Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rejoicing in helplessness

For a long time now I’ve noticed how often my prayers involve telling God how to solve the problems I bring before Him. My words are formed as requests, but on closer examination, they are more like suggestions, even orders.

For instance, someone has been in a terrible car accident and is injured. I might pray for rapid recovery, or that God is with her in her pain, or that the doctors make wise decisions about treating the injuries. These are good thoughts, but do I really know the plan of God in all of it? Maybe she will stay injured, like Joni Erickson Tada whose injuries became part of her incredible ministry. If she is a Christian, God is always with her, pain or not. And so it goes.

This week I started rereading O. Hallesby’s classic on prayer. The first chapter points out that it is our helplessness that God hears. He answers our cries like a father who comes to the aid of a struggling child or a mother who hears the cries of her infant. He listens for that total dependence on Him to do something about the problem, not for the child’s uninformed plan for a solution.

At times I wonder who I think I am. Can I understand the plan of God or explain Him? What about the childlike faith of Noah who was asked to build a ship on dry land? Did he suggest to God a better way or a solution that made more sense?

What about Abraham who was asked to offer up his only son? He obeyed without suggesting alternatives that would be less difficult. He never told God what to do, not even in this. No wonder he is called the father of faith.

Then there was Joshua who is told to besiege Jericho seven days, using no weapons but the blasts of rams’ horns and the marching of his soldiers. This problem was large enough without this seemingly silly command from God for the solution. Yet Joshua did not argue, nor did his army mock God’s plan.

The saints of old acted upon God’s commands contrary to the dictates of human reasoning. Job, perhaps an exception for a time, experienced horrendous loss without any explanation from God. Although he had moments of clarity and faith, he complained and moaned, suggesting to God that He should at least explain Himself.

God then asked him things like, “Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like His?” (Job 40:9) He also pointed to the majesty of creation with the same question — Can you do this?  Then Job answered Him saying, 

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:1–6)
He realized his helplessness and joined others in trusting God, regardless of the things that seemed like impossible problems, and stopped telling Him how to “fix” them.

I had a family experience yesterday that I cannot write about. However, I can say that I felt entirely helpless and clueless. In that frame of mind, I held up the problems to God, not knowing or seeing any way this could be solved. God’s answer was not only a surprise but an astonishment. Hallesby is right; God hears the cries of the helpless, but that is only one part of it. Those who are helpless need to cry out in faith. God is God.

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Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. (Jeremiah 32:17) You can do exceedingly abundantly above all that I can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), so instead of me imagining or telling You how to answer, help me to remember that everything is too hard for me — but nothing is too hard for You.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cutting off my right hand — and reattaching it

Loving parents discipline their children because they want them to grow up with character traits that come with self-control. Imagine the adult who throws himself on the floor because he cannot have his way, or who uses coy manipulation to get it? Disciplined children become disciplined adults. 

I’m using a little book called Walk of Repentance for Bible study. This week’s topic is confrontation. Our God and Father, who loves us with all His heart, disciplines us that we might become godly people. For the most part however, we are not happy with it.

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:30)
This is a strong verse. Jesus isn’t talking about maiming myself, but He makes it clear that if I have anything in my life that causes me to sin, I need to get rid of it, even if it happens to be my right hand.

For example, years ago I spent all my time painting, going to art shows, sketching, drawing and reading books for artists. Consumed by this passion, I was not taking care of my family as I should. Artistic effort took priority over everything else. Finally, God asked me to cut off this right hand.

That was not a happy time for me. For many years, each time I passed through the art supply section of a store, or walked by an art gallery, my heart burned with longing. I worried that I was “not using my talents” until realizing that the word “talent” in the biblical command to be productive is another word for money and resources. God was not pointing a finger at me to use this passion, but to abandon it.

The Lord got me involved in other things that made use of my spiritual gifts. He showed me the difference between pursuits that are profitable for eternity and selfishly indulgent activities that I enjoyed but that led me away from obedience to Him. As those lessons became part of my thinking, God began showing me a new thing — that I could actually use hobbies and pleasurable activities as ways to meet people and be a witness for Him. The activities were not the problem; it was my motive for doing them.

A couple years ago, I began sensing that I might try to paint again, so took supplies with me on a weekend in the mountains. I did a small painting and was surprised. It turned out very well, but my attitude was, “I can take it or leave it.” God changed my thinking so that this activity no longer had a hold on my heart. Since then, I’ve sketched and done a few pieces but without that selfishness that was so much a part of it in years past.

Life is short. Souls all around are crying out for meaning and a sense of security and purpose. Jesus has given me much to share with them, but self-indulgence is an offensive “member” that not only causes sin but is at the root of it. With all He has given me, I’m useless to God when I use it to serve only me. He demanded that I abandon painting to teach me what it means to cut off my right hand and throw it away, but He also taught me far more.

I now understand how any artistic passion can be a way to connect with others, to have a common interest with them, to be a friend, and to become close enough to share the love of Christ. I know many people who have no desire (yet) to move toward Christianity or a church, but they are warming toward God because God’s people are moving toward them. It only happens when we can recognize the difference between obsession with our passions and letting God use those passions for His purposes.

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Father, this study about Your discipline has me wondering if I’ve another hand to cut off. Is anything I do, even innocent activity, keeping me from full obedience? Like a child, my understanding is limited, but I do know that whatever You ask of me will be for my good and Your glory.

Thank You that You see beyond my limited vision. As my loving Father, You care enough about me to remove the things from my life that keep me from being all that I can be. Even better, You can also take the skills and abilities You gave me and use them for Your glory. May I listen and obey, no matter what You ask me to do.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Looking to Jesus

During the last week, our church experienced an extensive evaluation. A qualified team came in and through observation, interviews, workshops, discussion and a great deal of prayer, discerned our strengths and areas of need. Then they presented a biblical prescription for change.

This was a good experience. We are encouraged by affirmation of what we do well and agree that the list of weaknesses hit the mark. Now we must move forward and correct those things so we can build on our strengths.

This process is a big part of what is also needed in personal growth. As a Christian, I need to identify what I do right, what I do wrong, and how to fix it. However, for this evaluation it is never wise to depend on my own judgment. I need outside help, specifically the Word of God . . . 

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
This morning, as I’m thinking about the power of the written Word to identify and correct my life, my devotional reading points to the power of the Living Word, Jesus Christ. He must be my focus because I cannot change without Him.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2, italics mine)
Looking to Jesus isn’t as easy as it sounds. The Holy Spirit can turn my eyes away from myself, but keeping my eyes on Christ is a battle. My spiritual enemy tries to keep my focus on me. He does it by pointing at my strengths and telling me I am not needy or sinful. He boosts pride, pats my back and encourages self-righteousness.

