Thursday, March 31, 2011

Grief that brings intense joy

Today my children and I travel to join my husband for his mother’s funeral. We know she believed in Jesus so she is with the Lord. The Bible says that we grieve, but not as others who are without this assurance.

Nevertheless, we grieve. Some of it is for the person who is no longer enjoying life, but as we focus on Mom’s eternal life, that grief cannot grip us very tightly. She is rejoicing with her Savior and we must also rejoice for her.

For many, a major part of grief is the emptiness that comes with loss. That emptiness can be so severe that those with strong wills determine to push it away. But grief cannot be pushed. It will come back stronger each time. The only way to weaken it is to allow it in and let it happen. Then, when it comes back, it has less power to devastate and eventually turns to good memories and, for Christians, the anticipation of seeing our loved ones again.

Spurgeon writes today about a different kind of grief, the grief that people experience when they realize what their sin did to the Son of God. 

But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
Spurgeon describes the scourge used by Roman officials. It was made of the sinews from oxen. Sharp bones were inter-twisted here and there among the sinews so that every time the lash came down, these pieces of bone inflicted savage laceration, tearing flesh from the bone.

Today’s devotional reading bids Christians to stand and weep over the body of Jesus that was so abased and abused for our sin. We must grieve His death even as we rejoice in His life, not because we have lost Him, but because He suffered so we might be redeemed from our lost state.

At the end of the morning reading, Spurgeon says, “We would fain go to our chambers and weep; but since our business calls us away, we will first pray our Beloved to print the image of his bleeding self upon the tablets of our hearts all the day, and at nightfall we will return to commune with him, and sorrow that our sin should have cost him so dear.”

Putting off this grief seemed strange behavior for this devoted man of God. It must have affected him that way too, for his evening devotional returned to the same topic. He used the example of an Old Testament woman protecting the bodies of her children to illustrate how we ought to feel and act concerning the death of our Lord and Savior. 

Then Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it for herself on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until rain fell upon them from the heavens. And she did not allow the birds of the air to come upon them by day, or the beasts of the field by night. (2 Samuel 21:10)
Spurgeon asks if the love of a woman to her slain sons could make her prolong her vigil, how can we become weary of considering the sufferings of Jesus? She drove away birds of prey. We ought to chase from our minds those preying thoughts that keep us from considering His death. She bore the heat of summer, night chills and rain, unsheltered and alone. She could not sleep because her heart was too full of sorrow. She loved her children. Do we love our Savior like that?

This woman endured. Do we quickly change our focus at the first little inconvenience or trial? She had courage to chase off wild beasts. Are we ready to encounter every foe for Jesus’ sake? Her children were slain by other hands, yet she wept and watched. What should we do when we recognize that it was our sin that put Jesus under such great suffering?

Spurgeon goes on to remind me that even though those ghastly corpses were horrible in the sight of Rizpah, there is nothing revolting, but everything compelling about my dying Savior. It is a grief but also an honor to stand at the foot of His Cross — weeping in total awareness of what He has done.

*****
Jesus, I am often guilty of spending a precious few moments with You only to be distracted by the cares of this world. When I do focus, I am usually thinking of the glory of who You are and the wonder of this eternal life You have shared with me. However, Spurgeon reminds me that I also need to gaze at Your suffering too. It was my sin that slashed into Your purity and innocence. It was for me that Your blood flowed in sacrifice that covered all sin.

Human grief when embraced usually ebbs, but this grief when embraced intensifies. Yet that is not a bad thing. Paul said he suffered the loss of all things, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). He knew this identification with Your suffering was a vital part of his devotion in serving You.

The greatest wonder is that grief for your pain and sorrow works a little like Your shed blood. That is, allowing myself to weep for Your pain becomes a catharsis for mine, and Your suffering becomes a most incredible solace.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

He went on the list so I could go off

In the past few weeks, tragedies like the horrors in Japan reveal the universal identification of man with man. When suffering happens, most people rally to support those in trouble, illustrating one aspect of how we are created in the image of God. He did it too.
Therefore I (Father God) will divide Him (Jesus) a portion with the many, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12)
Jesus identified with us. His name was put on the list alongside us, not because He committed sin like we do, but because He chose that list. He did it so He could bear our sin.

Spurgeon writes that Jesus allowed Himself to be enrolled among sinners for several reasons. One is that He could better become our advocate. This means that He, as our counselor (in a legal sense) identifies with us as His clients. That is, when we as sinners are brought up before the judge, Jesus appears there with us to answer the accusation. He is our Advocate.

But Jesus makes no excuses for our sin. Instead, He points to his side, his hands, his feet. The Judge cannot bring anything against those whom Jesus represents because He pleads His death for our sin. The penalty has already been paid. The Judge must say, “Let them go free for this One has taken the punishment for all of them.”

If that were not marvel enough, another reason Jesus allowed Himself to be put on the list with us is so our hearts would be drawn toward Him. As Spurgeon writes, who can be afraid of one who is written in the same list along with us? We can come to Him without fear and confess our guilt. He who is numbered with us will not condemn us. Instead, He has done everything necessary to set us free.

Jesus was put in the transgressor’s list that our names might be moved to another list — the roll of acceptance. He was holy and written there first, the only One who never sinned. Yet we are guilty and written on that unholy list. With great love and sacrifice, Jesus allowed His name to be added to our list that our names might come off it.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself . . . . For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18, 21)
By making Himself sin, by being numbered with the transgressors, Jesus took upon Himself all of our sinfulness and guilt and it killed Him. In exchange, He gave us all of His righteousness, and that gives us eternal life. This is the amazing wonder of the gospel, the good news!

A few years ago, a couple of false teachers came to my door. I used my Bible to show them these verses and explained this “great exchange” that makes it possible for sinners to be saved. When I said that Jesus took our sin on Himself and gave us His righteousness, one of them grabbed my Bible and said, “Let me see that.”

The other one grabbed her arm and said, “Jesus would never do that” and pulled her away. She would die in her sin rather than accept that Jesus Christ loves her so much that He died for her. Stranger still, she would take others with her rather than let them discover this great exchange for themselves.

*****
God, Your plan of salvation is so utterly amazing. As I think about what I just wrote, I shake my head at the marvel of what Jesus has done for sinners. You died for me, but the power of Your sinless life means that You could not stay dead. This also is amazing; You live forever and continue to offer eternal life to all who will believe. I’m so grateful that You let me see this and give me faith that knows it is true. Jesus has done everything needed — and more — to save sinners like myself.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

So that I may not sin . . .

