poet describes parallel marks in the sand showing those days when she walked beside Jesus. Then she is dismayed by only one set of footprints, thinking He has abandoned her. But Jesus tells her that those are the days when He was carrying her. This verse reminds me of that poem.
Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. (Psalm 68:19)
It also reminds me that God daily bears me up, even on those days when I feel I don’t need carrying, and those days when I’m so helpless that I wonder if He dropped me.

For the days of independence, His Word continually reminds me that He is my source and resource. Apart from Him, I can do nothing — nothing of eternal value, but also it is in Him that I live and move and have my being. Apart from the grace of God I could not take another breath.

For those helpless days, days of feeling weary and fatigued, I need to remember He is carrying me and not become discouraged or ever doubt that even in this, He is at work. He uses all things for my good. He cares for me.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)
As I read this, I know that no matter how I feel, there is always only one set of footprints. He is always carrying me. I also know that my part in this daily inner renewal is a full-time job.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
I need continual time with the Lord, not as a habit but as genuine communion. Prayer cannot be a duty but an intimacy. Reading His words cannot be skimming or without listening — because He speaks between the lines and in the silent spaces. He carries me all the time; I need to be carried all the time.

God, You daily bear me up. I am totally grateful. Today is no different from yesterday or any other. I need You. I need the strength that You give and the sense of being held up, that my burdens are Your burdens, and that You are using all things for my good as You renew my inner spirit and prepare me for eternal glory.

November 26, 2011

Weakness and To-do Lists

Even as a busy person, some things I dread or don’t want to do. I put them off. I find reasons to do something else, usually something easier. Such procrastination is problem enough, but there is another habit that plagues me. I have many ideas and am always thinking. My to-do list could choke a horse, but there are important tasks that are replaced by what some people call “busy work.” I call them time-wasters.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in (the grave), to which you are going. (Ecclesiastes 9:10)
Verses like this are not difficult to understand. What bothers me about this one is that I’ve not always followed through on all the things that my hands have found to do. They might make it to the to-do list, but my hands get busy with less vital matters, pushing them to the bottom.

Today, Spurgeon tells me not to wait for large opportunities, or for a different kind of work, but do just the things I “find to do” day by day. Instead of making excuses about needing a big block of time for this, or for better skills to do that, I need to realize that there is no other time in which to live. The past is gone and the future has not arrived. There is no time but the present. I cannot wait until my experience, or confidence, or knowledge increases before I do this or that for the Lord. Time will never increase either. Instead, I’m to go for it now, doing what God puts on my heart and into my hands now. And in obedience, I am to serve Him with all my might.

Prompt obedience is a special thing. We love it in our children and hope for it those who serve us. We want the café meal to arrive as soon as it is cooked, the car repaired as quickly as the mechanic can get at it. Not only that, we want that cook and that mechanic to do their very best work.

In the same way, God wants me to serve Him now, in whatever He asks of me, as soon as He asks it, and that I do it with all my might.

Lately I’ve been pondering the many seasons where it seems I’ve frittered away the hours and days with good intentions and great plans that never materialized. Perhaps these regrets are a “disease” of growing older. Perhaps it is a scheme of Satan to ruin my focus for right now. However, I know that spending today thinking of what I intend to do tomorrow is no recompense for idleness at any time.

No one can serve God by doing things tomorrow or next week or next year. I am to live in the now, honoring Him by what I do today and by throwing my entire heart, and soul, and strength into it. Yet there is another problem that comes up, again perhaps a problem of growing older, yet still an issue in doing anything with all my might; my might isn’t what it used to be.

I know that this is not a bad thing. No matter my age or perceived strength, God offers this verse: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” with Paul’s response, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Regardless of the “my might” used in Ecclesiastes, all Christians know that whatever we do for Christ must be done in His strength. This was true when I had lots of energy and it is true now when I have less of this precious commodity.

Yet for His power to be perfected in my weakness, I must recognize and actually feel my own weakness and inability. That means that whatever my hand finds to do will always be totally intimidating!

Oh, I could avoid that by trying to walk in the flesh with its boasting self-confidence, but there would be no spiritual fruit from my labors and no eternal “well done” either.

God is clear. Any sense of being unable is never intended to push me into excuses, procrastination, and idleness. Instead, this sense of “I can’t” or any other excuse must serve as motivation to wait upon the Lord and rely on His grace and strength. Only then will “whatever my hand finds to do” be well done and not a wasted effort.

Lord, my dear Granny’s line comes to mind, “Too old too soon, too late smart.” I’m thankful for Your sovereign grace and thankful that You will give me time to do whatever You put into my hands. Help me to forge ahead, trusting You, instead of letting any weakness or other excuses keep me from obeying You.

November 25, 2011

Elected to Grace

Even in my prayers I sometimes ask the wrong questions. When I say, “Lord, why don’t You save so-and-so?” I should be wondering why He saves anyone, including me. 
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:14–16)
God claims the right to give or to withhold mercy according to His sovereign will. Just as life and death are in His hands, so also does He have the right to spare or condemn the guilty.

We can claim human rights all we want, but because of our sin, we have forfeited all claim toward God. Because He is holy and our Creator, we deserve to perish for our sins. If everyone did so, not one would have ground for complaint.

Yet God saves some. He saved me. This is utterly amazing. He knows my proud and sinful human nature against His sovereign right to rule over me. When He brought me to see my own utter sinfulness, I’ve realized what I deserve and have no ground for protest on that or about any of His dealings with me. I know that God does not have to save anyone. I cannot complain about what He does or does not do. I am only glad that He had mercy on me and continues to show grace. This was His free act of undeserved goodness based on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, not on any merit of mine, for which I will forever bless His name.

Spurgeon asks today, “How shall those who are the subjects of divine election sufficiently adore the grace of God?” Certainly I have no room for boasting. God’s sovereignty excludes it and Christ’s sacrifice is my only boast. I am saved by grace through faith, and even faith is a gift from His mercy. He alone is glorified. The very notion of human merit is contemptible. I know myself, and He knows me even more. When I am tested, apart from Christ living in me, I would fail every test.