Sometimes he does the opposite and points at my weaknesses. He suggests that my sins are too bad for God to forgive, or that my doubts wipe out my faith, or that I will never be like Jesus because I am too lazy or too selfish or too tired. One way or another, by praise or condemnation, his goal is to keep me looking within so I am not looking at Jesus.

Spurgeon reminds me that “Christ is all in all.”  It is not looking at Christ that saves me — it is Christ. It is not my joy in Christ that saves me — it is Christ. Actually, even though faith is the instrument, it is not even faith in Christ that saves me — it is Christ and His blood shed for my sin. He is my hope and the object of my faith. I cannot focus even on hope or on faith, but on Him,  the author and finisher of my faith.

Sometimes I get into this self-evaluation mode. I’m doing okay — I’m not doing okay. My teeter-totter tips back and forth as I see strengths and weaknesses, but both push me to that self-focus of pride or self-pity. As He takes my eyes off those things and looking at the cure, then I have less teetering. He replaces it with rest in my soul. It is always Jesus who fixes things, nothing that I do or do not do.

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Father, keep me looking at Jesus. Let His death, resurrection, goodness, glory and continual intercession be fresh on my mind. Put Him into my first thoughts when I wake up. Make Him my last thoughts when I drop off to sleep at night. Keep all my hopes, fears, plans, challenges, ideas and every other thing in their proper place as You make Jesus number One in all that I think and do.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Going too far?

About a year ago, a long-term friend gave me opportunity to share with her what the Bible says about faith in Christ, forgiveness and eternal life. Because she is a tender soul, I was careful in what I said, but she became very angry. She said that she’d suspected I was “radical about my beliefs” and because of my “religion” she would never speak to me again unless I apologized to her for talking about Jesus Christ.  She came to mind as I read this verse today.
So Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only you must not go very far away. Plead for me.” (Exodus 8:28)
Moses told Pharaoh that his people needed to go out of country to worship. He didn’t say that God intended none of them would ever return to that place of bondage. Pharaoh said they could go, then changed his mind. He feared losing his slaves, but he also knew that the God of these people had power. He had proven it with plagues every time Pharaoh changed his mind. Now this ruler said they could go, but not too far.

Eventually, they were able to leave, but only after the final plague. In this one, the firstborn of every household would die. However, those who killed a lamb and put the blood on their doorway would be safe. The angel of death would pass over those homes where he saw the blood.

Christians identify with the experience of God’s people in Exodus. We were in bondage to sin, but have been set free from sin’s penalty by the blood of Christ. Further, Pharaoh and Egypt typify the world that we have left, a realm of bondage to sin. As the Israelites were to flee that place and never go back, so also are we to flee the philosophies and lifestyles we once lived and never return.

However, in the eyes of that world, our fleeing is seen as “going too far.” Much like Pharaoh, the world is okay with us going a little way into our faith, even asking that we pray for them, but a full break meets with scorn and ridicule.

For instance, I’ve friends and relatives that have told me that Christians must love everyone. This is biblical, but in their minds, loving everyone also means looking the other way at sin. For them, “good Christians” not only accept sinful lifestyles but affirm them. I’ve been told that I must love sinners as Jesus did, but I must not go too far in condemning sin. I can safely reject the same things they reject, but I cannot let the Bible tell me what is right and wrong over and above what society accepts. That is going too far.

Perhaps the biggest conflict concerns the way of salvation. The world is fine with Christians being “good people” but when we say that no human goodness can earn salvation or merit favor with God, they become upset with us. We have become radical and our faith is unacceptable.

When I shared the gospel with my friend, she decided that the only way to deal with me was total alienation. Unlike Pharaoh, she cut off all communication and eagerly kicked me out of her life, all because I told her about the delights of my life as a believer in Jesus Christ. For her, the definition of a Christian (which she claims to be) is being “a nice person who would never try to convert anyone.”

Jesus said, “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. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” (John 15:18–20)

The one who decided to end our friendship is firmly convinced that she is okay with God because she is a “good” person. She is also firmly convinced that I have gone too far because I talk about Jesus. Even though she didn’t ask me to, I still pray for her.

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Father, You called me out of bondage to sin. Staying free of it means refusing to stay close to it and giving myself in total dedication to Jesus Christ. This means obedience even when the world around me thinks that I have gone too far. The Bible says that there are ways that seem right but lead to destruction. It also says that Jesus is the way, the narrow way that few will walk. I don’t deserve to be on this path, but here I am, and I am grateful that You are holding my hand as I walk with You.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Miser? Or using all my resources?

Everyone has heard stories of people who lived like misers, yet upon their death vast sums of money were found hidden under their mattress or untouched in a bank account. They had the resources for abundant life but did not use those resources. This can happen to Christians too. 
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3–4)
No Christian is without the power to live an abundant life that includes a Christlike nature and the ability to deny sinful desires. God has given us all that we need to escape sin and live victoriously. Outward sins may seem easier to conquer. No one wants others to see a debauched lifestyle once the claim is made to follow Jesus.

But what about those sins that are less obvious? What about the lust of the flesh (1 John 2:15-17) that can include everything from eating too much to an inordinate desire for personal comfort, a desire that overrides any sacrifice that might bless someone in need? What about the cravings that are so common in our affluent society? Just because we “have it all,” does that mean we can freely indulge in it all? I don’t think so.

We are called to love others as Christ loved us. That love includes giving up my “I-wants” to care for the needs of those around me. The above verses say that God has given me all that I need to do this. If I refuse, no matter how much I indulge myself, I am living like a miser.

What about the lusts of the eyes? This is about those things that give me pleasure and a sense of power and control. It could be material possessions, but it could also be fame, prestige, winning, one-upmanship, gossip, and anything where I try to make myself look better than I am.

I am called to love others, not focus on me, myself and I. This love is not about what makes me look good or even about filling my vision with things that make me look good. If that is all I want, I am also  living as a miser.

The Bible list of inner sins includes many things. The “pride of life” covers most of them. It is wanting whatever makes me feel good and look good in the eyes of myself and the world. Jesus did not live like that. His focus was always obedience to His Father and in that, He loved us so much that He gave His life for us.

Because of Christ, God has given me all that I need to live as He lived. I have His divine nature and the ability to put to death my sinful desires. Sitting on or storing those incredible resources instead of using them makes no sense — unless I let that desire to do my own thing totally control my life.

