Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Faith's Priorities

Most Christians lament that we tend to try everything we know first, then when all of that fails, we run to God for help. We know that the saying, “God helps those who help themselves” is totally not true. In fact, the Bible says:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5–6)
Throughout Scripture the Lord emphasizes that His people are to be humble, not self-sufficient. He says things like . . . 
For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation. (Psalm 149:4)

My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. (Psalm 34:2)
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. (Psalm 25:9)
One of my favorite passages about what I should trust is even more specific. It says that no matter what my strengths are, knowing and trusting God is more important. 
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23–24)
Walking with Christ is not about my IQ, power or riches. It is about relationship. If I know and understand God, I am wise, powerful and wealthy beyond compare. He is loving, just and righteous and delights in these things. He wants me to live in the same way because these things are good and give Him pleasure.

That being said, Spurgeon got my attention this morning with this line from today’s devotional reading: “There is no getting at our God sometimes because of the multitude of our friends . . .” The verses above say that self-sufficiency, pride, intelligence, abilities and wealth can get between me and God. Spurgeon says so can my friends.

He explains by pointing out that all of us easily rely on ourselves and human deliverance. When we are in trouble, we call someone or several people for help. However, by doing this, we miss the blessing that comes from being “so poor, so friendless, so helpless that (we have) nowhere else to turn” and then fly to our Father’s arms. We know little of God because we trust Him with little.

On the other hand, if my troubles are so difficult that I cannot tell them to anyone but God, I will learn more about Him than at any other time. It is when I have only God to trust and then put my full confidence in Him that I realize all my doubts and fears have no ground. My faith grows when I trust Him alone. Also, God is glorified by that priority of faith.

Spurgeon suggests that faith in God alone shows the world that God is worth ten thousand other kinds of help. It shows the wise that childlike faith is powerful — because God is powerful. It shows the rich how rich I am in my poverty — because God is rich in His resources to help me. It shows the strong how strong I am in my weakness — because His strength is perfected in our weakness.

God glorifies Himself the most when I am the most helpless. He magnifies His might in the middle of my distress. Faith loses its glory if it rested on anything other than Him, even others who know Him and are my friends.

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Lord, You have taught me that You alone are all that I need. Yes, friends and fellowship are Your provision and a blessing to me, yet You remind me that I can run to them when I instead need to run to You. May I honor You by trusting You first and coming to You first, instead of making You my last resort.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Waiting — because I trust Him

After dozens of years of praying for the salvation of family and friends, I sometimes ask God for a little encouragement. Is He listening? Is He doing anything? Will these dear people soon know Him? When will He answer my prayer?

This morning God speaks to me about these questions. In my heart, I know that this is exactly what I need to hear. It is not what I expected, yet the comfort of the Holy Spirit assures my heart with these words . . . 

Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27:14)
As Spurgeon says, it may seem easy to wait, but this is a posture that takes years of training. Those who serve God would rather walk or march ahead than stand still. We want to see action, to know what God wants and when He wants it, then act accordingly. However, sometimes He is silent.

In this arena of unanswered prayer, I hover. Is the answer NO or is it WAIT? Will He say YES, and if so, when? Does He want me to do anything toward this answer? I look for opportunities to share my faith, to glorify God, to speak the truth in love. Yet the doors to all I could do or say are often closed.

In other situations, I am also uncertain. Do I flee the scene? Do I turn away to other things? Do I rush forward? When God says, WAIT I have sometimes felt more anxious and concerned, but as I learn to value His wisdom, then waiting is becoming less stressful.

However, waiting is not passive. I am to wait in prayer, calling on the Lord and placing my concerns before him. I tell Him my difficulties and plead His promises to help me. If I am uncertain which road to travel, I am to listen for His direction rather than rushing one way or the other. He is teaching me to trust His will — and His timing.

Spurgeon says that unfaithful, untrusting waiting is an insult to the Lord. Instead of twiddling my thumbs and feeling antsy, I am to believe that even if He keeps me waiting until it seems all is lost, He will answer at the right time. I am to wait in quiet patience, not stressed out by not knowing what God is doing.