Sometimes life sucks. How do I remain a contented child of God when the bottom falls out? How do I treat others well when ignored or despised or misunderstood? What do I do when everyone around me acts ignorantly or selfishly? Can I stand strong when I feel totally weak?

The Bible and my experience tell me that all of this is beyond me apart from Christ. In my humanness, I fall short. I will complain, be harsh and miserable toward others, sin and fall apart under pressure. Without Him, I have no spiritual power.

However, with Jesus I can do all things. He is my Rock, my solid place to stand. He gives me peace in storms, grace in sticky situations, and Holy Spirit power to obey God even in dire circumstances.

For a long time I thought that He can do this in me and does for me because He is fully divine, the Son of God. This morning I realize that this is not the main reason. Rather, Jesus saves and gives me that all I need in dire circumstances because He is fully human, the Son of man, and because He suffered.

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. (Hebrews 5:8–9)
While Jesus was on earth, He suffered as humanity suffers. He was hungry, thirsty, tired, misunderstood, ridiculed, rejected, scorned, lied to, physically beaten, abandoned, lonely, you name it. 
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
Jesus knows what human life is like. He experienced all of it, yet in all that He went through, He did not sin. In this, He knows how and what I suffer. He knows every temptation that I face and every misery that falls on me because He has been there and battled that.

But He didn’t sin — and He lives in me. This is why I can obey God in all my trials — not because I have the power, but because Jesus obeyed God in all trials — and He lives in me. He has the power and because He learned obedience through suffering, He gives that power to me. I can obey, even in tough times. He is the source of my salvation. He saves me from the power of sin as I do what He asks.

*****
Oh Jesus, the trials are not particularly difficult today, except that I am very tired and things seem bigger with fatigue. However, this truth and the reality of Your grace in trials are not for just this day. Times will come (as they have in the past) when the challenges of life will totally overwhelm me. During those toughest tests, and even now in less difficult days, do not let me forget that no matter how rocky my roads, You have walked all of them before me. You know exactly how to meet every twist and turn with grace and spiritual power. You know how to obey Your heavenly Father, no matter what.

I’m glad that you sympathize with my weaknesses, yet You did not go through such suffering so You might offer empathy or pity. You did it so that You could offer me Yourself and the ability to also obey my heavenly Father, no matter what.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Grace

My mother-in-law died last night. She was in her eighties and ready. She was not always the easiest person to be around, but she had her moments because she did know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Today she is with Him.

God almost always offers something from my daily devotional reading that suits my situation. Today is no exception. This passage describes God’s grace toward His people. 

As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the country that I swore to give to your fathers. And there you shall remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves, and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 20:41–44)
Israel had disobeyed God many times, but God did not deal with them according to their disobedience and what they deserved. Instead, He gave them a land, a relationship with Himself, and even told them that they smelled nice in His nostrils. Because of His grace, they would remember their sins and hate them, but because of His grace also, He forgave their sin and was good to them.

This is Mom’s place in the heart of God. Like all of us, her life was not perfect, yet by grace through faith, she was saved from sin’s punishment. God forgave her because of Jesus Christ.

For her, this means an eternal place with Him in heaven. It means that all her sin is under the blood of Christ — to be remembered no more. It means that today she is celebrating eternity with her Lord, full of joy and peace.

For us, this means great assurance. We know where she is and we know we will see her again. She is at rest. The struggles of her last days are over. Her weakness has become eternal life. Her pain will be remembered no more. We are thankful that she got her wish to “go to sleep and not wake up” to her frailty and inability to breathe and freely move about. We are thankful that she was not afraid to give up on this life to go to the next one.

God’s grace also means that we can remember the good things, like God does. He never overlooks or makes light of sin, but in grace, those things are put on the forgiven side of the ledger. He deals with us and with Mom for His own name’s sake. We can glory in all that He did in her life, for His name’s sake. He is good and His goodness is reflected in good memories.

*****
Father, I am thankful for grace and for Your assurance of grace in Mom’s life. We experience pain because she is gone, but know that pain will one day become the joy of reunion.

Grant me the grace to be like You, remembering the pleasing aroma parts of her life. Help me to encourage my husband (who is such a rock that he will likely be encouraging everyone else) and the rest of the family. Most of them do not know You nor Your grace that takes away sin, guilt and the fear of death. Help us convey this confidence to the rest of the family in a gracious manner — so that they will see how much You loved her and how much You love them.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nothing is too big – or too small for God

There are people (I’m not one of them) who will not pray because they do not want to bother God. I’m not sure that I understand this view of God. Is He uncaring? Too busy? Unable? Perhaps the person has other issues and feels unworthy to approach God? Or what they really want is too difficult for Him?
When Jesus was in the district of Tyre and Sidon, a Canaanite woman came to Him crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”

Jesus didn’t answer. His disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

The woman knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”

He answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

She replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21–28)
Spurgeon says this woman thought of Jesus as “one who kept so good a table that all that she needed would only be a crumb in comparison.” However, she wanted more than a crumb; she wanted the devil cast out of her daughter. Yet even such a request was small because of her estimation of Jesus. It was even nothing, like a crumb from His table.

Spurgeon says this is the “royal road to comfort.” This is also the attitude to have toward God. No prayer is too large or too small for Him. He created the universe and all things. He is infinitely powerful and tells us to bring our requests to Him. And if we doubt that He cares, has He not already proven that?

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? (Romans 8:31–32)
When it comes to asking forgiveness for sin, some may think their sins are too great — but it is nothing to Jesus to take them all away. Sin and guilt can seem gigantic to us, but are no more than a speck of dust to Him. He has already borne the full penalty of all sin of all time on the Cross. It is a small thing for Him to forgive our sin, even though it is a huge blessing for us.
*****
Lord, keep me from ever thinking that I cannot come to You. You are eager to give me even crumbs, if that is all I need, yet Your Word promises more than that. Someday I will sit with You at a great banquet, a feast like nothing I’ve ever experienced here. Until that day, You delight in handing out appetizers and even call me to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Also, keep me from thinking my problems are too trivial or too large to “bother” You with. You have already died for me. Anything else that I ask is nothing compared to Calvary and what You have already done.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Jesus, my Friend

Yesterday God showed me some ways to evaluate true friendship. One is how friends respond to sudden wealth. Lottery winners say they are inundated with “friends” who come out of the woodwork. They act as if they are long-lost buddies, but are really after a share of the cash. True friends rejoice instead of hold their hands out.