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Father, first I thank you for giving me all things that pertain to life and godliness. Because I know You and have Your promises, I also am a partaker in the nature of Jesus Christ. This is an incredible privilege. It is also an incredible resource. All around me are people who live according to their sinful desires, making their lives a train wreck. Because of You and Your grace to me, I can escape the sinfulness that is in the world and in my own fleshy nature. In all areas of my life, open or hidden, keep building this desire for the abundant life that You make available through faith in Your Son. Raise me above the level of miser and help me live in the full riches of your grace.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Climbing that mountain

Monday I started a Bible study called Walk of Repentance. The first week’s focus is on obedience to authority and how I am to have the mind of Christ in His obedience to His Father. Today pointed me to verses showing what He gave up for my sake, making me aware again that obedience is costly.

This study also makes me aware that if I want to be like Jesus, then I must be prepared to yield all my rights and desires. Being like Jesus involves seeing Him as He is. I cannot pick and choose the qualities about Him that might feel good or be popular or win friends.

Spurgeon’s reading for today is about going higher too, and about seeing Jesus by working my way up there. He points to this verse:

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” (Isaiah 40:9)
Spurgeon writes about his homeland and mountain climbing. His words are delightful, yet sobering. I’ve edited and personalized them.
When I am at the base of a mountain, the mountain itself appears only one-half as high as it really is. If I stay in the valley, I will discover only rippling brooks as they descend into the stream at the foot of the mountain. But if I climb the first rising knoll, the valley lengthens and widens beneath my feet. If I go higher, I will see the country for four or five miles round and be delighted with the widening prospect. If I climb higher, the scene enlarges. If I reach the summit and look around, I will see the vastness of the land, perhaps a forest in the distance, even two hundred miles away. Depending where I climb, I might see the sea and a shining river and the smoking chimneys of a town, or the masts of the ships in a busy port. All these things will please and delight me. I might say, “I could not have imagined that so much could be seen at this elevation.”
The Christian life is like this. When I first believed in Christ I could see only a little of Him. The higher I climb the more I discover of His glory. Yet who has ever gained the summit? Who has known all the heights and depths of the love of Christ which passes knowledge? Paul, when grown old, sitting grey-haired, shivering in a dungeon in Rome, could say with greater emphasis than I can, “I know whom I have believed,” for each experience he had was like climbing a hill. Each trial was like ascending another summit and his death seemed like gaining the top of the mountain. There he could see the whole faithfulness and love of the One whom he had committed his soul.
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Lord, You know that I am a valley person. I don’t like heights nor do I like the big picture view as much as the details on safer ground. However, You bid me to know You in increasing measure. You ask me to look at You, think of You, keep my heart open to Your revelations of Yourself. At times this is much like a climb up a steep and rocky place. I fear missteps and falling. I get tremendously tired and am challenged by each step. However, as Spurgeon says, then there is the view! The closer You draw me to Yourself, the more I see, and the more I see, the more I want to see. Guard my focus, guide my steps and keep me climbing!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Knowing the secrets of His heart

How can anyone know the secrets of God? When Jesus was here, did His mother have a greater intimacy with her Son than is possible for the rest of us? Did she know more about Jesus than anyone else? Even in those days, some gave her special privilege because they thought she was somehow special. 
As he (Jesus) said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!”
But Jesus responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27–28)
The Bible nowhere indicates that Mary knew more about Jesus than anyone else nor that she had a greater relationship with Him than anyone else. What she did know, she “laid it up in her heart” yet nothing says she was a better-instructed believer than any of Christ’s disciples. In fact, the Bible is clear that anything she knew, we can also know. 
The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant. (Psalm 25:14, NKJV)
Intimacy with Jesus and being in on His ‘secrets’ is based on our attitude toward Him. Here, “fear” is about awe and worship, about a reverence that is yielded obedience. Jesus clearly blesses those who listen to His Word and do what it says.
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. (John 15:14–15)
Jesus does not keep secrets about the kingdom of God and the spiritual realm from His people. He keeps back nothing that would be profitable to us, even saying, “If it were not so, I would have told you.”

Again I wonder if Mary had some special privilege that made her able to get to Jesus when we might not? Two instances in the Bible show that I dare not think this. One is at a wedding where she told Jesus that the wine had ran out. He replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4)

His answer was not disrespectful, but a term of polite distance and a reminder that He did not take His orders from her. This happened on another occasion.

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46–50)
Clearly, intimacy with Jesus is about obedience. While this does not exclude Mary, it also does not elevate her relationship above that of anyone else. As Spurgeon says, we should never ignorantly cry out, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee,” but realize the importance of hearing the Word of God and doing what it says. This is the secret of “as true a communion with the Savior as Mary had and . . . as true an acquaintance with the secrets of his heart as she can be supposed to have obtained.”
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God, sometimes I wish I could get inside Your head and know all Your secrets. Then I laugh as I remember that is the intimacy that You want with me — to get inside my head and heart and be given full access to all my secrets! Of course, You already know them, and because You do, You can be trusted to reveal to me what I need to know about You. You have shown me one important secret, that I can, “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that I may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). May I be content with that and always obedient to Your invitation! 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Post delays...

The post below, and those for the next few days will be later each day than usual. No, I am not sleeping in or on holidays. After a frustrating morning of trying to get online and a few phone calls, I discovered that my ISP is not sending signals, which means, among other things, that we are going to change our service provider. The best any of them can promise is next week. So I am on my laptop using the Wi-fi at my local library. May God bless your day!

I am adopted

When the New Testament was written, the Romans might adopt a child but keep it private. After a time, they would hold a second adoption in public. For this, the child was brought before the authorities and his former garments were removed. Then the adopting father gave his child new clothing suitable to his new life.

I can easily imagine how a child would feel if taken from the lower rank of society and adopted by someone like a Roman senator. He would be excited and happy in his new family situation, but would also long for that day of public adoption. Then he would put off all the old garments of his former life and be robed and seen as the child of a noble and respected father.

This is easy to imagine for it parallels the experience and emotions of those who believe in Jesus Christ. We have been adopted into the family of God and are His children. However, our new lives are only visible, as Spurgeon says, by certain moral characteristics. Our adoption is not yet openly declared. 

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)
Sometimes I look in the mirror and laugh — what is a young girl like me doing in such an old body! Yet as a believer in Jesus Christ, the old body is not this outwardly perishing flesh so much as it is the “flesh” of my old nature. The person that I was before Christ changed my life still clings to me like old garments. I belong to a new family and have a new Father, yet so often those old clothes conceal who I am and can give me even more dismay than the mirror when they do. I have not yet been “arrayed in the apparel which befits the royal family of heaven” because I am still putting off this flesh that looks more like a daughter of Adam. 
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he (Jesus Christ) appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
Jesus is the “firstborn among many brethren” and “not ashamed to call us His brethren” so I am in His family, yet until I see Him, my adoption is somewhat hidden. I am waiting until I can be properly and fully robed, manifested as a child of God. 
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5:1–4)
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Oh my Father, I do “groan inwardly” at times, mostly to see You, but also to experience the fullness and freedom that will be mine when this adoption, the redemption of my body, is complete. Your Word says that will happen when I see Jesus as He is, indicating that glorious day when I step out of this world and into Yours.