I’m also not to complain against the second cause of my problems. That is, no matter what the source of my troubles appear to be, God is the first cause. To gripe about whatever seems to cause my problem or distress is to gripe against Him. I need to accept the situation as it is, then put it as it stands into the hands of Almighty God.

Spurgeon suggests praying in surrender and trust. He is right. I cannot force the hand of God even if I’m certain that what I ask for is in His will. I can only wait on Him and His perfect timing.

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Lord, as Jesus prayed I also pray — Not my will, but thine be done. I don’t know what You want from me. I want things to happen, and am anxious because You seem to not hear my pleas. Yet I know that You alone are the author (and finisher) of salvation. This is a job for You. I am the servant, not the Master. I must wait until You open hearts, drawing souls to Jesus, helping them repent and believe. I know that no matter what it looks like, nothing is too hard for You. You want me to wait in full assurance that You have heard my prayer and despite the lack of visible answers, that You care about these people far more than I do.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Why depravity is total

After a brief Bible study on the deceitfulness of sin, I understand why William Carey, a missionary and godly man, didn’t want a glowing tribute in his eulogy. Near the end of his life, he was asked about it. He replied, “Oh, I feel that such a poor sinful creature is unworthy to have anything said about him.” He went on to say if a funeral sermon must be preached, the first verse from Psalm 51 would be his selection. 
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! (Psalm 51:1–2)
Carey knew what God teaches us about ourselves — that even the best of us are still sinful humans. Some who profess to be Christian might boast, but those in whom Christ dwells cannot boast. Instead, we cry for mercy. We know that apart from Him, our lives are totally unprofitable. We His mercy on our good works, prayers, teaching, giving and all our sacred duties.

Spurgeon reminds me of this. He says that the blood of the lamb that spared the Israelites in Egypt was not only sprinkled on their doorposts, but later required on their sanctuary, the mercy-seat and even the altar where they worshiped. Sin intrudes into our holiest things. The blood of Jesus, the ultimate Lamb of God, is needed to purify even the most God-honoring activities from the defilement of our sin.

Carey knew it and I know it too. Mercy is required for our blatant sins to be sure, but mercy is also needed in regard to the exercise of our Christian duties and ministry. There is no part of who we are or what we do that is pure. A kindness may begin with unselfish thoughts of others, but so quickly slides into a reason to pat myself on the back. Prayer might begin as a helpless cry to Almighty God, yet can so easily descend into the arrogance of me telling Him what to do.

The term “total depravity” is used for the extent of sin. This does not mean that every life is as evil as it could possibly be (or does it?) but that sin has touched our total being. It affects everything we think, say and do. I cannot bring even the tiniest thing to God and claim that it is totally pure and without sin. Only Jesus can do that, and that is why I need Him.

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Lord, I am instructed to pray “in Jesus’ name” because I dare not come in my own. I’ve no merit, no qualifications to speak to You or ask anything of You. Yet according to Your steadfast love and abundant mercy, You blot out my sin and cleanse me from it. You see me in Christ, not in my sinful self. I have no claim of my own, yet You allow me to claim the righteous of Your Son. This is an incredible mercy — and I am truly grateful.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Prayer changes me

It is noted that the more time spent with another person, the more the two become like each other. However, since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, the more time spent with Him changes only one of us. In the past dozen years or so of praying with another couple for our family members, we have seen only few changes in our families, but great changes in us four.

Today’s devotional reading says, “It is not so true that ‘prayer changes things’ as that prayer changes me and I change things.” The author adds that God designed redemption-based prayer to alter the way His people look at things. Prayer isn’t so much about changing external things, but of working wonders in our disposition. As I consider this, the following verses give more instruction: 

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:1–4)
In Jesus’ model for prayer, attention is first toward God’s glory and His plans for the world. So often prayer begins with ‘help me’ yet in praying only for myself, I am feeding only myself, not building on the new life of Christ that is in me. That unchanging life shines only when I get out of its way. To do that, my prayer needs to focus on Him, not on my agenda.

That does not mean ignoring my needs. Jesus is clear that I need to pray for some basic stuff. Feed me, forgive me as I forgive others, protect me from temptation. The feeding part is daily bread, but this could include spiritual food. Jesus also said “I am the bread of life” so I need also to feast on Him.