Today’s reading from Spurgeon points to the other friend-test — adversity. How do people respond when I am in trouble? Do they run away or do they stick by me? True friends are revealed when I have trials.

However, true friends also are revealed when they have trials. A gentleman in our church became ill while on vacation last month. He knew that he would not make it home, so he made a video. He spoke to his grandchildren and to several young people he called his “adopted grandchildren.” He pointed them to Jesus and sang to them. This video, played at his funeral, revealed a heart that thought of others. Even in his last days here on earth, he was following the example of Jesus.

Jesus knew when He was facing death also. He took His disciples to the garden of Gethsemane where He prayed about it. When Judas and the soldiers came to arrest Him, He was ready, but He was thinking about His disciples too.

So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” (John 18:7–8)
As Spurgeon points out, this is love, constant, self-forgetting, faithful love. Yet as the devotional writer also says there is far more here; these words are the very soul and spirit of the atonement. The Good Shepherd is about to lay down His life for the sheep. He pleads that they must therefore go free. The Substitute is bound, and justice demands that those for whom He stands as a substitute should go their way. Yet in this, Jesus is more than a substitute. He is my Friend.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:13–17)
*****
Lord, when I am in trouble, my world tends to get smaller. I think of myself and my situation, and maybe those closest to me. While this may not be overtly sinful, it is certainly not what You did in Your greatest trial. This year You gave me a focus verse and remind me again today that I need to grow in my love for others and in selflessness.
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself. Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
You counted others more significant than Yourself. You did it as You walked this earth, and You did it in the garden and on the cross. Obedience to the Father was Your consuming interest, so You took care of that, but dying was also for others, for me. Your death gave me life, and with that life the ability to bear fruit in Your name. Because of Your great heart, You can now call me Your friend. Grant me grace to be a true friend — to You and to those around me.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The kisses of an enemy

At least two things reveal the identity of true friends: adversity and money. When one or the other come into the picture, true friends are there and offer the same support as they always have. Those who are less than true either pack up and leave, or suddenly become even friendlier.

Jesus was close to twelve men that He selected to be His disciples. As the time of His death drew near, all of them claimed they would never forsake Him, but all did, even Peter who stuck around longer than the others.  Worse still, one of them betrayed Him — with a kiss.

While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:47–48)
These days, the term “Judas kiss” refers to any action that appears to be friendly but is actually harmful and with hidden intentions. I’m reminded  of verses like, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6) and “The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends” (Proverbs 14:20).

Discerning people sense when someone is faking friendship. Jesus knew that Judas was betraying Him, even though his outward actions appeared friendly. This was the worst sort of betrayal for it was done to identify Jesus so His enemies could kill Him.

My experience with this hasn’t gone that far. Those who have treated me in a friendly way but with hidden motives have wanted something, but thankfully not my life. It is usually money and occasionally has been something else that belonged to me.

That they wanted something is heightened by the meaning of profuse in Proverbs 27:6, where it says “profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” I’m not sure why this comes out as “profuse” when the Hebrew word means to pray, plead or entreat. That is, the kisses of an enemy are that person’s way of trying to get something that they really want.

In Judas case, he did it for thirty pieces of silver. In my life, the usual motive is to try and sell me something. Those who do it are usually more obvious than Judas, not hiding the fact that they want my money, but their “niceness” is phoney, a “kiss up” kind of approach. It is supposed to make me think they really care about me. However, this has the opposite effect; I’m turned off by such tactics.

One example is the telemarketer who says, “Hello Mrs. M . . . How are you today?” All I hear is, “I want your money” and have to bite my tongue rather than give them a curt, “You don’t care how I am. What do you really want?”

*****
Lord, I’m thankful that You give me little alarm bells that signal the “kisses of an enemy” to let me know when someone is offering insincere flattery or other actions that mask their true intentions. It doesn’t happen very often, for which I’m also thankful. Protect me and protect all of Your people from this sort of behavior that could lead us into trouble. Help us discern rightly and behave responsibly.

Also, teach the Judas-types of this world that while “kissing up” might work with some, it marks them as people without integrity. Show them that there are better ways to get what they want.

Most of all, keep me from doing this to others. Help me to always be honest about my motivations and enable me to treat even the kissy-kissy people with respect and integrity.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Amazing grace, amazing joy!

Christians make a distinction between being happy and being joyful. The former is about circumstances; when things are going our way, we are happy. The latter is about the deep joy of Jesus Christ that is in our hearts because He lives there.

I’ve had a few occasions in my life where His joy surprised me. My circumstances should have spelled anguish and sorrow, but instead, I felt joyful. No reason, just that I was keenly aware of the wild and wonderful presence of God — and knew that He is in control, even in those negative situations.

Joy is about eternal matters. Jesus encouraged this focus in His disciples. When they were excited over their new found power to cast out demons, He said to them:

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)
Jesus reminded them that power over demons is a circumstance and for this life, but assurance of heaven is an eternal matter. Besides His reminder, He also displayed this amazing joy in His own life. The very next verses show how He also rejoiced in eternal things.
In that same hour He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” (Luke 10:21–22)
Jesus was joyful because His Father had revealed truth to believers. This is eternal. Once we know truth, it can never be taken away. I marvel every day at the wonderful things God reveals to me. His truth is a source of great joy.

Jesus also marveled at the will of God. First, that it can be known. God reveals it to those who trust in Him. Second, His will is gracious. Grace is God giving blessing to those who have not earned it nor do we deserve it. It is God’s goodness to sinners. This little phrase “Your gracious will” says volumes about the attitude of God toward His people. It is also a source of great joy. Since God is the same yesterday, today and forever, His will is eternally gracious — and that is cause to rejoice.

Jesus rejoiced because the Father had given Him all things. In simple terms, the two of them, plus the Holy Spirit, are in cahoots! All the plans of the Father are also plans of the Son and implemented through the power of the Holy Spirit. Their wills are one. Great joy is intertwined in the heart of God, a great joy that He is pleased to give to those who believe in Him.

Jesus also rejoiced in the power of God to reveal Himself. However, this revelation is not for everyone; it is reserved to those He chooses. Yet He also says, “Whosoever will may come” meaning that grace is open to anyone who wants it, who realizes their need for it. We just need to humble ourselves and come to Him. When He bestows that amazing grace, He also gives amazing joy.