However, You also give me wonderful glimpses of Him even now. You tell me that as I “with unveiled face behold the glory of the Lord,” I am being transformed into the same image by the power of Your Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). Let me see more of You, that I might be more like You, the noble and glorious One that I can call Abba, Father —  because You have adopted me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

One that cannot be shaken

This morning a person came to my door with religious material in the hope I would take it and be interested in what she had to say. She emphatically declared that she followed the teachings in the Bible.

As we talked, I asked her what would happen if she saw something in the Bible, realized it was true, but her organization did not believe it. She said she would go to her organization for a “fuller explanation” to show her where she was in error. Then I suggested that her authority was really not the Holy Spirit or the Bible but her organization. She denied that even though she had just indicated it, and seemed convinced that she had the truth based on what she had learned from those who were explaining the Bible to her.

Regarding the power of the Holy Spirit, I know that this organization does not teach that He reveals truth, just as they do not believe that Jesus is God revealed to man in human form. They have a desire for righteousness, yet do not claim or believe in the imputed righteousness of Christ.

She also talked about the end of the world and her lack of fear. She is very convinced. For those who do not know anything about their beliefs, she could be very convincing. As she walked away, I wondered if her “faith” could be shaken.

Then Spurgeon takes me to this passage! It is about the kingdom of God and about those who belong to it. The context includes the end of the world and the warning that God will shake both heaven and earth in His judgment. 

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:25–29)
The devotional focuses on that phrase,  that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. This refers to the kingdom of God, which includes all those who accept His offer of eternal life by faith through grace, and do not refuse or reject the voice of Jesus. That is, when He speaks, we must listen and obey.

How do I know that Jesus is speaking to me? How do I know that Jesus is not speaking to that lady at my door? This is important, and this is how I know.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27–28)
The woman at the door makes no claim to hear the voice of Jesus. By my questions, it seems that if she did, she would verify it with the sages in her organization, not with the Word of God. In other words, they are the authorities who tell her what to believe.

Sadly, she also made no claim to have eternal life or the assurance of being with Jesus when she dies. Her convictions seemed solid, but she says she will stay on earth after she dies because she is not one of the “anointed ones” who get to go to heaven. She seemed to think that was better because she asked what people would do in heaven anyway?

Can she be shaken? I hope that she hears the call of God and responds, but that is not for me to know or decide. The more pertinent question is, Can I be shaken? Will my faith stand the test of a world turned upside-down at the hand of God who will judge it? Or is my doctrinal statement really the issue?

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Oh, Lord, my “faith” is not as much an issue as the object of my faith. I could put it in creeds, church teachings, interpretations and the like, but these can change or be in error. Instead, my faith is in You, the Lord Jesus Christ. You are who You are, and You never fail or are false. You died for me, yet death could not keep You in the grave because of the power of Your everlasting and sinless life. It is that endless life that is my salvation, not a religion nor a religious organization, not even my particular “beliefs” or interpretations. No matter what can be shaken, I am secure because You are secure. You cannot be shaken. You will remain, and in You, I am secure also.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

False teaching about salvation

There is a faction in Christianity that says God is too loving to send His Son to the cross as a substitute for sin. It was men alone who did this terrible thing. Another faction says that salvation is by being good, totally ignoring what the Bible says about grace. To this, the Bible says, 
But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:16–19)
In today’s devotional reading, Spurgeon focuses on the phrase, “God’s firm foundation stands.” He says that this foundation is the biblical declaration that we are saved by grace through faith. We cannot do anything to earn or deserve God’s forgiveness. All of us fall short and, unlike us, God does not have a measurement for sin with a cutoff point to mark the “too many sins” point. He says if we break one of His laws, we have broken “the law” and are guilty. We need a Savior because we cannot save ourselves.

When I think about the factions and their ideas, I wonder if they read the Bible, or if they think about the implications of what they teach. For instance, what questions are raised by the idea that God is too loving to send Jesus to the cross?

First, it says to me that if men alone are responsible for Calvary, then the actions of men are more powerful than the love of God. If love means that God wanted no harm to His Son, then His love was not strong enough, nor is God strong enough to protect Jesus from the angry mob. I don’t want to worship a God like that. If He could not protect Jesus, how can He protect me? Clearly, protection was not His intention.

Besides, the Bible calls us to a love that is self-sacrificing. How then could God tell us to love like that, but does not do it Himself? The factions who define the love of God as anti-sacrifice have not seriously considered the nature of biblical love.

As for salvation by good works, the usual questions are, “How many are required?” “What good things must I do?” and “Does God overlook my mistakes?” All of this leaves me in shadowy doubts. How can I know that I am doing good enough or enough good? How is goodness even measured? I can do the same action, such as giving a pie to my neighbor, with vastly different motives. I might be doing it because I care about the neighbor, or because I am showing off my baking skills. Which of these is good?

I suppose that salvation by grace raises questions too. The unfairness of it pops to mind. Sinners like the thief on the cross and the child who accepts Christ at age four and walks with Him all her life are both destined for eternity with Him. Is that fair? I could suggest that the sins of the thief are no different in the eyes of God than the sins of that little one. Woe to those who measure spirituality in a worldly way using degrees. While some evils produce more great losses and horrible results, God doesn’t look at sin they way we do. Nor does He save on the same basis as some think He should.

The Bible is clear; those who have Jesus Christ have life. Eternal life is His gift given to sinners. This is an offense to human pride and a perplexity to the human mind. Nevertheless, this is clearly taught in the Bible. No matter what false teachers come up with, God’s firm foundation stands. He knows those who belong to Him. He says that those who name His name, even though charged to depart from their sin, are already His.

If I receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that He has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:9–12)
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Father, this foundation is also my anchor. I know that I could never come close to the standard that I see set by Jesus Christ. To think so is pride and self-deception. Instead, it is the sacrifice of Jesus that pays for and covers my sin. Salvation is not about a mushy, sin-overlooking God, nor is it about being good enough to earn it. Instead, because You love me, You sent Jesus to die for my sin and by Your grace I am saved. Amen.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Leaving my nets. . . .

Some verses in the Bible are easy to read over without much thought. I’d have done that today with the verse Spurgeon highlights. I’d have even skipped his thoughts on it, for they didn’t make much sense to me and didn’t seem related directly to the verse. However, I read something else before reading this, and in that context, this verse speaks loudly . . . 
And immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:18)
Imagine what this meant to men who made their living with their fishing nets. Jesus walked along the shoreline where they worked. Obviously they knew something about Him, but not a great deal. He called and invited them to become fishers of men.