The teaching of God’s sovereign election, by which He saves whomever He chooses, is highly debated. Perhaps this happens because election stands against all our pride. That He has the choice is entirely humbling and gives me no ground to stand on except His mercy.

Lord, again You know what I need to hear. The fact that Your sovereign grace has been poured out on me puts humility in my heart. It also makes me want to say NO to all my wants and wishes and YES to Your choices. Today, and I needed this reminder today, Your saving grace produces in me a renewed energy to do everything I do as unto You — with joy, gratitude, and a heart full of praise.

November 24, 2011


Monday was a bust. My to-do list had several items that I either didn’t want to do or was unsure how to do them. Instead of getting at them, I procrastinated. Perhaps I thought that the greatest labor-saving device of that day was tomorrow, but at the end of the day, I was mad at myself. The problem with procrastination on any day is that the next day has twice the work. Not only that, not doing what needs to be done can have far-reaching consequences.
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. (Proverbs 24:33–34)
Spurgeon says that lazy people usually ask for only a little slumber because they would be indignant if accused of total idleness. If I crave only a little time off, a little self-indulgence, I can come up with all sorts of reasons for my unwillingness to do anything. I’m tired. My back hurts. I worked hard yesterday. I don’t feel good.

I’m not knocking proper rest. There is a time for that. However, I know the difference between rest and putting off work because I am lazy or procrastinating. I also know that these little indulgences add up. Minutes add into hours, then days and weeks and years. Soon the time for doing them is gone and I know I will not live long enough to catch up on the “should haves” that I left for a more convenient day.

Time passes quickly. Life can be wasted by droplets, seasons of grace lost by little lapses. In the days like Monday was, God teaches me how frail are my good intentions. In myself, do not have the wisdom or motivation to use my time well. I need the Holy Spirit to keep my priorities right and to have whatever it takes to overcome those uncertainties regarding the things I avoid.

The verses from Proverbs are a warning. Those who sit on their good intentions can be overcome by poverty. Procrastination is like a thief that robs me of the fulfillment that comes from obedience. If God were telling me to take a rest that would be fine, but when God urges me to finish this or tackle that, and I make excuses, then what? At worst, the opportunity will never come again. Even if it does, something else must be put aside for I’ve crowded two things into a space where only one will fit.

Indecision and procrastination do not fit a description of walking by faith. Faith hears and obeys. Procrastination hears but hums and haws. I grew up on a farm. There was seeding and harvesting, each in its time. My father could not tarry. If he did not do either at the appropriate time, there was not a second chance. The crop would be lost. What am I losing by procrastination?

God, You are gracious and most certainly a God of second changes. However, time is relentless and I know it is possible to put things off until there is no more opportunity. As I wrestle with indecision, laziness and procrastination, remind me that this is not only selfishness, but actually a lack of faith. You are able to equip and help me with all those things that I either dread or am uncertain about. Your Spirit gives the fruit of self-control meaning a discipline to ignore my own selfishness and instead move ahead, doing all that You ask me to do. Tuesday was like that, in great contrast to Monday. You know what I need. Each day, fill me with Your Spirit that I might live in confidence, work with diligence, and turn my back on procrastination.

November 23, 2011

Genuine Fellowship

Fellowship is not milk and cookies in the church basement. It is not a good visit over dinner, or a long walk in the park with a Christian friend. It can happen in these places, but not always.

Christian fellowship is about Jesus. Fellowship with Him has nothing to do with food or location. It is more like a partnership, a joining of heart and mind. It is knowing each other, sharing ourselves, being in harmony. This works the same in fellowship between genuine believers. One definition says Christian fellowship is joint participation in the person of Christ with mutuality of spirit. 

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 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 1:6–7)
Fellowship cannot happen where sin is practiced. My “participation” in Jesus is blocked when I sin, therefore I cannot freely share with Him. Sin also ruins freely sharing Jesus with others. There must be a transparent openness in my life so that others can see Him in me. Sin blocks that transparency and spoils fellowship.

While walking in the flesh is also sinful, it might not appear as if I am doing anything evil. Life in the flesh is characterized by making everything all about me. I am not relying on God but on my own strength. I could go through the motions of Christian living this way, but when the flesh is in charge, fellowship cannot happen. Genuine fellowship depends on the vehicle of the Holy Spirit, who is that necessary “mutuality of spirit” in the definition. Without Him filling my life, I cannot obey God, walk in the light, or have fellowship with anyone.

Author Larry Crabb writes about layers that also spoil transparency. These are false personas that we use to hide ourselves because we are afraid that if others could see the real person, we would be rejected. We might successfully hide our sinful self, but if we belong to Jesus, the real person gets hidden also. We can share with others, but it will be superficial because genuine fellowship is blocked by these layers.

On those occasions when I am free from sin and can peel back any layers to spend time with other Christians who are free from sin and layers also, each of us experience Jesus in the other people. We each see His grace and kindness, truth and mercy, power and joy. This is genuine fellowship.

Lord, You have blessed me with the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ. I am a jar of clay holding a great treasure. If others are to experience Jesus because of me, then I need to be transparent, open, honest, and even broken in humility. If I am to experience Jesus in others, I may not be able to see Him because of their layers, but my own layers can also block fellowship from anyone who is walking in the light with You. Cleanse me from anything that prevents fellowship. You want me to walk in the light that You shine into my life, not merely for my own edification and fellowship with You, but that I might have that grand experience of mutually sharing You in communion with other Christians.

November 22, 2011

Knowing Jesus Christ

The European Sami people recognize about 300 different qualities of snow and winter pasture. In their language, each one is defined by a separate word. In English we need adjectives to distinguish between hard-packed and fluffy, a skiff and a dump of snow.

It is the same with knowing someone. When asked if I know someone, that knowing could be anything from being just introduced, to the intimacy of deep friendship. Our English word for “know” does not make the distinction without adjectives. However, the Greek language uses a word for knowing someone that means an absolute, deep and total knowledge.