*****
Lord, every now and then You show me something about Yourself that drives home the great privilege I have in experiencing You and Your grace. Thank You for showing me the truth of who You are. Thank You for the joy that I have in You. Thank You for that simple phrase, “He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” that today reminds me of the wonder of being Your child and the wonder of Your amazing and sustaining joy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Resisting Temptation

In my efforts to lose a few pounds, decisions are necessary. I’ve heard of “mouth-hunger” vs. genuine hunger and a real need to eat. Some call “mouth-hunger” an emotional hunger. Food is comforting and tastes good. The body does not need any more, but the mouth (and emotions) crave that comfort and pleasure.

This morning, I had enough to eat and felt full, but my eyes caught the dinner rolls in the pantry. These happen to be particularly tasty and I wanted one. It was a bit of a battle to walk away, but I did, and within a few minutes the temptation was gone.

The Bible has lots to say about temptation. Its source is not what is going on outside of us (like the dinner rolls) but what is happening on the inside.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13–15)
Dinner rolls or anything else would have no appeal if I didn’t want something. My desires are the problem; the food I don’t need is merely the bait. Like a fish seeing a worm on a hook, I have a choice to make. If I keep making the wrong choices, I could sinfully overindulge. In the case of food, that would lead to obesity and even death.

Of course I am supposed to resist temptation. Sometimes I don’t. It seems like the desire is too strong, but how silly my wanting an extra dinner roll or a big piece of chocolate cake is compared to the sin that Jesus resisted. 

Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:3–4)
Jesus first endured sin committed against Him. Human hostility toward Him was selfish and hateful (and still is). Unlike us when people hurt us, He did not retaliate. He said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Second, He resisted the sin of disobeying His Father who sent Him to earth to redeem sinners. This required that He bear our penalty for sin by dying on a cross. Not only was that a terribly painful physical death, His emotional and spiritual agony can scarcely be imagined. 

In Gethsemane before it happened, Jesus prayed. He was fighting the temptation to say, “No thanks” rather than bear the guilt and awful weight of every sin ever committed by every person whoever lived. He knew what was coming, but again, He resisted.

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44)
As He sweat blood, Jesus said, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) He was more willing to do as God wanted rather than take care of His own comfort and give in to the temptation to walk away and leave us to our fate.
*****
Jesus, I’ve read that extreme stress can cause a person to sweat blood. I try to imagine the seriousness of straining against temptation to the point of this happening. My own resistance to something as minor as overeating pales to ridiculousness compared to what You endured in Gethsemane.  What makes my struggle even sillier is that I am doing this mostly for my own good while Your resistance to sin was never about Yourself. You said ‘No’ to the temptations for our sake, for all sinners, for every person whoever lived, for me. At the very least Your sacrifice and Your steadfast resistance to sin ought to motivate greater resolve in me to do the same, not just in the pantry but in every area of my life.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hope that changes grief

When Irene’s husband died, I’d been a believer for only a few months. She was my first mentor, and I’d not yet read this verse about mourning. 
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
Irene had been married many years. As she stood with her back to us at her husband’s grave, she leaned over as if she would jump in and join him. For weeks, I had pondered my safety in submitting myself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I worried that God would ask me to do things that I would not like or could not handle. Whatever would I do should death take someone I loved? I knew the grief of losing my grandparents as a youngster. Would Jesus spare me from those trials? I agonized for Irene also. She had lost her precious Bill.

However, Irene dispelled all my fears. When she turned around, I was stunned. Her face was radiant and I knew instantly that this joy was from Jesus. He gave it to her — even in this!

Talking afterward, she shared how much she missed Bill. Of course she was not glad that he died, but she said, “Whenever I grieve, I realize that it is not for him. He is with Jesus. I’m just feeling sorry for myself.”

Since then, I’ve observed how other Christians respond to death with sorrow, yet joy is also present. We know that the ones we love are with Jesus. When my father died, the comments offered by others gave me insight into what they thought about death. Many offered sympathy to me for my “loss” but the most comforting words came from a young woman known for her enthusiasm. She almost bounced as she came to me and said, “I know this is supposed to be a sad time, but I’m so happy for your dad!”

Jesus must have smiled. Those words still fill me with joy. Oddly, the young woman who uttered them says she cannot remember saying them, making me fairly certain that Jesus put those words in her mouth. Because of them, every time I think about my dad, I feel joined arm-in-arm with Irene.

Celebration at a Christian funeral is possible only because we know our eternal destiny. We know we will see our loved ones again. When Jesus prayed to His Father, He said,

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)
Because of the love of God, because Jesus died for our sins, and because God has given us to Jesus, Christians have assurance that we will be where He is when we die. I know this for myself. I know it for all who believe in Jesus. It isn’t “pie in the sky” but a promise from the Son of God, and the desire of His heart.
*****
Lord, I sit here with tears, not because I am sad but because I am filled with joy. Death is the end of life here, but not the end of life. You promised, 
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:2–3).
I believe You, and I know that this promise is for all who have put their faith in You, including my dad, my mom, Irene and her husband and many, many brothers and sisters in Christ. Being with You is our sure hope and our glorious destiny.

Today, when I think about the ordinary chores and stuff of life, thoughts of eternity with You lift my heart — and the corners of my mouth. Sometimes life here can be very humdrum, or even a “sad time” but because of You and the assurance of eternal life, today I am very happy.

Monday, March 21, 2011

“My faith” is not adequate

When a person first trusts in Jesus, we think it is our trust and use terms like “my faith.” How little do we realize that this is a faulty concept. The faith that we have, large or small, is a gift from God. 
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9, italics added)
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:3, italics added)
Faith is from God, given as a gift through the medium of His Word. “Faith comes by hearing . . . the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

When I think that faith is mine or something I have to conjure up or make happen, I become like the disciples in their professions and boasting before Christ died and before they were given the Holy Spirit. In a discussion at that time about His departure, 

His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:29–33)
Jesus knew that their faith was not sufficient for the events that would soon happen. Boldly they declared that they would never forsake Him, but all of them did, even Peter who followed him right into the court of the High Priest. Three times he was approached and accused of being a disciple of Christ. Three times he denied it. His “faith” failed him.

Faith from God is different from the faith I muster. However, I can build upon the faith He gives me. It is not by argument, rationalization, or determination. Instead, faith is made stronger by thinking about and focusing on the object of my faith.

Sometimes I ask myself questions such as, “Is anything too hard for God?” or “What makes me think God does not love me?” These are usually rhetorical because I know the answers. They come from the Word of God and affirm that God is all powerful, loves with an everlasting love, and so on. The questions remind me of what the Bible says. Since the Word of Christ is the source of faith (not the questions), faith is strengthened by reviewing what it says.