Perhaps His charisma intrigued them. Perhaps they were tired of their fishing routine. Perhaps they wanted adventure. Yet there is something about the word of Jesus. When He says something, the deepest part of the human heart becomes engaged. When He says “Follow Me” who can resist?

Before reading this verse, I was challenged by a Bible study book called Walk of Repentance that asked me to read Acts 4:32–5:16 and think about how the selfless generosity of the early Christians contributed to an atmosphere of mutual support in the Church. The very first verse is familiar, yet this time, Jesus spoke directly to my heart.

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. (Acts 4:32)
I began thinking how these early Christians were united in their faith. They believed the same things and realized that all they had came from God. They fully understood that He sovereignly blessed them. Not only that, since they belonged to Him, then all they possessed also belonged to Him. They were merely stewards and not owners, without the attitude of “mine” — so all shared freely as they helped one another. Their mutual sharing from the heart is an ideal that even socialism has never been able to create. It was so ingrained that no one even considered personal ownership. All belonged to all.

I have heard these ideas before, but this time Jesus is saying, “Follow Me” directly concerning my possessions. He asks me to change the way I think about them. I know that it is because of God that I have anything. He wants me to think that If His people need any of it, I have no claim; it belongs to all of us.

Because of this attitude, not one person was needy in the early church. Some were even willing to sell their assets so they could take care of others. It never seemed wise to me to sell assets to pay bills, never mind give the money away, but if I really trust God as my supply and if I really think that temporary things will not last, why hold tight to anything? If I need it, will not God supply it? And the adage is true — I cannot take it with me.

Not only did they sell what they had, they gave the proceeds to their leaders, trusting them to distribute it as needed. They didn't have any intention of controlling where their giving went, but trusted God to give their leaders wisdom in the distribution. It is one thing to trust, another to be trusted. What would it do to my life if someone entrusted all their wealth to me, to give it to the people who needed it the most?

The reading also tells of two people who missed out on this because they gave with the idea of impressing others. While they had the right to keep some of the proceeds from a sale for themselves (none of the giving was forced or coerced), they lied about it so they would look good in the eyes of the church.

It didn't work. They were caught in their deception, rebuked for it, and died because of it. The sin was not in holding back funds, but in lying about it. Openness about motives and actions produces unity. It is also the only route to forgiveness and cleansing from God.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of holding assets that belong to God AND to His people. My possessions are not owned by me but under my stewardship. I trust God with them. Could I trust the leaders of my church with them? Do I really believe that if I give something away and then need it, the Lord can replace it?

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Jesus, You have provided all that I need and then some. Now You give me a challenge concerning where I place my sense of security. This will be in my thoughts today. Help me be like the disciples who simply left their nets and followed You.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Daily directions

Using someone’s devotional writings can be positive in that God gives me new light and understanding from the way other people express their love for Him. A few write things that I do not understand or that miss the need of my heart, at least on that day. However, the reading from My Utmost for His Highest hits the target today. It affirms what God has said to me many times and gives me encouragement as I prepare for this day. The following restates it in my words.
(Jesus) said . . . “Do you love me?. . . . Feed my sheep” (John 21:17).
Jesus did not tell Peter to convert people to his way of thinking, but to look after His disciples. He was to make sure that they get nourished in the knowledge of their Lord.

I used to count as service what I did, calling it Christian work, but Jesus calls service what I am to Him, not what I do for Him. Discipleship is based on devotion to Jesus Christ, not on adherence to a belief or a creed.

Jesus said I am to come to Him and “hate” all else, or I cannot be His disciple. He does not argue or push me. He simply says that if I would be His disciple, I must be devoted to Him. He is the source of my service and the basis for what I do. I’m not moved primarily by anything else.

Many Christians substitute devotion to Jesus with their belief in a creed or a particular ideal and become devoted to causes. So few are deeply devoted to Jesus Himself because it’s easier to rally around the cause He started than to Him. Perhaps the world’s attitude rubs off on us in that Jesus remains a source of deep offense to the educated mind of today. Whatever the reason, many who follow Him hold back and are content to know Him as a buddy or a friend, no more.

Yet Jesus sets the example. His obedience was always motivated by the will of His Father, not by the needs of men or His own will. This is important. If I am devoted to the cause of humanity only, I will soon be exhausted and come to the place where my love will falter. On the other hand, if I love Jesus Christ personally and passionately, I can serve humanity even if people treat me like a doormat or a slave. Our salvation is the natural outcome of this kind of obedience. 

Devotion to Jesus means that I can say with Him, “Not my will, but thine be done.” For that, I must continually bear my cross daily, dying to my own will that I might do His will. 

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:24–26)
As Chambers says, this focus on obedience to Jesus is an unobtrusive life. Like a grain of wheat, I am to fall to the ground and die to my own desires and passions, but because of the life of Christ in me, He can cause me to spring up and alter the whole landscape.
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Lord, Your directions are simple; leave my own ideas and listen to You. I’m to love you, daily die to self, and daily pay attention. Today I might be feeding sheep. Tomorrow I might be doing something else, but whatever I do, keep my ears open to Your words and my heart willing to do whatever You ask.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Walking wherever He leads me

While ordinary days are mostly my experience, following Jesus Christ is still an adventure.  This is because His commands require faith and often contradict what I can see as He asks me to go where I would never go on my own initiative. Walking by faith is illustrated by this incident . . . 
(Jesus) said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” (Matthew 14:29–30)
In this situation, when they left shore, Jesus was not with them. A storm threatened their safety. Then they saw Jesus walking on the water toward them.

Before I get to the point of this event, I remember a scientist saying that there is absolutely no reason we should be able to sit on a chair. The space between the molecules in our bodies and the molecules in the chair are so far apart that they should easily be able to pass through and beyond each other. He was explaining how Jesus could walk through doors, but this also begs the question: if we can sit on a chair and not fall through it, why not walk on water and not fall through it? While I would not try it (unless Jesus Himself asked me) this is not an issue for the One who controls the elements of the universe.

In this event, the wind was actually blowing and the waves were actually enormous. The situation was truly dire, but Peter didn’t have his mind on that. He was focused on Jesus and stepped out of the boat as he recognized His call to come to Him. This is simple obedience, walking by faith, not sight.

Then Peter began to observe the actual situation he was in. He looked sideways instead of straight ahead and went down instantly. The Lord could have allowed him to walk on the water as he looked at reality, but this was not to be. Walking with Jesus is only possible by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. This is what makes the Christian life a grand adventure.