Jesus uses this word to define eternal life. In a prayer to His Father, He said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Paul also defined walking with Christ as knowing Him. First, having that intimate relationship gives us eternal life as Jesus said, and second, knowing Him more deeply is part of becoming more like Him as we live here and move toward our eternal destiny.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8–11)
I understand what it means to know Jesus and to abandon all else that I once counted on for my significance, but the last line of this passage puzzles me. Paul, always certain of his eternal destiny, seems to waver here. However, after a deeper look, I’m satisfied that this is not doubt. Instead, this is Paul’s way of expressing uncertainty whether he will attain the deeper intimacy he describes through transformation in this life, or if his “resurrection from the dead” will be fully realized when He steps from here into eternity.

There are at least two reasons Paul wrote verse 11 the way he did. One is to emphasize that the resurrection of believers is tied to us first “being conformed to His death.” Jesus gave up His life in obedience to God. We are to do the same. In fact, without “death” of this kind, there is no resurrection. This is another way of saying “we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Paul’s eternal future is not in doubt because all of Paul’s writing refutes such an notion. What is uncertain is whether this certain future will be realized more fully by transformation here in this life, or by that final  resurrection when he sees Jesus (see vv. 20–21). This matter is in God’s hands, to which Paul submits by this use of language.

Second, this is Paul’s way of moving toward his concern for Philippians. He wants them to “stand firm” in their present life and not lose focus or their anticipation of  this certain future in Christ. That means verse 11 cannot be read without the verses that follow it. Paul is talking about the “now you are saved” and the “full salvation is not yet” aspect of our being a Christian. He wants them to exercise every effort to bring the end of the story to full realization, at least as much as is possible in this life.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12–14)
I now know Jesus. He is both Lord and dear Friend. Someday I will know Him in a deeper way that I cannot imagine, a face-to-face intimacy that can only come through physical death. Yet even now, a deeper relationship is possible. It requires death to self and my old life. For that reason, I press on toward the mark.

Father, Your goal for me is clear. I am to be like Jesus and this happens only as I gaze at His glory, spend time in His presence, and do what He says. One day, I will be just like Him for I shall see Him like He is. For now, I am grateful for the glimpses You give, the work of change You are doing, and for the wonderful and certain promises of that final and total transformation.

November 21, 2011

Sticks and stones and hurtful words

Yesterday’s Bible study was about speaking the truth. I’d not planned to, but during the class was prompted to read a page from the book mentioned in yesterday’s post. One of the women in the class said that it seemed as if God was speaking through the words read and suggested we start a book club and make this book the first one every person reads.

Truth and words have great power if rightly used. It isn’t enough to say (or write) what is true, but to say it as the Spirit of God motivates and leads. When a Spirit-filled person says words that God gives them to say, lives are changed. Spurgeon says the same thing in his devotional for today. It is based on one of these verses . . . 

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25–32)
Notice the focus on speaking truth and allowing God to rule in our relationships. No lies, properly dealing with anger, sharing not stealing, edifying words not harmful speech, and blessing others rather than harming them.

The Bible describes the capacity of our tongue in many other places. Proverbs says that it holds the power of life and death. James says it can be like a small rudder turning a big ship, or like a destructive fire. He also says no one can control it.

We know the struggle. We talk too much, or say the wrong thing, or spread gossip, or rile others — with our tongues. Feelings are hurt, friendships ruined, marriages put adrift, business relationships strained, all because we cannot put adequate controls on our words. Research says physical abuse does not stay in with a person nearly as long as verbal abuse. Words do hurt and such destruction is not only painful, but difficult to turn around and take back. Once the damage is done, it is almost impossible to repair.

For this, Spurgeon focuses on the short phrase that says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” He knows, and I am learning, that the only way to control our tongues by walking in the Spirit, by being filled with the Spirit, by obeying Him instead of our fleshy and sinful impulses.

He says just as all blessings flow to me through the Holy Spirit, “so also no good thing can come out of you in holy thought, devout worship, or gracious act, apart from the sanctifying operation of the same Spirit.” I have Jesus Christ in my life, but even then, His life lies dormant in me unless the Spirit of God is at work to bring it forth. I cannot speak for Jesus unless the Holy Ghost touches my tongue.

The Bible is clear on this matter. I cannot even pray as I ought without the help of the Holy Spirit, never mind subdue sin, be holy or imitate Christ. If I want to be zealous for Christ and His kingdom, then I must recognize that without Jesus, I can do nothing. I am a dead branch unless I am abiding in the vine, without fruit and without the vibrant life God gives through his Spirit.

This short verse means I can cause grief to God’s Spirit. Other verses say that I can also provoke Him to anger by my sin and “quench” Him by refusing to listen and obey. How vital to my spiritual life to heed every prompting and attempt nothing without the Holy Spirit. How often I begin a project without imploring His blessing, never mind finding out if this is what He wants from me. How often I enter into something with zeal instead of realizing that His strength is perfected in weakness. Do I stop to think that my zeal could be an indication that He is not with me, and the ideas are merely my own?

Just as truth and words have great power, so also does the Holy Spirit. To speak truth (or do anything) apart from Him is almost always damaging. To even talk at all without the Spirit guiding what I say can prove that the tongue has deadly power and is not only harmful to others, but grieves the Spirit of God.

Father, again I realize that You have good reason to tell me to “Be still” for what I say needs to be at Your prompting. Otherwise my words can be useless at best or corrupt and harmful at worst. Grant me grace to listen to Your leading and speak only when You speak to me.

November 20, 2011

What to do when mistreated

Retaliation and vengeance are natural for human beings, even for most animals. While some loyal pets might lick the hand that beats it, most of us who walk on two legs will bite back. Our self-defense mechanism kicks in before our brains or any idea of doing good to our enemies.

I’m reading an excellent book by Joseph M. Stowell called “The Weight of Your Words: Measuring the Impact of What You Say.” This book should be required reading for every Christian. He presents a solid biblical perspective on the power of the tongue and how destructive words can be. As I go through it, I’m thinking it is no wonder that God tells us to “be still. . . .”