*****
Oh God, You always bless me. You are in charge of even my ability to believe in You. I cannot do it myself. Your Word says that “No one seeks You.” On my own, I would do my own thing and come up with my own version of faith, but it would be based on my choices, decisions and reasoning, not on what You say.

But human faith does not save a person. It is inadequate because my ability to think godly thoughts and affirm truth is marred by sin. Sin is me doing my own thing rather than trusting and obeying You.

Over and over You remind me that salvation is Your work, not mine. Faith is Your work too. You gave it as a gift through the written Word You have given me, and through Christ, the living Word who is the object of faith and the One who gives me life.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Love’s standard

Human love is far from perfect, but that doesn’t mean God left us without an example. 
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25–27)
Women sometimes think the Bible picks on us, but these verses are just as challenging for our spouses as the instructions for wives are for me. Jesus is the standard for both of us.

His love for His people is first sacrificial. He died for us. No love is greater than giving up your life for the eternal well-being of others. This is made more amazing in that He knew that many of the people He died for would reject Him and spurn His love for them. But He did it anyway, because He loves us.

His love is purposeful. He knows what is best for us, that we belong to God and are cleansed from sin, made holy and without flaws. Human love is rarely that selfless and certainly challenged by His godly desire for the highest and best for others.

The love of Jesus is also special, set on His bride, the church. He said things like, “I pray for them, I pray not for the world” which shows how much He favors His beloved. As Spurgeon says, the church is His treasure, the crown of His head, the bracelet of His arm, the breastplate of His heart, the very centre and core of His love.

Christ’s love is also constant. His affection never varies. He may change the way He displays it, but it remains full, rich, deep. This mighty love endures. As the Bible says, “nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

His love is passionate, intense, not mere lip-service. He proved it on Calvary and continues to prove it as He cares for us. He lives forever, interceding for us and waiting for that day when we will spend eternity with Him.



*****

Lord, I fall short. My love gets messed up with selfishness, lack of focus, and concerns for other treasures. I’m on and off, not constant and enduring as You are. Yet You persist in Your love for me, patiently setting the example and standard that I need.

I know also that when I love You without thinking of my own wants or needs, You are delighted — not for Your own sake, but because I have discovered this most wonderful way to live. Help me learn. It is a long journey from self-seeking, and that I-want-what-I-want infancy to the maturity of being able to love like You do. Keep putting me back on track. Teach me to cooperate with Your Spirit. Keep me. Help me abide in You that I might please You by my love.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Connected by Faith

Today’s morning reading from Spurgeon says that faith is the only way by which I can obtain blessings from God. Even prayer cannot draw answers from His throne unless they are uttered by a person who believes. But believes what?

Faith is not thinking God will do whatever I ask. Instead, biblical faith is knowing that God exists, being certain that He hears and cares, and having assurance that when I pray, He will send the best answer. His responses are always according to His promises, not according to my desires and whims.

Abraham is called the father of faith. God promised him a son, and even though this man grew beyond the age where most could father a child, Abraham still believed that promise.

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:20–25)
Spurgeon says faith is like a telegraph wire that links earth and heaven. On this wire, God’s messages fly so fast that before we call He answers, and while we are yet speaking He hears us. If that wire of faith is broken, I cannot receive His promises. However, when I am in trouble and trust Him, He sends help on the wire of faith. If faith wavers or is missing, I call to God in vain.

Of course faith is first about knowing God exists. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Faith is next about trusting His plan for salvation, not trying to earn or deserve it on my own. He offers forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ and His death for my sin. He offers Himself and new life. Faith is relying on Jesus for peace with God.

Faith after that is about living in continued trust in all things, including prayer. When I pray, I need to trust Him to hear and answer my prayers, which are often requests. I tell God my needs and trust Him to supply.

But sometimes I catch myself telling God what to do when I pray. This is not faith in God but faith in my ideas and plans. It is also impertinence to think that I can give Him orders. No wonder these prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling.



*****

Thank you, Lord, for this reminder. The needs out there are great and my prayer list is long. Instead of focusing on what I should pray, I need to first remember that I am talking to You — Almighty God, the sovereign Ruler of the universe. You can do anything. No problem is too difficult. You also love me and will do what is best for me and for Your people. I don’t have to tell You what to do. Faith trusts You to do what is right.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Looking for love?

Little boys, and big boys too, show off for it. Little girls flirt and hurt and manipulate for it. Children pester for it. Adults crave it. The things we do for love.

How many of my words and actions have been motivated by either a desire for love or to test and see if someone loved me? I’m not sure that I want to know. Even though I have always been certain of my parent’s love, a blessing many others go without, much of my life has been occupied with the pursuit of love. That is, until Jesus Christ.

Yet even knowing His love has had its ups and downs. How often has the enemy successfully convinced me that God does not love me? How often have I wandered in confusion thinking He was not acting in my best interests? Sadly, too often. This should never happen because Jesus said,

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 15:9–11)
The first question then is, “How has the Father loved Jesus?” Before saying a quick, “Forever, of course” I have to consider the Cross. Does a loving father send His Son to death? God did. Then I note that Jesus Himself was certain of His Father’s love both before and after that event. That means that love can include awful circumstances and situations. When I suffer, that is no sign that God has stopped loving me. In fact, He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

I’m supposed to live in that everlasting love, not run around seeking love in all sorts of other places. I might doubt it when times are tough; Jesus thought God had forsaken Him when He was on the Cross, but the love of God is forever and it is enough. He will take care of everything else that I need — and He does — because He loves me.

Living in that love is not a head game though. Going through life chanting “He loves me” isn’t the way to maintain my assurance. This is about obedience, but not to say that God stops loving me when I go against His will. Not at all. However, my sense of being loved stops then. When I sin, I become anxious, unsure. How can God love me when I did that?

Part of this thinking is because all sinners think that our sense of being loved comes from working hard to earn it. For me, every time I sin, my fleshy thinking kicks in. Instead of having the fullness of the Holy Spirit and assurance from God, I become full of me, myself and I. In that tipped-over state, I think I need to earn the love of God. However, abiding in His love is about staying right-side-up, about obedience. Abiding in this way is the only way that I will focus on who God is — instead of what I want. Abiding in Him is the only way to be filled with assurance of His care. As Jesus said, it is also the only way to have fullness of joy.