Not only that, in context the bread that the praying person asks for is not for himself. Others are hungry and need my help. Jesus sums this passage up by saying, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

From reading the entire passage, I can see that Jesus’ model prayer does not exclude asking for my basic needs, but it is more about asking God to supply my basic needs that I might offer what He gives me to others who need bread too. His words clearly indicate that to do this, I need the Holy Spirit and an answer from God.

I also need to keep sin from becoming a barrier in my relationship with Jesus. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Confession is a big part of prayer, not as a catharsis for me, but as a barrier remover that Christ might forgive me and let His life shine through me.

In my relationships with others, the big barrier is always sin too. One or both of us do things that come between. Jesus says that when I ask for His forgiveness, I need to remember that it will be given like mine is given. If I am holding the sins of others as a barrier, then this will also be a barrier in my relationship with Him. Keep short accounts with Jesus and with others. Basic, simple stuff.

In praying this way, Jesus is given priority. Nothing holds more importance than being close to Him. When I do, we have communion. He can only show up through me when I continually pull down the barriers in prayer.

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Jesus, life can get so complicated. The things I bring to You in prayer can seem so complex and difficult. Yet You simplify the whole thing. I’m to focus on the grandeur of who You are and the grandeur of Your great plan, not get tangled in the messes created by human ideas (including mine) of how things should be. I’m to keep my sins confessed, sins against You and others. I’m to forgive people so that the snare of broken relationships does not keep me from fellowship with You.

The bottom line is that I cannot do even this without Your help. Only You can protect me from the temptations of trying to live life without You, or of desiring my will instead of Yours, or of not being concerned about sin and selfishness that comes between me and You or me and others. Without You, I am not even able to pray as I ought. Along with the disciples, I need to be taught.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Abhorring doubt

Small children tend to believe everything they are told. Sadly, experience soon teaches them that this is not always so. I can remember the first few times that I realized even my best friends lied to me. For me, this was a deeply troubling offense and an insult. Certainly childlike believing was easier than trying to discern a lie, yet I also wanted to be trusted. Those lies created a barrier that became difficult to overcome.

When Christ came into my life, I knew that I had discovered Someone who did not lie. However, I also discovered something that troubles me far more than being lied to — my own sinful tendency to doubt God, the One who never lies. 

And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” (Numbers 14:11)
Spurgeon calls unbelief a monster, a weed, worse than a weed. When it seeds itself in our hearts, we must aim at its root with zeal and perseverance, yet even when one weed is eliminated, more crop up to take its place. Doubt is faith’s great enemy.

Doubting the Lord hurts me, but what does it do to Jesus? I hate lies, but I also am personally wounded if someone does not believe me. How then must the one who said, “I am truth” respond when I do not believe what He says? Does doubt put a dagger deep into His loyal and faithful heart?

Sometimes I will tell someone a truth, the listener agrees with me, but then carries on as if I had never spoken. This too is hurtful and an insult. Yet I do it to Jesus. I agree with His wonderful words and write about them. I tell others what He says, loving His words and knowing they are true. But do I live according to what I know? Do I follow through with a changed life?

As Spurgeon says, Jesus has never given the slightest ground for my doubts. He is God the Son, sovereign and loving. He is the same today as yesterday and forever. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Nothing is too difficult for Him. He can meet any need, solve any problem.

Should I worry that my prayers will go unanswered? Or that He will not keep His promises? Or that I will be in need and He will turn His back? Spurgeon asks, “If Christ were only a cistern, we might soon exhaust his fulness, but who can drain a fountain?”

Another author, John Bunyan, says that unbelief has “as many lives as a cat.” It seems to me this is an understatement. In my sinful heart, doubt is more like dandelions. Even those that I think have been dug out to the root have a way of popping up again with even greater vigor, taking over the field of my heart.

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Lord, I so identify with the man who said, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” Doubt is a terrible insult to You and a traitor that habitually threatens my soul. Never do I want You to feel the insult that I feel when someone does not believe what I say, yet even as I write those words, I know that I am prone to doubt, prone to hearing the lies of Satan rather than remembering the truth that You always speak. I abhor the reality that my doubt insults You.  You are my Savior and from this sin I also need redemption. You have taught me to love truth. Keep teaching me to always recognize the source of my doubts and deal with this enemy until doubt can no longer find a place to grow in my life.