After the halfway point in the book, Stowell outlines ways to deal with the factors that often set off our tongues. A major section is how Christians can respond to anger and fear. His first directive is that we must trust God when others hurt us. As providence would have it, this morning’s Scripture verses in my devotional reading are about that very thing.

You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life. You have seen the wrong done to me, O LORD; judge my cause. You have seen all their vengeance, all their plots against me. You have heard their taunts, O LORD, all their plots against me. The lips and thoughts of my assailants are against me all the day long. Behold their sitting and their rising; I am the object of their taunts. You will repay them, O LORD, according to the work of their hands. (Lamentations 3:58–64)
Jeremiah brought God’s Word to the people, but was ignored, rejected, even thrown in a well and left to die. If anyone had reason to be upset with his enemies, he did, but instead of retaliation, he gratefully acknowledged the grace and power of God. He knew that God is just and he trusted Him to take care of those who had harmed him.

When someone does something hurtful against me, I am no different from the average person; I want to hurt them back. Such a response is counterproductive, selfish, and sinful. Instead, God wants me to trust Him like Jeremiah did. This is not so much about self-control, or being logical. Both are difficult in times of pain brought on by unjust treatment. However, Jesus provides the perfect example of trust. Because He lives in me, I can rely on His responses instead of my own. This means saying no to my own responses and yielding to His attitude of trust.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:22–23)
Jesus trusted His Father to take care of His enemies. Because of Him, I can do the same. God knows all and knows what to do when attacks come against the apple of His eye. He cherishes His redeemed people and will take up our cause. For me, believing Him is vital. Like Jeremiah, I need to be confident that God is just and cares about any unjust actions against me.

Lord, I do not have to defend myself. You will do it. I’ve learned this by experience and read it over and over in Your Word. It is Your desire that I put all my concerns, cares, and pain into Your hands. Your solutions are always the right solutions. Mine only create more strife. Besides, if I decide to take matters into my own hands, then You must deal with my sinfulness too. Because You love me, my spiritual condition takes priority over what You had planned to do to my enemies. You know that the response of trust happens only when I am yielded to the Holy Spirit and walking in harmony with You. Keep me there that I might trust You in any and every circumstance that puts selfish thoughts of getting even in my heart.

November 19, 2011

Avoid Foolish Questions

The title of this post speaks to two things. One is that I’ve been deeply affected by people who ask foolish questions, and two, I have been asking them myself.

Those who ask questions that have either no answers, or they will not accept the answers given, are what my husband calls “high maintenance” people. Like the child on a trip who continually harps, “Are we there yet?” they test the patience of everyone around them. Not only that, they spoil the trip.

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:9–11)
These verses speak strongly about the trouble caused in the church by foolish questions, but for me today, I want to think about the foolish questions that I ask God. They fall into a couple of categories.

Sometimes I ask God to do things that He has already promised to do. For instance, every time I say, “Lord, be with me” I am ignoring the fact that He has promised to “never leave or forsake” me. Far better to thank Him that He is here than act and ask as if I am not paying attention.

Sometimes I ask God about issues for which He has already given His answer. One example is when I ask about the topic for the next Bible study. Sometimes, after He makes the answer clear, I begin to second-guess Him and ask again. That is a lack of faith in what He said, and it tends to pull my fleshy ‘wisdom’ into the picture. I want the answer to make sense to me. However, I am just being rude to God.

Another foolish question is asking God about the spiritual life of someone else. My relationship with Him is not about other people. He rarely gives me anything about others. I am to walk with Him in perfect obedience. If I do that, then how I interact with others will be correct, without me knowing their situation and needing to figure out how I should behave concerning them. This involves listening to the Holy Spirit and doing what He says, not needing to know everything about everything.

Often my foolish questions are about the way the world is run. I know that God is sovereign. I also know that human beings can make a royal mess of things. I am one of them. When the evening news breaks my heart, I can see that sin is at the root of what is happening. However, asking God “Why?” insinuates that He is at the root of it. Instead of foolish questions, serious prayer ought to come out of my mouth. When I pray, God answers. He may even send me to be part of the answer. When I ask questions, I am eroding my own faith.

Spurgeon has wise advice concerning questions. He says there are some questions which are the reverse of foolish and not to be avoided. He gives a few examples. Do I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Am I renewed in the spirit of my mind? Am I walking not after the flesh, but after the Spirit? Am I growing in grace? Does my conversation adorn the doctrine of God my Savior? Am I looking for the coming of the Lord, and watching as a servant should do who expects his master? What more can I do for Jesus?

These questions more urgently demand my attention rather than asking for answers from God or from anyone else. If my analytical and critical abilities are given to questions like this, God is pleased and I will profit. Spurgeon also changes me to be instead a peacemaker who pours my energy into leading others by precept and example — to trust God and avoid foolish questions.

Father, You know what foolish questions have put me through this week, not my own, but those asked by people who have stirred up strife in the asking. I see the harm in that, but also the harm in the way that I often question You. I can chip away at my own faith by wanting to know things You have either already told me, or that are none of my business. I’m to trust You, not demand answers that would enable me to walk by “information” instead of by faith. Deepen my grasp of this truth and help me walk in it as a good example.

November 18, 2011

Free Indeed

Today’s devotional reading, this time from “My Utmost for His Highest,” rekindles a germ of an idea that I’ve not studied or thought through in great depth. However, this intrigues me and draws me to consider once more what it means to be a Christian.

My example is Jesus Christ. He is God in human flesh. How did this happen? The Bible says He lived on earth as a sinless man, not relying on His God-ness, but on the Holy Spirit, just as Christians are supposed to do.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5–8)
If I am to be like Jesus, I can think as He thinks because He lives in me and I have His mind. (1 Corinthians 2:16). Yet unlike Jesus who began as deity and occupied a human body, I started out as a sinful human being and am now occupied by deity. Also unlike Jesus who choose to live as a sinless human, I now must choose to live by faith in the Son of God who lives in me. 
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
My question is how much of me is involved in this? When I decide to live in the flesh and have my own way, I know that is fully me. Jesus, who lives in me, never instigates nor promotes that decision. However, when I decide to obey the Holy Spirit and present myself to God in humble admission of my need for Him, is that me? Or did Jesus living in me produce that decision?