*****

Lord, each day brings choices large and small. In those choices I am challenged to seek Your face and look for the options that bring You glory. I’m not to worry about my own needs, for You love me and promise to take care of me. Give me grace to remember this, to be motivated by this. When I abide in Your love, life is a grand adventure. When I don’t, I’m like a hunter in a dark jungle — looking for that assurance that continually eludes my aim. Only in You can I find what I’m looking for, and the best part is that abiding in You means that I no longer need to search for it.


(Photo credit)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pure > Peace-loving > Persecuted

Good communicators are careful to put sentences in proper sequence. Otherwise what they convey can be muddled and confused. Consider: Dog chases cat. Cat eats dog food. Cat and dog fight. Dog sees cat. Only by changing the order of these statements do they make sense.

Jesus ordered His statements too. Consider this portion of the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:8–10)
The order is this: first pure, then a peacemaker, then persecuted. The order of the first two is confirmed by other Scripture such as, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

That persecution follows purity and peaceableness is also described here: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Spurgeon also notes the significance in the order of Jesus’ words. He says that purity must be in place lest “our peaceableness is not a compact with sin, or toleration of evil.” This is not about making peace at any cost, but by doing it the way Jesus would do it. That means that godly peacemakers set themselves against anything that is contrary to God and His holiness. That means purity must be a settled matter in my soul before I am fit to make peace with and between others, or introduce them to peace with God.

This is appealing, yet the next verse speaks of persecution. As Spurgeon noted, no matter how peaceable I am in this world, I will be misrepresented and misunderstood. This should not be a surprise. Response to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is filled with division and misunderstanding. Although He loved people perfectly, even died for them, He was “despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He said that I should not be surprised if I am also rejected. 

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18–19)
Purity means I will see God. Seeing God as He really is becomes part of being more like Him. John wrote, “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” (1 John 3:2).

As purity and seeing Him lead me to a greater likeness to Christ, my desire grows to want people at peace with each other, but also at peace with God. In any effort to proclaim or share how that peace is possible, I will meet resistance. Sinful hearts do not want to hear messages that challenge them to admit sin or give it up. Therefore, they attack the messenger. Godly people love peace, but may receive resistance.

*****

Lord, grant me the grace to be pure in heart. Continue giving me insight into who You are and what You are doing. Continue building my desire to see others at peace with You and with one another. I know that this will mean being misunderstood and even hated. I need grace for that too.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An alien with Jesus

For the most part, I am at home all day without the same contact with the world as someone who works outside the home. I’ve very little experience with the everyday world unless I choose to venture out in it. For the past little while, through various avenues, I’m finding out what it is like “out there” for the average Christian.

Last night, I told my husband that I felt like an alien. This world is not my home, literally and spiritually. Spurgeon expressed the same thoughts today as did David in this psalm:

Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers. (Psalm 39:12)
A sojourner is a temporary inhabitant, a stranger, an alien. I am a stranger with the Lord. (Thankfully, this is not a stranger to the Lord; for by grace I am in fellowship with Him.) I walk this earth and live in it with Jesus, as an alien in a foreign country. The New Testament even calls me, and all who believe, an ambassador for Christ. We represent Him here, but we do not call this place our country.

Jesus came to this world to His own people, the people God had selected to represent Him, but “His own received him not” (John 1:11). However, “to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (verses 12-13).

That describes my change in family and in citizenship. Even though I still have my old family, I am a member of the family of God and the body of Christ. Even though I live in this world, I am no longer part of it. My home is now a heavenly destination.

This new family and citizenship also include living a new life in Jesus Christ. That life makes me a foreigner; I am unknown and an alien in this world. Never have I understood that more as I investigate the reactions and responses of this world’s people to Christ’s ambassadors.

Those outside of God’s family do not understand our language and lifestyle. However, this isn’t a problem of ignorance. No amount of explaining can make it clear. Only spiritual people can understand spiritual things.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
For this, I find myself a stranger in the land, experiencing a similar sense of alienation as when we were in China. To those people, our speech was garbled nonsense and we struggled to be understood.

The similarity ends there, because as a Christian who came from a life of sin and selfishness, I am fully aware and do understand the ways of this world that I am in. I was once part of it. I know what it is like to look at Christians and think they are strange, even that they do not belong here.

*****

Lord, I agree with Spurgeon in that there is sweetness in this: I am a stranger with You. You are my fellow-sufferer, my fellow-pilgrim, my fellow-traveler. We wander this place together, You holding my hand, speaking comfort and encouragement, always giving direction to me. Because of Your presence, I can live in this foreign place and yet know deeper fellowship than afforded by all the contacts, workplaces, clubs, organizations and social networks of this world.

Add to that, I a part of a body, a large network of like-minded ambassadors who also walk this earth as strangers, because together we walk with You. Together we are blessed and can encourage one another in how to be in this world but not of this world.

May the sense of isolation that I feel not drive me into any folly or worldly behavior so as to have a false sense of communion. Instead, may this odd alienation always draw me closer to You as the One with whom I walk, and closer to other sojourners who also know this reality of being only visitors in this place.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pushy Christians

Yesterday’s research discouraged me. I looked for reasons why Christians get pushy with sharing the Gospel. All I found were negative and exasperated expressions from those on the receiving end. Of course, no one likes being pushed. What discourages me is the depth of their hatred for Jesus Christ and the Bible because of those who believe in both.

I’m distressed that some of God’s people present His message in an offensive manner. The greatest good news of all time gets told in such a way that listeners are instantly angry and resentful. This should not happen. Jesus never intended that we turn people off. Components of the Gospel will upset those who do not acknowledge sin, but the problem should be with that part of the message, not the messengers.

Paul wrote much about being “gentle and respectful” as we speak to those without faith. Today’s reading is about the attitude of Christians as we do what God asks of us.

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:1–7)
While I’m still trying to figure out some of the reasons for pushiness, there is good advice in this passage. It says I need to be first strengthened by grace. Grace is the undeserved favor of God. This strength produces humility. I am not a Christian because I’m better than anyone else. Instead, eternal life and forgiveness is a gift from God because He is gracious. I deserve His wrath and instead He gives mercy. When I talk to anyone, this is to be my attitude and even my strength. I cannot bring Jesus to others if I do not act like Him. If my “strength” is a rude mouth, it will turn people off.

The word “faithful” is also important. This is loyalty to Christ in that I obediently share Him with others as He commands, but it is also being a trustworthy person. When I interact with others, they should feel safe and respected, not irritated and edgy because I might say something hurtful.