(Photo credit)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ageless

A common dismissal of the Bible asserts that this is an ancient and therefore irrelevant book, behind the times and totally outdated. Those who say such things point to the culture and era it was written in, and totally miss the enduring and everlasting promises of God. These promises are as needed today as they were then, maybe even more so.

As I watch the news and see so much violence and injustice, my heart cries for righteousness. As I see the hunger and poverty and know that as one person I cannot make a dent in the pattern of starvation and needs of millions, my heart also longs that all who suffer could know the care that God promises.

God is faithful and just toward His people. He was way back when and He is now. He is an eternal God, not just for ancient Israel or for those few whose hearts are set to love and trust Him. 

Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name! (Psalm 111:2–9)
His righteousness endures forever. He remembers His covenant forever. The works of His hands and His precepts are established forever. He has commanded His covenant to last forever.

The people of Bible times did not have airplanes, microscopes, skyscrapers or television. They knew nothing about i-pods, smart phones, Internet or laparoscopic surgery. But those who knew and believed and served God did so because He made promises and kept them. Culture, ancient or modern, does not affect who God is.

Further, when His people sinned, He forgave them. Have we outgrown that? Those who trusted Him and obeyed Him had peace in their hearts. They knew they were sinful, but they also knew that they were forgiven, that their God was just and hated sin, but He was also merciful. He told them . . . 

For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6)
Old fashioned? Is sin still an issue? Or have we evolved to be better, kinder, more upright as a human race? Have we outgrown the need for forgiveness and mercy? Has our need for peace been replaced by prosperity and universal well-being?

Those who think that faith, God and the promises He makes are outdated have closed their eyes to far more than the ageless message of mercy and grace; they have also become blind to their need of it, to our need of it. God has not changed, but we still need change. We still need His grace in our lives because without it, we are left with the reality of becoming consumed by our selfishness.

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Lord, I feel the burden of Paul when he lamented that his people were ignorant of Your righteousness. I ache inside when those I love make fun of You and Your goodness.  I want them to see the awesome wonder of Your unchanging and everlasting love for them. So many have made up their minds that You, the eternal One, are no longer are alive or that You have no place in this world or in their lives. Yet Your promises are forever, Your love is everlasting and You are the same yesterday, today and for all eternity. I also flounder and feel helpless to say the words or be sufficient in my witness to the reality of You. I too need Your everlasting grace to make known the everlasting wonder of You and Your love.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Experiencing Jesus

Writers are instructed to involve all five senses because this makes a story more vivid to readers. This morning’s devotional points out that those who wrote the Bible also used this literary technique. God inspired them to involve our senses and as they did, faith is vividly depicted.

While the Bible says we must walk by faith and not by sight (trusting what God says rather than what we can easily comprehend), we are also to use our eyes and each of our senses.

Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:22, NKJV)
Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant . . .  (Isaiah 55:3)
The psalmist, speaking of Jesus, says, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. . . ." (Psalm 45:7–8)

Other passages evoke more responses from our senses, such as “All Thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia” and, “Thy name is as ointment poured forth” and, “How sweet are thy words to my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my lips.”

Spurgeon says that the first response to God involves hearing. This is found in Romans 10:17: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” While we need to hear the Word with the outward ear, it is not effective until it is also heard with our inward ear. That is, we need to hear and believe the Bible as God’s Word to us personally. This “hearing” of faith happens when the mind looks at the truth presented, understands and perceives its meaning, then “sees” that this is true — knowing that this is God speaking.

When this happens, believers begin to admire the Word of God. Through faith and obedience, the Holy Spirit uses it to “touch” our lives. We are encouraged to “taste” and “see” it more and more. 

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2–3)
As we apprehend the sweet preciousness of God, our entire body, soul and spirit are engaged in the enjoyment of knowing and walking with Him. 
As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. (Song of Solomon 2:3)
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Lord,  I can hear great symphonies, enjoy the grandeur of all creation, draw deeply the fragrance of a thousand roses, taste the most elegant foods, and indulge in many sensual delights, yet nothing pleases my ears, or delights my eyes like You. No perfume smells so sweet, no food tastes so rich or is as satisfying as this relationship that I have with You. If I lived solely for good feelings, even the most pleasant pales in comparison to the joy that You give. I thank You for my senses and that I can experience You through them. However, my greater gratitude is for the astonishing gift of being able to experience You through grace by faith, regardless of what my senses are telling me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

He goes before me

When we were children, we played “follow the leader” — a game that few play these days. People complain that there are few leaders worth following, but human nature tends to resist words like yield, submission and accountability. We prefer to go our own way.