The devotional says that in our own personality, those who are Christian have the capacity to humble ourselves, discipline ourselves, even to stop sinning. This is not true for everyone, but for Christians because, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

We have been released from the penalty of sin by the death and resurrection of our Savior. We are being released from the power of sin by the fact of His indwelling presence. Because of that, then our battle is not against sin and death (that battle is won) but against that old sinful nature called the flesh. The flesh is the self-centered individuality that wants to live and act apart from God. In my flesh, I will choose to ignore the new creation of “Christ in me” and try to avoid God. Yet, as today’s reading says, I have, as a set-free-from-sin Christian, the capacity to now “present that fleshy natural life to God until it is transformed into a spiritual life by obedience.

At least one cult teaches that Christ gives us the power to earn our salvation. I now understand how they think that. They err because they do not realize that when we are set free from sin (and given this power to choose), we are at that moment, set free from the penalty of sin. We never earn or deserve that. Salvation is a gift by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) and with this gift, we are set free to choose how to live. The saved person can live by faith in Christ or by trusting the old flesh. Yet we discover a wonderful reality: the life of Christ is so powerful that it cannot be denied. As Galatians 2:20 says, He has identified us with Himself to the extent that when He died on the cross, we died with Him. That old self is separated from God forever. Our new life is far too wonderful to put on a shelf and ignore. It just keeps bubbling up like a spring of living water.

The devotional today says that any remnant of individual conceit will always say ‘I can’t’ whereas the new person wants more and more of Christ. God designed us with a great capacity for Himself. Sin and the flesh keep us from getting at God. Yet He delivered us from sin. Our battle is with the flesh and we can deliver ourselves from it by presenting ourselves to God, sacrificing our I-wants and selfishness until we are living by faith and not flesh.

This reading also says that God does not pay any attention to our natural individuality in the development of our spiritual life. I agree. I may have a good IQ or some sort of talent or ability, but none of that matters. It is still
‘self’ and I am not to live by it. God calls me to obey Him, whether I think I can do something or not. 

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
I cannot even plead that I suffer from wandering thoughts, because He tells me to stop doing it. I’m to instead cease from listening to the tyranny of my fleshy individuality and selfishness, and live in the freedom of one who has been set free. If I ask God to do what He asks me to do, I’ve forgotten that what I ask has already been made possible and I just need to walk into that freedom.

Father, my mind still cannot wrap itself around the God-man idea of Jesus compared to the me-Jesus idea of being Christian, but I know one thing: You have delivered me from the penalty of sin and given me eternal life. You have also provided Jesus so I am being delivered from the power of sin. That process is not about earning eternal life, but about letting the eternal life which I already have, be the source of everything that I think, say, and do. My old nature is useless, even crucified. May I continually consider it dead and therefore live as one who has been set free, because, by grace, the Son of God has made me “free indeed.”

November 17, 2011

To Him be Glory

More than twenty years into being a Christian I listened to a series of eight sermons on worship. These sermons were so convicting that I wondered if I was even a Christian. The preacher emphasized that our whole purpose for being here as believers in Christ is to glorify God. 
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)
Before salvation, I was totally into glorifying myself. After salvation, I fell in love with Jesus, but still had that self-interest. Giving glory to God was seldom automatic. To do it required discipline, even practice. I’d write something that put me first, then realized this was of God and edit my sentences. That still happens. Glorifying God means humility, even that I’m never on my mind.

Spurgeon says this should be the single desire of a Christian. All other desires must yield to this one. I might want prosperity, but only so far as it can be used to glorify God. I might want more grace and increased spiritual gifts, but only that I might increasingly glorify God. As the Bible says, “Whenever I speak, it is as one who speaks oracles of God; whenever I serve, it is as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11, personalized)

Today’s devotional says that I must be totally motivated by wanting the Lord’s glory. I am “of God, and through God” so must also live “to God.” This means that He is first, permeating all that I think, say, and do. My love for Him and for His glory should be the ambition of my soul and the foundation of everything I do. When self worms its way into things, then joy rapidly falls away to frustration, lost fellowship, and even sorrow.

This desire to glorify God should be and is a growing desire. At first, it was an ideal, like wanting to be thinner or wanting to be a good artist. Yet He has taught me that neither of these come as easily as the wish for them. Both involve discipline, practicing good habits, and hard work. It is the same for glorifying God. I began wanting to do it, but wanting to do it and actually doing it are not the same. As the years pass, God becomes more central, yet I have not arrived. I still like praise given to me. I still find myself robbing God of His glory and taking it for myself.

Jesus, You lived for Your Father’s glory and You live in me. When I live for my own glory, this reveals that self, rather than You, is in control of my life. May this desire for Your glory increase. Work in me that I will return to You all that You are due. In You, I live and move and have my being. All that I have and enjoy is because of Your goodness and grace. You have blessed and honored me.

God, forgive me for basking in the sunshine without giving credit to the Son who has shone so gloriously in my life. May You persist in patient grace so that I more deeply and more often spontaneously bless, honor, and glorify You.

November 16, 2011

Therefore my Hope is in Him

A woman told us, “My faith is very important to me.” Another said the same about her church. These statements cause me to ask myself what is important to me? Faith is precious. The church is also, as is the Bible and prayer. My family and friends are high on the list, and things like the ability to see and hear and taste and create. Yet none of these are at the top of the list. Instead, I have to agree with Jeremiah who wrote,
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:24)
This isn’t about a halfway, Sunday-only resource. God might have been in only one compartment of life at the beginning of my walk with Jesus, but since then He has shown me that every part of me, every area of life is empty and useless without Him. He is my portion, my sole resource, my life, my everything — for all of it.

Faith apart from the object of faith is empty. It cannot exist by itself. Just believing implies believing in something. If that something cannot pass all tests, then that faith loses its value. Because the Lord passes all the tests, my faith in Him is important, but not as important as He is.