Sometimes I step out trusting God and then, like Peter, I start worrying about myself or wondering if I can manage, or second-guessing that He even spoke and asked me to take that step. As soon as I do any of this, I tip over. Like Peter, I start to sink, and like Peter, cry out, “Lord, save me.”

Even then, the adventure has not ceased. While better to never look sideways, even when I start in total trust, falter, cry out and wind up being taken by the hand and rescued, these are extraordinary experiences. After a few of them, Jesus gets through to me that I do not need to look around. If I keep my eyes on Him, I do not need to falter or sink.

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Lord, walking with You is an amazing way to live. You have never asked me to walk on water, but sometimes on rocks, eggshells, slippery places, and even in total darkness. Each time, Your hand is outstretched. Because I know You will rescue me if I fall, I can take the next step without absolute terror. Help me totally overcome all fear. It is in this fearlessness that I learn to recognize that You are in control of all things.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fear no evil

The events following the final game of the Stanley Cup hockey playoffs have many Canadians upset and ashamed. Today’s newspaper says that the police are blaming anarchists for instigating the riot conditions that pulled thousands of ordinary citizens into shameful looting and burning of cars.

Several of these ordinary citizens were interviewed on television last night. Some of them expressed their incredulity that so many were out of control and behaving as thugs and criminals. This morning, police say that the instigators came to the game with weapons, equipment and full intentions to commit crime, not to cheer for their favorite team.

There has always been an element in society that is more bent on evil than the rest of us. I cannot hold anyone up as “holier than thou” for without the forgiveness and cleansing power of God, we are all sinners without hope and without the ability to stop our selfishness, but evil is often measured on a scale. Consider this psalm written hundreds of years ago. 

Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?” (Psalm 12:1–4)
Any of the people in Vancouver who were dismayed at the actions of their citizens could have said something like this. Where did this defiance come from? What happened? Why did we not stand against evil instead of falling in with looters and rioters?

In similar dismay, the psalmist cries out to God. Some versions start this psalm with a simple, “Help, Lord.” Did anyone say that on Wednesday night? Their faces did, if not their mouths. I recognize their helplessness for sometimes I feel like that too. Not only did this one dark night bring out the worst in that crowd, evil seems to continually express itself in all parts of the world. The answers that I hope for and the words that are often on my own lips are found in the rest of this psalm . . . 

“Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the LORD; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” 
The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. You, O LORD, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever. On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man. (Psalm 12:5–8)
The Word of God is filled with promises of His protection, yet so many live in fear. I’ve neighbors whose security-protected homes are like a stronghold. One constantly looks over her shoulder as if attackers are behind her, as if she is in the midst of a riot all the time. This is not how God wants His people to live. He says, 
Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. . . . Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. . . . Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. (Excerpts from Psalm 37:1–11)
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Father, the Bible records Your dealings with humanity, giving those who read it a peek into the future also. You have always cared for Your people and watched over those who put their faith in You. Through the psalmist, You urge me to not be anxious about mob mentality or those who are bent on evil. You have let me read history’s last chapter. The end of the story reveals that wickedness is defeated — and Jesus wins. Thank You for this assurance. May those who trust You realize that You can be trusted. Your mercy and grace will defeat sin and eventually bring Your people into eternal peace.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Light changes everything

This morning’s newspaper had a letter to the editor protesting the Christian stance against a particle activity that the Bible calls sin. This person said that Christians were warped because we agree that bullying is wrong, but then call this other behavior (which is okay in her mind) a sin.

The letter didn’t indicate what criteria or standard was used to measure right and wrong. It could have been a simple determination to do whatever she wanted, but it seemed more like “everyone can choose their own behavior as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

One problem with that standard is that most of us cannot see very far into the future. We don’t know if what we do will hurt others, even if it seems okay at the time. When I was young and not a follower of Christ, I did whatever I wished. When I wanted out of my marriage, I had no idea how much a divorce would affect my children and my children’s children. They say hindsight is 20/20, but even with more information and education available today regarding the effects of divorce, has it made any difference?

In other words, knowing whether or not actions will hurt someone else may not stop people from doing whatever they want to do anyway. For some, consequences to themselves may not deter their choices. For instance, did the rioters in Vancouver, Canada last night know they would be arrested and put in jail? Even if they did, it didn’t stop them from doing what they knew was wrong.

Measuring right and wrong by what feels good, or what seems right, is a poor measurement also. Not only is human decision-making ability marred by short-sightedness and being in the dark regarding the full ramifications of our actions, it is also marred by selfishness and by a fear of what others will think. Anyone who is Christian finds that taking a stand against sin is increasingly “politically incorrect.” We need to remember who our standard is and where it is clearly spelled out for us.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
The Lord is our light. He sheds light on the options before us, and if He does not show us all there is to know regarding consequences, He still gives us clear direction on what we must avoid and what we should do. For instance, we know that bullying is wrong because the Bible is clear that we are to love one another, even love our enemies. Bullying is totally incompatible with love.

He also sheds light on other behavior, telling us what is right and wrong. Regardless of what the world might think, those actions that God forbids are harmful to others and a deviation from His plan in creating us. We are made in His image and given the capacity to glorify Him. All disobedience is a denial of that lofty purpose. If our disobedience hurts no one else (unlikely), it still mars our own lives, spoiling what we could be if we would listen to Him. Sin always hurts someone.

This does not mean Christians are perfect. I can be selfish and get on the wrong track too. I sometimes have problems obeying God because I can flip into selfishness and become shortsighted. But I do not have any excuses. He is my light and my salvation. I know better and He saves me that I might do better.

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Lord, when someone criticizes Your people for taking a stand against sin, I feel great sorrow. You have taught me so much about the folly of sin and how I hurt myself and others when I live selfishly. Defying You does not change who You are, but it does put a big barrier between You and anyone who sins. That barrier hurts those on the other side of it. I know this because You have shown me the horror and pain of my own darkness and rebellion.

But You have also shown me the wonder and delight of living without that darkness — walking in Your light and enjoying Your salvation. May You be light today to those who need light. Keep Your people in Your care and help us to not fear the critics who have not yet experienced Your light and salvation.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Get a move on

God has an amazing way of working what I will read each day with what is going on in my life or in my attitudes. This morning’s to-do list is long and I slept in. Spurgeon’s devotional readings did not speak, but Oswald Chambers did, even just the title: Get a move on — In the Matter of Drudgery.
He referred to a passage that tells me what God has given me in Christ Jesus and how I need to add to that the habits of a spiritual and godly life. My Bible uses “supplement” rather than “add” but both words mean the same thing. I’m to supply or produce these things out of the resources God has given me.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3–8)
Chambers tells me to pay attention, form habits, give diligence and concentrate. No one is born with character and good habits. Both must be formed on the basis of my new life in Christ and both must be increasing continually.