The part about sharing in suffering is a downer, but reminds me that not everyone will want to hear about Jesus. Because He is so wonderful and because I want everyone to know Him and enjoy His grace, I feel sad when there is no interest and even antagonism toward Him. I suppose this could make some Christians pushy, not to change lives but to change that resistance and rejection — instead of suffering.

When Jesus was rejected, He didn’t push. Instead, He said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” This must be my attitude also. If someone isn’t interested in the Gospel, I’m to pray for their forgiveness and leave them alone. This is one of the “rules” implied in these verses. An athlete cannot get the prize if he breaks the rules of the race. I cannot expect receptive hearts if I go against the “rules” or the pattern given by Jesus Christ for offering grace to others.

Being a winsome Christian who is able to effectively share the good news is hard work that involves sacrifice. It means giving up my desire to win the debate and always be right. It means accepting rejection as Jesus did, not fighting people so they will accept me. This isn’t about me. It is about loving people. Biblical love means laying aside selfishness and personal desires for the eternal well-being of others.

It is also about trusting God with the results. When a farmer plants his seeds, he does not keep digging at them to see if they are growing or prodding them to make them grow. This is not his role. In the same way, my role is to share the wonderful news that Jesus died for sinners, was buried, and rose again that we might be forgiven and have eternal life.

Those who hear this news can make excuses about their sin, decide the Bible isn’t true, decide Jesus was not a real person, or simply say no thanks. This is their response and their choice. Heaven forbid that they make that choice only because I am rude, pushy, annoying, self-righteous and offensive. 



*****

Lord, I once resisted the truth of the Gospel. I had some antagonism toward those who tried to share it with me. Christians are not perfect, but even then, I knew they meant well. After the Holy Spirit opened my heart and mind to You, I understood their desire that I be saved. I also know some people will hate anything to do with You. I don’t want that to stop me from being faithful or obedient to share Jesus Christ with them. I just don’t want to be offensive when I do it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Saved by grace, not by self-effort

Trying to lose weight by eating properly and exercising regularly becomes an exercise in frustration. The human desire to “want what I want when I want it” threatens constant defeat.

Something in me is determined to stay within a few pounds of my weight. Even though I eat well, exercise 5-6 days a week, and am disciplined regarding high calorie foods, the pounds persist.

This whole battle is similar to battling sin. David was determined to be quiet when he wrote this:

I said, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence.” (Psalm 39:1)
The next few verses say that the harder he tried to be quiet, the more frustrated he became. He could not contain himself and had to speak.

I understand the part about the harder he tried, the less he could accomplish his goal. This is a metaphor for the struggle to live as a Christian should. I too easily slip into “I will . . .” and into using my own strength.

Spiritual disciplines do have value, but salvation is by grace through faith. That means that I don’t save myself from sin; God does it. I cannot save myself from temptation also, and say no to temptation. This covers everything from speaking when I should be quiet to avoiding 2-3 chocolate cupcakes, but this does not happen without God’s grace.

Temptation can be avoided, but I cannot do it without help. In fact, the Bible continually warns me about thinking I can do such things on my own. In a passage from the New Testament, Paul describes how Old Testament believers tested the Lord. The outcome was not good. I need to pay attention to their story; the same thing could happen to me.

We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:9–13)
Whether the temptation is to talk when I should shut up, or be silent when God wants me to speak, or eat when I should say no, or say no when I should take nourishment, I need to be aware of several truths.

One is that I cannot even know the difference between obeying God and obeying my sinful desires apart from His grace and the work of the Holy Spirit in me. I need Him for discernment in every area of life.

Two, my efforts at self-discipline will always lead to frustration or pride. If I think I am improving and winning my battles, I also begin leaving grace and the power of God out of those disciples, setting myself up for failure. God will not share the throne of my heart, not even with me.

Third, I need diligence, but not self-effort. The diligence necessary to success in an eating/exercise plan is to keep my eyes on my source of strength and willpower. For Christians, this is not self, but Jesus Christ. He is the way of escape that God provides! When my focus turns to how well I am doing (or not), I stop trusting Him, His strength evaporates — and I am left with my own feeble efforts.

*****

Lord, I can no more govern what I eat and drink without Your grace than I can speak about You to others, or be silent at Your commands. I need You and Your grace to do everything. On my own, I waver and go off target. My resolve easily turns to jelly. When I trip and fall, I determine to try harder instead of remembering that trying harder never works. You ask me to trust in You, to rest in Your care, to believe in You and the grace that You give, and to rely on You for everything. I’m such a slow learner. The only good thing about failing is that it makes the prospect of perfection in eternity even more appealing.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Only one place to rest

When the rain stopped, Noah determined a way to find out if the water had dried up sufficiently for him, his family and the animals to leave the ark. He sent a raven, perhaps to look for carrion. It came back. He then sent a dove.
But the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. (Genesis 8:9)
Spurgeon likens the dove to a believer who has gone out into the world. Since the sinful world is under the judgment of God, there is no place of rest so the dove returns to the Master. However, the effort to find a resting place has overwhelmed this bird. She reaches the ark but the Master has to reach out and bring her in.

This is a picture of my heavenly Father’s care for me. I’m not often out in the cursed world where I encounter all that God has already judged. However, when I am, it is easy to relate to the fatigue of the dove. Not only is there no rest in this sinful world, those who seek it become a burden to my heart.

I can also relate to the care of Noah, pictured as her Master and her salvation. At times it feels as if I have no strength to get back with Jesus. For the dove, this was a physical fatigue. For me, it is spiritual. The battle to find a place of rest apart from Jesus brings me to great weariness. There is no peace, no rest, at least none that lasts, unless I am with my Savior.

*****

Lord, I’m thankful for the ark of my salvation. Because of Jesus Christ, I do not fear the judgment due me; He has taken it all. Yet You sometimes put me in places where I see thousands still in “the valley of decision” and my heart becomes burdened for them. Like the throngs who wanted to hear Jesus, they are sheep without a shepherd. Many are unaware of the danger they are in, and unaware of Your provision for their rescue. Yet I cannot change their hearts. Do I warn them? What do You want from me? You send me out to see what is going on and like the dove, I come fluttering back to You, resting until You ask me to go again.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Love your enemies

The measure of my Christian commitment is how I treat my enemies. I have to think about that. Who are my enemies? I’ve no one shooting at me, or trying to rob me. I suppose people out there might try to do me harm, but I don’t know their names.