Church is important too. However, without Jesus it would not exist. The biblical church is made up of all who do believe in Him, who have new life in Him, who are relying on Him totally — not only for eternal life but for this life also. We have Jesus in common and because He lives in us, we have a communion that is unlike any other. This does not depend on being alike, having the same interests or even speaking the same language. It is because of our God, not any other reason that we are united. He is our portion.

All genuine spiritual disciplines and practices center on Jesus Christ. We read the Bible to hear His Word. We pray to share our hearts with Him. We gather together to praise His name and worship Him. He is our portion.

Family and friends are vital also, sometimes even more so if we share the same life of Christ. And if not, those who know Jesus deeply desire to share Him with those who do not. We share His love and life so that they too might know Him as their portion.

All comes from Him. In Him I live and move. Because of Him, I am alive and breathing. He gives me health, ideas, abilities. Because He created me in His image, I have a spirit that longs for Him, a soul that drinks deeply from Him, hands that gladly serve Him. All creativity and the desire to do good and obey Him are from the One who is my portion. Therefore my hope is in Him.

Lord, You are at the top of my priority list, even at the center of all other things on that list. You are my life. You satisfy all my needs and fulfill all desires. What more can I say? Thank You.

November 15, 2011

The best way to help others

In one of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia books, two children are riding horses when Aslan, the lion who represents Christ, leaps on one horse and rips at the back of one of the children. When the other child asks Aslan why he did that, the lion says, “That is her story.”

This directly points to what happened in a conversation with Peter after Jesus rose from the dead. He indicated to Peter that he would be martyred in serving Him. Peter wanted to know about John.

When Peter saw him (John), he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:21–22)
Over the years of being a Christian, I have learned to pray more instead of jumping into things that need to be “fixed.” Backing off is a tough lesson, particularly when it involves those close to me. This must be even more difficult for those gifted with compassion (not my strong suit). When others are suffering, we want to bail them out, or at least help them through it. I’m a parent of three adult children and as any parent knows, we must learn to let God do His work without interfering.

I have to trust God with His plans for the lives of others. Sometimes those plans include suffering, just as His plans for my life have included trials and difficulties. If I interfere with God’s plan by jumping in to help without seeking His mind on the matter, I’m apt to hear, “What is that to you? You follow me.”

Some instances, such as spiritual stagnation or being overtaken by a sin often require the people of God to go to the aid of a brother or sister in Christ. Sometimes others are in trouble with money, or illness, or dire need of some kind, but God teaches me to get into His presence and find out the reason for it. If it is none of my business, then I need to at least find out what He wants from me.

The surprise is that very rarely does God ask His people to propose or advise someone else in a direct way. Instead, the Holy Spirit tends to use His people almost unconsciously. That is, when I am rightly related to God and filled with His Spirit, I will be doing and saying things that He can use. Most of the time, I’ve no idea that He is using me. Instead, I’m merely doing whatever the Spirit puts in my heart, living in a joyful freedom of obedience.

Oswald Chambers likens this to the life of a child. A child is seldom self-conscious and making grand plans. Instead, children are abandoned to whatever play absorbs them. I am to be so abandoned to God that the awareness of being used by Him simply is not there. Instead, I am aware of my need of Him and my dependence upon Him. I know that in myself, I can do nothing, yet I know He is with me and I am free to live in His presence.

I’m also conscious of others. However, that awareness is never independent of a right relationship with God. He governs my burdens for them, any understanding of them, and gives a sense of what I must do (or not do) in regard to my relationship with them. Yet all of this is never contrived or planned. Walking with Jesus is about “being” more than doing, about focus rather than strategy, and about faith, not sight. When I am right with God, He can do whatever He wants with me and I will not notice — because my eyes are not on me, and not even on others so much as they are on Jesus.

Father, You ask me to walk by faith, not by sight. The needs of others can sometimes overwhelm me. I hate to see others struggle and suffer, but at the same time, what do I know about Your plan in their lives? Their struggle might be the very thing You use to bring them into a right relationship with You. How dare I interfere with that!

At the same time, I know that sometimes You may want me to act. My own wisdom and understanding cannot tell when this is Your will either. Whatever is the best course of action always requires being close to You and listening to You. May this be true of my life, for this day, for the days ahead, and for all the needy people that come across my path.

November 14, 2011

Double-mindedness, guilt trips, and glory

We met a Chinese woman yesterday who did very well practicing her English. She told us that she didn’t like people who wear a mask. “You cannot tell what they are thinking. I like to be straight, to say what I think, to be who I am without hiding.”

People have many ways of wearing masks. Some youth show one side of themselves to their family, another to friends. Many politicians and others in public service have earned reputations as mask-wearers. One young woman told me that she felt she had to put on a happy face while in church for that is what everyone expects.

God doesn’t expect that. He asks that we be transparent and honest in all our dealings. The Bible is filled with examples of those that were not. One extreme were some priests in the Old Testament. 

I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests, those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by Milcom, those who have turned back from following the LORD, who do not seek the LORD or inquire of him. (Zephaniah 1:4–6)
These religious leaders claimed to follow Jehovah yet bowed at the same time to Milcom, an Ammonite idol. They played both sides of the fence in their efforts to keep everyone happy. As Spurgeon says, their duplicity was abominable in God’s sight and He hated their hypocrisy.

Spurgeon also points out that an idolater who distinctly gives himself to his false god at least has one sin less than the one who brings his idolatry into the temple of the Lord. Faking it by having one foot in the world and sinful living and the other in the church with a false declaration of commitment to Jesus Christ is subject to great judgment. In common daily life, a double-minded person is not well-received, but in religion he is loathsome.

The penalty in these verses is being cut off from God. This is extreme, yet how can God spare anyone who knows what is right, says they believe it, even professes to follow it, but actually loves evil, and gives it first place in his heart and life?

It is easy to point fingers. I also need to be watchful against double-mindedness. Last night someone was talking about their ministry with their neighbors. The descriptions were lengthy and I found myself being polite rather than interested, wanting to go home rather than listening. My demeanor did not match my heart — and this is the beginning of double-mindedness.