He goes on to say that this is not about being a spiritual super star but about doing the common stuff of ordinary life, for here also is a way to exhibit the grace of God. He adds, “Drudgery is the touchstone of character.”

How easy it is to fall into the trap of wanting to do “big” things and forget how Jesus took a towel and began to wash the disciples’ feet. My chores are mostly common routine, cleaning and sorting, buying groceries and making meals. However, Chambers says that routine is God’s way of saving me between those tasks I might think of as more lofty pursuits. If I can learn to live in the domain of drudgery by the power of God, I am more useful to Him in all other domains.

Adding or supplementing is difficult for those who expect the Christian life to be a “flowery bed of ease” or who think God is not concerned about the daily stuff. However, obedience in the tiniest detail has requires as much of God’s grace as any “larger” command. As Chambers says, if I do my duty not for duty’s sake, but because I believe God is engineering every circumstance, then God’s grace is mine at that point as well as any other point of obedience. In other words, there is no difference in His supply of grace. It is as full and free for reaching souls as it is for dusting window sills.

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Lord, if I can tackle this humdrum to-do list with Your grace, it will not only build my ability to rely on You all the time, but also make the humdrum a delightful act of service. Others may not notice or care that my studio is tidied up, for instance, but You are not the author of confusion. An organized space speaks of You even as does an eloquent sermon. Grant me the grace to serve You with perseverance and joy, no matter the size or nature of the tasks at hand, today and always.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My happy place

Happiness can come from various sources. Getting good marks in school used to make me happy. Riding my horses had me smiling. Playing games with my family is still a source of delight, as is something as simple as checking chores off my to-do list.

Good relationships with BFF (best friends forever) and family also make me happy. I’m delighted when I see others reach their goals, or learn new things. Watching my children and grandchildren talking together and hearing them laugh makes me happy. But joy does not go away if none of those things are happening.

Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
This verse is in a section where the psalmist warns God’s people not to get upset when evil people do evil things. He isn’t referring to a mere absence of things that make us happy, but to the presence of events and people that are doing just the opposite. He knows that we will ask God to change our situation, but he also knows that God can bring joy even in those situations.

This verse also applies to those whose lives are not pressured by evil people. It addresses two important topics. One is that God needs to be my source of delight. That takes some time to learn. It is far easier to be delighted in the gifts that I can see and experience  instead of the Giver whom I cannot see. Nevertheless, God can and does make Himself known to me. He is real and my relationship with Him is real and intimate. I can delight in my children; surely I can delight in God, but I do have to let go of some things.

Corrie ten Boom, survivor of the holocaust and concentration camps, once said, “I’ve learned not to hold to anything too tightly, for it hurts when God pries my fingers loose.”

The Lord has taught me this regarding sinful, selfish things that I’ve held to. He takes them out of my life and if I resist their removal, the taking is far more painful than it needs to be. Yet He persists. He is my Savior from sin and keeps His promise to do just that.

He also is teaching me to not hold too tightly to the good things that make me happy. I listed some of them. What happens if those things are no longer part of my life? I am no longer in school. I don’t have my beloved horses. All sources of happiness are good gifts, but nothing is certain or permanent. Losses are real and, when experienced, they are painful.

The psalmist says to delight myself in the Lord. This does not mean I cannot have other sources of delight, but it does mean that if He is primary, then my delight in Him can never be taken away. He promises to be with me always. He never changes. I can be filled with delight in the Lord no matter how the world treats me or if my usual happy places become vacant. This is a wonderful reality in the life of those who have a personal relationship with the joy-Giver through faith in Him.

The other part of this verse is about my “I wants.” Some misinterpret it to mean that if we delight in God, He will give us whatever we want. That is not it. Delighting in God means holding loosely to all the other things that I delight in — and letting Him put in my heart the desires He wants me to have.

At one point in my life, I delighted in art and painting. It became more important than many other things. I held on, but He pried my fingers loose. It hurt, but as I learned to find my delight in Him, the desires of my heart changed. Instead of putting first all those things that I wanted to do, He began changing my desires, establishing more godly and God-pleasing priorities.

Then I discovered the secret. We have this pervasive notion that if we do what we want to do, we will be happy. However, this is only true if God is the delight of my life and the things that I want to do are grounded in those desires that He has put in my heart. Then, and only then, do I experience deep and lasting joy.

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Oh Lord, You make possible a rich and intimate relationship with You that brings me more delight that I have ever known in anything else. As I delight in You, You change my “I wants” and bring them into line with Your perfect will. Living in that will is the most joy-producing, fulfilling way to live.

One of the desires that You place in me is that others also know this amazing truth. Delighting in You produces more joy, contentment and sense of purpose than all other pursuits. Thank You for being here for me and for daily filling my heart with an increasing desire to love and obey You. 


(Clipart credit)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Balance

American musician John Mellencamp said, “I know there’s a balance in life. I see it every time I swing by it.” English director Richard Eyre said, “Balance is the enemy of art.” Is balance possible? Is it even important? How does it apply to the way I live?

Personally, I agree with Eyre concerning the most elemental aspect of visual art. Symmetry might be stable and calming, but I find symmetrical compositions boring. I rarely arrange my decor in formal balance and have never painted a picture that way. Some of my quilts are “balanced” but I prefer them otherwise.

In the Christian life, balance is often considered. We think about pastors who spend so much time involved in ministry that their family suffers, and say that their lives are not balanced. Those who get so involved in worldly affairs, such as a hobby or even their job, that their spiritual life is neglected also are thought to be unbalanced.

I’ve noticed that balance is often measured by time or in terms of quantity, too much or too little. Is this a biblical concept? In one way, it is not. I cannot have too much of Jesus Christ in my life. I should never try to balance sin and holiness. The Bible tells me to “pray without ceasing” which is excessive. It also tells me not to complain, but be thankful, even extremely thankful, again, more extremes.

On the other hand, Solomon who has been considered one of the wisest men that ever lived, had an idea about balance that Christians need to consider. We would do well to follow his lead on this one.

Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches — feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the LORD?” Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:8–9)
This man knew the danger of extremes when it comes to money. Too much and he would not feel the neediness that would draw him to God. Too little and he would feel the desperation that pulls him to taking matters into his own hands. He wanted balance rather than those temptations to sin.

Like Solomon with money, each of us has something that determines to take the throne in our hearts. For some, it might be money also, or self-effort, or popularity or personal comfort. This adversary might change from day to day, even hour to hour, but at a deeper level, our battle with usurpers often happens against one adversary at a time.