Canadians are noted for being polite and keeping their thoughts to themselves (in general) so those who really dislike me are not apt to tell me, at least to my face. Dislike isn’t quite as harsh as hatred, but I still have no names.

Perhaps the idea of enemies is not from their perspective but mine. Who are the people that I consider opponents? Anyone who mocks what I believe? People who think God does not exist? Those who use the name of Jesus in profanity? Those who abuse children? Or women? Or each other? People who have no concern for the earth, their belongings, or the rights of others? People who do not love You?

Jesus says none of this negativity comes from Him, not their sinful and selfish traits nor my response of hatred or mere dislike. 

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43–48)
God’s standard is high. He wants me to be perfect as He is perfect. While this encompasses much more, this passage alone shows that His perfection means that He loves His enemies. He prays for those who dismiss Him or ignore Him or disobey Him and treat Him as if He does not matter. He is as good to them as He is to the people who love and worship Him.

The enemies of God are greeted each morning by the sunrise, just as I am. They are given rain for their crops and the marvel of growth for their harvest. They are given children and laughter, means to earn a living and possessions for their comfort. They know love and kindness. They can smile because God is good to everyone.

Yes, there are disasters and trials in life, but God does not withhold blessings unless He has a better blessing in mind. Because of His perfection, He is able to do this. Because of my imperfections, I have no idea how to follow Him in this; so for me, I am to simply love everyone as He loves them, and not try to figure out what God is doing with trials and trouble in their lives.



*****

Lord, the world is huge and its population in the billions. That You know and love each individual staggers me. Hundreds of babies are born each day; hundreds of people die each hour, and You love each of them. I am amazed at Your intimate knowledge. You know the number of hairs on each head.

Even more amazing is the size of Your heart. Your love is as great for the most evil terrorist as it is for the most godly saint. Yes, You see one wrapped in darkness and sin and the other covered by the blood of Christ, yet it is the same Christ that died for both. And He died for them and for me because You love us. No one is denied the opportunity of trusting Jesus and receiving eternal life.

I know that I’ve a long way to go to love like You do. Allow me to see Your love, to know more of what it is like, to grasp the length and breadth and depth of it, and to express it to others, even my enemies.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Blocking answers to prayer

God answers prayer. I’ve seen many things happen that have no other explanation. However, some people have been in my prayers for decades and I’ve seen very little, if any, answer to those prayers. This morning, God strikes me with two reasons for that. 
And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:22–25)
The first reason is summed up in my own phrase, “seen very little if any” compared to what Jesus says about doubting in my heart. To believe God will do it is not a seeing thing. I’m to walk by faith, not by sight. That means believing in my heart without doubting is not about seeing answers, but trusting God.

In other words, when I pray, I am asking Almighty God to act. If my prayers are according to His will, He promises to answer. But if I pray with my eyes looking for results as the basis for my faith, then I am not praying in faith, but relying on what I can see. If I cannot see anything happening, I begin to doubt that God heard or that God will answer. My focus is on the outward evidence, not on Almighty God for whom nothing is too difficult. This is not faith at all.

The second reason is unforgiveness. To harbor it keeps me from having a clear  conscience toward God. In one situation, I’ve withheld full forgiveness and used the fact of someone’s sin against me as an excuse to avoid and not fully care about that person. It isn’t something I think about all the time nor do I want revenge. It is more like a tool for leverage — and it is also a barrier to answered prayer.

Actually, there is a third reason, and it is tied to both of these. Today’s reading in Spurgeon says that there are no “little sins” and yet as Christians, it is easy to slide into that thinking. For me, both of the above problems fall into that category. I’ve not taken “needing to see the answers” nor “I’ve every right to not forgive” seriously enough.

However, God is not interested in my reasoning and excuses. To be a person whose prayer life is filled with power and assurance, I must deal with lack of faith and lack of full forgiveness. It doesn’t matter what I think, but what God sees in my heart.


*****

Lord, this is serious stuff. I’ve been up and down in my assurance over some of those prayers because my faith drops to nil every time it looks like You have not heard me. I’m looking at circumstances instead of at You and Your incredible promises and power to fulfill them.

Also, I’ve not fully forgiven someone. I hold back, just a little, but that is not forgiveness. You forgave me fully; I’m to do the same.

I now see that You are holding back just a little concerning answers to my prayers. Serious repentance is required. I need to focus on You and fully forgive, giving both these matters fully over to Your grace. I need to quit writing and talk to You.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Giver not the gift

This week we decided to add some improvements to our home. I’ve been excited because one of those involves moving my desk into its own room, giving me space to have my sewing all in one place. However, work is involved. Clearing that room for new flooring and then the desk is going to take days.

Work isn’t the only thing involved. God warns me to remember where my joy comes from. It is not from being able to do this, or from having the funds to pay for it. Israel’s King David wrote this:

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O LORD, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O LORD, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy: What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me! O LORD, be my helper! You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever! (Psalm 30:6–12)
David had his high moments, but also great discouragements. When he was doing well, he thought he’d always be okay because it was God who gave him his prosperity. Yet prosperity is a test.

In David’s case, God hid His face. When that happens to me, it does not matter if I have money or my life is prosperous. Instead, I feel as if I am dying. For David, that could have been literal. For me, it is that terrible sense of not having any purpose for living. Without sensing that God is with me, I despair. Nothing can cheer me. All joy has vanished.

Spurgeon says also to “beware of the smooth places of the way; if you are treading them, or if the way be rough, thank God for it. If God should always rock us in the cradle of prosperity; if we were always dandled on the knees of fortune; if we had not some stain on the alabaster pillar; if there were not a few clouds in the sky; if we had not some bitter drops in the wine of this life, we should become intoxicated with pleasure, we should dream “we stand” and stand we should, but it would be upon a pinnacle; like the man asleep upon the mast, each moment we should be in jeopardy.”

He is so right. While I can be happy that things go well, I need to always remember that having my heart right is more important that having my house remodeled or even money in the bank. If my relationship with the Lord is the way it should be, He can hide His face and I will know that this too shall pass. He promises to never leave me or forsake me. I remember those promises when my focus is on Him.

*****

God, I am not mature enough to bless You for my afflictions, but I do understand why I need them. It is in trials that You change me and make me more like Jesus. When I feel too secure, I too easily turn away from You. My devotional reading says that continued worldly prosperity is a fiery trial. I know it is okay to be thankful for all that You have blessed me with, but please keep me alert. Rather than getting too close to that fire, I’d rather stay close to You.