Sometimes I must simply say what I think instead of wear a mask, yet that can be hurtful. More often, I need to confess my bad attitude to God and ask Him to change the way I think. Far kinder to genuinely care about others than to confess to them that I don’t, or worse, to pretend that I do.

Spurgeon says to have one foot on the land of truth, and another on the sea of falsehood will involve a terrible fall and a total ruin. He is right. Living for Christ means all or nothing. God fills the whole universe. There is no room for another God, whether it is my own fleshy desires, worldly distractions, or idols that I allow to reign in my heart. Does my salvation rest alone on Jesus Christ crucified? Do I live alone for Him? Is my heart fully set on kingdom matters? Or do I have split dedication? Or even worse, a pretense about what is important?

Lord, a man we know complains that most of the New Testament should not be in the Bible because it sends people on a guilt trip. Such an idea is heartbreaking. If we are guilty, You want us to know so You can give us victory over our sin and set us free from guilt and from its power. No one can be happy-happy-happy all the time. Who are we to expect never to feel guilt? You use all of life to transform us into the image of Your Son. Obviously we are not there yet, and obviously we need to know what is wrong with us before we can bring it to You to be purged from our lives. We need guilt to be healed.

Questions like those You raise this morning may take me on a guilt trip but the destination is not horrible. If I confess my sin You are faithful and just to forgive my sin and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. If I don’t try to fake it and am open with You about my guilt, then You make sure that the end of the trip is not condemnation but grand and glorious.

November 13, 2011

Continually abiding?

Spurgeon has two devotionals in his book, one for the morning and one for evening. Today, his morning thoughts are on being an effective Christian. This involves relying on Christ all the time.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. (John 15:4)
Abide is a simple word meaning to stay, dwell, or remain. Later on in this chapter, Jesus says that the way to do it is by obedience. I’ve also learned that if I’m not relying on Him, then I need to confess and repent, turning from whatever else I was relying on, usually myself.

Yesterday, the Lord spoke to me about constantly going to Him in prayer, asking Him for everything, praying until He answers. Today’s evening devotional ties both thoughts together. The evidence of a heart that knows where its source of strength comes from is in that person’s prayer life, in my prayer life.

And (Jesus) told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. (Luke 18:1)

But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:36)

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:18)

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2)

Pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Sometimes I imagine God behind a desk as the CEO of the universe and I have a chair in front of Him. He bids me speak my concerns and I am free to tell Him all that is on my heart.

Sometimes the phone rings and the person on the other end says, “I have a favor to ask. . . .” Immediately and before I know what that favor is, I utter a silent prayer to God for wisdom.

Sometimes we are in a strange place and cannot find our way. Sometimes I have a perplexing problem to solve. Sometimes my computer acts up, or our telephone doesn’t work. Sometimes our children are sick, or injured. This week I’m reading a novel that describes criminal activity in Asia and I am anxious about our granddaughter who lives there. Sometimes there are problems in our church, or the neighbors have trials and share their distress. Sometimes another person is upset with me, or with someone and brings their angst to my ears.

There is no end of things to pray about, to rely on God for. If I am not praying continually, what does that say about my faith? Do I trust God to work His will in every perplexity? Do I rely on Him to give grace, wisdom, strength, power to forgive, or whatever else that I need in all situations? If I’m not praying all the time, then who or what am I trusting?

Lord, I know that You do not mean that I should be physically on my knees 24/7, but that my heart and mind are quick to turn to You and talk to You, no matter what comes up. Sometimes that prayer is a whispered “Help” and sometimes a shouted “Praise God” but there is very little that I do where I cannot be talking to You at the same time. Prayer is only a breath away, which means Your resources are at the tip of my tongue, waiting for me to ask that You might release them. So often I feel like a beginner. Teach me to pray.

November 12, 2011

Persistent Prayer

In an age when some say that the light of Christianity is growing dim, I was encouraged to hear of a young man who had his eye on a young woman, but instead of making his move, he sought God’s will. For him, this was not a simple matter nor one that warranted a mere quick prayer. Instead, he prayed for an entire year to make sure dating her would meet God’s favor.

While questions could be asked about the delayed answer, I’m awestruck by this person’s dedication to obedience. He wanted to make the best choice and who better to ask than God who knows all things.

Jesus, in His humanity, laid aside certain aspects of His deity that He might be like us in all things. By this, He showed us how we ought to trust our heavenly Father and function as people of faith. He set the example in seeking the will of God before making a major decision. 

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles. (Luke 6:12–13)
In Jesus’ situation, He prayed all night. Unlike us, He had no growing to do, no maturing of mind and body before God would reveal to Him which men to select. He also did not have to prove His persistence to want the right choice. He was sinless and mature, deeply in tune with the mind of God, yet He set the example by praying all night.

I can pray for an hour or two. I usually need a list to help me focus. Sometimes I use the prayers of others, repeating those ideas in my own words. I also use Scripture because it is good to pray God’s Word back to Him; then I know for certain that I am praying in His will.

For the past forty years, God has been teaching me to pray about everything, but I still forget or get sidetracked. Pride? Perhaps. Scattered mind? For certain. Could I pray all night? I’m doubtful. Could I pray for a year, or even more, about a decision? Perhaps. I’m continually seeking the will of God for daily choices, and continually praying for family, friends, our church, civic leaders, and other burdens and concerns. Even at that, I am both blessed and convicted by the dedication of one young person to seek the will of God in his choice of a life partner. 

Father, first I thank You that You have people of faith who demonstrate their trust in You in this way. Bless this young man and his chosen partner. Grant them great grace and Your blessing on their lives. May they always be this conscientious toward Your will in their decisions.

Second, I thank You for Your patience with me for the many times I have done what I thought was best without even thinking to ask You about it. I know that some would chide me and say that “God gave you a brain — use it” but You certainly gave Your Son a brain too. He never did anything without seeking Your will. Even near the end of His life here, He said, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” Give me the same heart and attitude so that no matter what lies before me, I am determined to think, speak and act according to Your will. May I be determined to spend whatever time in prayer that is necessary in order to find out what You want from me.