For me, it has been that desire to achieve, to do well. However, early in life I learned that no matter how well I do, there is someone who can do better. So rather than give up and never try, I’ve fought to find a balance. How well is good enough? And how do I know when the desire to do my best becomes an obsession that is determined to push Christ off the throne of my heart and take His place as central and most important?

Solomon wanted a middle point. Riches were too much. Poverty was too much. For me, is winning a prize now and then and not winning now and then the way to being balanced? Or does it go deeper than that?

I’m thinking deeper. For me, a balance regarding excellence isn’t about human approval, winning awards, or achieving some sort of status in an endeavor. It is about my source of strength. This morning I also read another passage of Scripture. It says this. . . . 

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:4–5)
Balance is about having a fruitful life that pleases God (achievement), but this cannot happen without the power of Christ in my life. The achievement then is not about my efforts but about my surrender to His will. The results of abiding are not up to me. He could take me to great accomplishment that is noticed and applauded, or He could use me in simple, less visible ways that even I might not notice. Jesus is not concerned about balancing great deeds with humble service. He is concerned that I just trust and obey Him, leaving the results up to Him.
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Lord, the past few days have been most interesting. You tested me severely and I felt so weak and unable to do anything. This brought me to abiding, even clinging to You as my Vine. Then things happened that I can call achievements, but know that they happened because of You, not me.

Your Word says that You perfect Your strength in our weakness. This is like the extremes on a balance beam. It isn’t about finding a middle, but about having both.

In all of this, You are shaping my ideas about balance. It can be important, but whether it is or not depends on what You say, not on quotes by others or conventional ideas about it. I’m learning that as long as I abide in You, I might swing to extremes, or I might not. No matter what I think about balance, You will enable me to land in a good place, a place of spiritual creativity that pleases You.

Thank You for bringing truth to me each day and helping me to think about where I need to be — always abiding in You — and focusing on what You want from me — total dependence, regardless where that pendulum is going.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bad Dreams

My dreams are usually funny. Sometimes I wake myself laughing. Last night I had the opposite kind of dream, a threatening event that woke me with fear and anxiety in my gut. I kept telling myself it was only a dream, but it was close enough to actual past experiences to bring back their painful and bitter taste. As I showered and dressed, I was praying for something from the Lord to settle my heart. Again, He answered immediately with this. . . .
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)
The world’s version of peace is life with no conflict nor danger. While Jesus can do that, His peace runs deeper. It is the sense of having the blessing of God in the middle of whatever is happening. It is that “peace that passes understanding” that Paul wrote about to the Philippians. It is calm in a storm, an unexpected and lovely peace that He has given me many times.

Jesus reminds me that His peace is about my heart, a far different assurance than a promise that nothing bad will happen or that my bad dream will never come true. His peace is about knowing that He is in control, and that He can use even the worst of things to produce in me the best of Himself.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:28–29)
I am in the family of God, a child that will grow to be like my Brother, Jesus Christ. He uses the Word of God and the stuff of life to produce new thinking and new priorities. He tells me, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).

The “all things” He can use for my good include both painful dreams and painful realities. In these, He wants me to remember His promises and be obedient. I could go into panic mode in fearful situations, or into manipulative mode should someone or some things threaten my well-being. However, He says to trust Him and do what He says. This includes “letting” my heart be untroubled, unafraid, trusting Him to use all things for my good. Peace is here for me. I need to let it rule, not the opposites.

Toward the end of Romans 8, Paul gives this challenge, and I’ve used his words as application for this morning’s angst. 

What then shall I say to these things? If God is for me, who can be against me? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give me all things? (Romans 8:31–32)
Let not my heart be troubled. He did not go on vacation. He has not left His throne. He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all I can ask or imagine. I have nothing to fear because Jesus is Lord.
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Emotions can be distressing and even damaging to my relationship with You, Lord. My adversary whispers “what if. . . .” and sends my mind into places that put my stomach in knots. You whisper, “I am with you always” and pull me back to the solid assurance of Your mercy and grace. You want me to enjoy Your peace, not fret about anything real or imagined. Guard my heart with truth. Reality and dreams can sometimes be difficult to deal with, but truth surpasses every fear. Besides, I’d rather You tested my trust with a dream than having the same thing happen when I am awake. You are good. Keep my mind on the way You think, not on the fears and imaginations of a worldly and untrusting imagination.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Agape Love

If anyone knows the Bible at all, they usually know John 3:16 that tells how much God loved the world, sending His Son that we might believe in Him and never perish.

A few might know the verses that say, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7–8).

This sacrificial kind of love is so unique that a word was coined for it. It is a love that depends only on the heart of the one who loves, not on the recipients. That is, no one can earn or deserve it. It flows from God like light and warmth from the sun. We can either bathe in it joyfully, or because it also exposes everything about us, we can choose to run for darkness in the shadows.

Because this love initiated with God, it is foreign to anyone who does not have a saving relationship with Him. Before Jesus Christ came into my life, I could love like a mother, wife and friend (always with reciprocation in mind), but I could not love like Jesus loves.

For this selfless aspect of God’s love reason, the Bible says agape love is a measurement of genuine faith. Jesus told His disciples that the world would know that they belonged to Him if they loved one another, again using this special word.

The Apostle John also said that how we love one another is a measure of how we love God. 

We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. (1 John 4:19–21)
I’ve known people who are not easy to love, taking me back to Romans 5. The Bible is clear that the love of God is present for sinners. If He lives in me, then this love is in me. Because of Jesus, I can love even the difficult people (and if they are Christian, they can also love even me).

Yet what about being loved in return? What if I am unloved, or at least feeling as if I am? God has shown me something about that unhappy situation. He points me to Jesus who loves sinners so much that He died for us all, yet millions of people do not care one whit about His love. A friend was dismayed last month while reading a Bible story to a young grand child. When she said the word “Jesus” he interrupted her with, “Oh, don’t say that — that’s a bad word.”

For many, the love of Christ means nothing. They only know His name as a curse word. How does that make Him feel? Does He stop loving just because it is unrequited or He is rejected? Not at all.

The love of God is a totally giving love. It reaches out without demands or threats. There is no fear in this love, no fear that He will leave or forsake me, no fear that someone will steal Him from me. I am continually assured that no matter how badly I mess up, God still loves me.

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 delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31–39)
Can I love others like that? Not without Him. In my sinful self, I want at least some appreciation and at best, total reciprocity. But the love of Jesus asks nothing, only that receive it, then pass it on.
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Lord, today I will be talking to many people, welcoming them to an event and sitting at a registration table. You have loved me without prejudice or reservation. May that same love, the love of Christ go from Your big heart through me to every person You put on my path today.