November 11, 2011

He chooses my heritage

It isn’t only on Remembrance Day that I think what life might be like had one or both of the two world wars turned out differently. Sometimes I imagine myself in a war zone with danger all around and my house a bombed shell with missing walls. I do this to identify with those to whom this actually happens, to recognize that I am in this place by the grace of God, and to appreciate where and what we have.

Human pride tends to always want bigger, better and more. Instead of being thankful for the blessings I enjoy, gratitude is a discipline that I must work on. I’m thankful for even reminders to be thankful — and this day offers such reminders.

Yesterday, one of the family tree sites offered a free search regarding soldiers so I searched the names of two great uncles who served in WWI. I may have met them as a child yet do not remember their faces. As I read their draft registration and attestation papers, tears filled my eyes. Warriors such as these two soldiers made possible the freedoms that we enjoy.

However, God, who is sovereign over all, has the ultimate say in where I am and what happens to me. The psalmist encourages praise and worship for the One who ultimately has control over our heritage . . . 

Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth. He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah (Psalm 47:1–4)
I’ve complained about my lot in life and should be ashamed. No matter what my heritage is, I should be satisfied for God has chosen it. Because He is wise and good, that means His choice is the wisest and best choice.

Spurgeon uses the example of a large ship sailing up a river into the harbor, weaving and meandering. Some might ask why the captain does not bring it into the harbor by a straight line. But the captain knows the rocks and sandbanks. He steers the safest course so the ship does not run aground.

So it is with the course of my life. My divine Captain steers me into what seems like depths of affliction with waves of trouble, yet “He knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10). His eye is not only on the harbor but on the safest route to get me there.

Spurgeon also points to a simple house plant. Some plants will die if they have too much sunshine. I might be planted where I think I do not have enough of sunshine or delightful blessings. I used to wonder what my life would have been like had I attended art school as my parents wanted, or married differently, or lived in another place, or earned a doctorate but I am put where I am by the love of God. He is in all decisions and opportunities. Because He is wise and loving, He has chosen my heritage. It is in this place where He can produce the most fruit for His glory.

I’m reminded that had any other condition or situation been better for me than the one in which I am in, divine love would have put me in that other place. Instead, God put me in the most suitable circumstances. If I’d have made the choice, no doubt I would be moaning to God to change things, to choose my inheritance for me, because I have learned that my selfish wisdom usually leads to disaster and sorrow.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). This is true. No matter my situation, I am learning contentment. The Lord has ordered all things for my good. All things may include a heavy cross or a lighter load, but any burdens are those best suited for me, and have already proven effective to draw me closer to God and more equipped to do His will.

Since these truths are not just for me, my mind goes to those whose lot in life included war and sorrow. I cannot even guess the mind of God and His intentions for those who have (and still are) suffered in these conflicts. Instead of trying to figure out anything that makes sense to me, faith urges me to trust God who also knows the way that everyone else takes too. His eye is on the sparrow. He knows the number of the hairs on our heads. He knows every soul that has suffered and died in wartime and in peace. He is the great king over all the earth, but also the loving shepherd who bids us to draw near and follow Him.

Lord, how could I ever think that I know better than You when it comes to choosing my lot in life. Vain ambition may have put me in a different place, but it would have not been the best place. Only You know me better than myself. I have made my plans, but You have directed my steps. I am so grateful to be in Your care and to know that the choices You make for me are good choices. Thank You. Please bless those in uniform today, and help them know that You hold their lives in Your precious and loving hands.

November 10, 2011

Even the homeless can have a Home

In my life, I’ve moved twenty-eight times. If averaged out, that means a move every two and a half years. I’ve heard said that it actually takes that two and a half years to recover from a move. Will I ever catch up? Or do I need to?

Home is a wonderful word and a real treasure for those who have one. My husband and I deeply enjoy our current home and as we consider downsizing, we have decided that this is the place to stay. We can downsize our ‘stuff’ instead. However, both of us have another home. For me, this other dwelling place has been mine for about forty years. It is not a ‘vacation’ home or a second property, but far more permanent . . . 

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1–2)

The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms . . . (Deuteronomy 33:27)
The words ‘dwelling place’ in the Deuteronomy verse can be translated “mansion,” or “abiding place.” This metaphor presents the blessed thought that God is my abode, my home. In fact, the New Testament speaks of me being “in Christ” which is another way to say that no matter where I am, Christ lives in me and I am told to abide in Him.

How sweet this metaphor. No matter where I have lived, home is a precious place. It is where I’ve felt safe, been able to rest and relax, been the most comfortable and the happiest. This is where I do my most enjoyable work, and spend time with those dearest to me.

The same is true of my refuge in God. He is my spiritual dwelling place. Because I abide in Him, I am secure and “fear no evil.” He is my shelter and retreat, my abiding refuge and safe place. In Him I find rest and comfort from the trials, struggles and conflicts of life. When I am caught up by life’s burdens, He says,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
As I abide in Him, I am not afraid of being misunderstood by others. Also, I can talk freely with Him, telling all of my concerns, even things no one else knows. He honors me, even says that “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). Not only that, as I abide in Him, He tells me His secrets as He said to His disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. . . .” (Matthew 13:11).

My home is delightful, yet as I abide in Christ I have a joy that surpasses all other delights. In His presence is fullness of joy. He grants me strength for daily burdens and grace to tackle all challenges. One look at the face of Jesus Christ and I am eager to serve Him with all my heart. As I abide in Him, I want to invite others to join me in this refuge and in the wonder of His care.

Lord, You are my dwelling place. In You, I live and move and have my being. I cannot imagine life apart from the sanctity of Your incredible love and care. Your mercy is my mansion. Your grace enables me to dwell in You and with You. I have a wood and stucco home here, but in You, I have a fortress, an eternal dwelling place, a perfect home. Thank You for wrapping and protecting me in Yourself.