After the trials of the past couple of weeks, I’m appreciating these words about following my leader more than I used to. This bout of feeling helpless, without strength or direction, gives me a strong desire to take the hand of God and go where He wants me to go.

Today, Spurgeon’s devotional is about the leadership of Christ, not so much that He is capable of leading (which He is), but that no matter what I experience, He has been there and has conquered all threats. He truly paves the way.

He who opens the breach goes up before them; they break through and pass the gate, going out by it. Their king passes on before them, the LORD at their head. (Micah 2:13)
Spurgeon uses this verse as inspiration to say that because Jesus has gone before us, things are not the same as they would have been had He never passed that way. He has conquered every enemy and obstruction that rose before Him.

For that reason, I’ve no reason to be fainthearted. He has traveled the same road and dealt with all that threatens me, opening a safe passage. As Spurgeon says, I’ve no need to fear the power of sin for Jesus has nailed it to His cross. I have no need to fear death for He died and rose again. He gives me the same life, His life, that conquered the grave and rose to live forever. I need not fear Satan, for his destiny is certain and he also has been defeated.

Spurgeon uses poetic words to say that whatever foes may be before any Christian, they are all overcome. “There are lions, but their teeth are broken; there are serpents, but their fangs are extracted; there are rivers, but they are bridged or fordable; there are flames, but we wear that matchless garment which renders us invulnerable to fire. The sword that has been forged against us is already blunted; the instruments of war which the enemy is preparing have already lost their point.”

Christ has taken away all the power that anything can have or use to hurt me. I can safely move ahead, even joyously go along my journey because all my enemies are conquered beforehand and my Savior is leading me forward.

 “Proclaim aloud the Savior’s fame,
Who bears the Breaker’s wond’rous name;
Sweet name; and it becomes him well,
Who breaks down earth, sin, death, and hell.”

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Father, I thank You for the power of Jesus Christ who goes before me. Nothing can defeat Him.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37–39)
I also thank You for the total reliability of Your love, for nothing can separate me from it either.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

His presence now and forever

God again amazes me. Yesterday, after a time of prayer I felt just as weak and useless as before. Several projects on my to-do list seemed overwhelming, but I had to do them. I picked the most dreaded one to tackle first. It loomed as a mountain, but it seemed I was on autopilot. Very odd. The next thing I knew it was finished.

The next item (computer related) actually was worse because I wasn’t sure how to do what I was supposed to do. I had one of those “Dummies” books but even it seemed written in a foreign language. Then, after several false starts and mistakes, this task also was finished. I’m looking back and thinking, “I did that?” I have no idea how. It just happened.

Today, I still feel helpless. However, the Lord has more deeply educated me in how His strength is perfected in weakness. Also, He offers two thoughts from two sources that lift my spirit. One is about prayer (and I know that people are praying). It comes from this verse where Jesus says, 

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)
The devotional writer states the obvious when he says prayer is an effort of will. While at times I pray in desperation because of trials and tough situations, consistent daily prayer is a choice. In the flesh, I will not make that choice. I need the power of God at work in me to even talk to Him, in public or in a secret place. For too many days, it seems that His power is way off somewhere, and mine is not enough. I struggle to focus. I also fight those “you have other things to do” thoughts.

Yet Jesus says to shut the door, shut out all else but Him. This is much easier when I sense that God is near and feel close to Him, but His presence is not about my feelings. God says He never leaves or forsakes His people. He is always near. I dare not rely on a sense of His presence but on His promise of it.

The best part of this devotional reading was about how God sees. Because He is in secret (that is, not visible to the human eye or discernable to the unsanctified heart), He also sees me in that secret place, not as other people see or even as I see myself. He knows who I am and all about me.

His presence is most certain when I go there too, because He is most discernable when all else is pushed to the other side of that closed door. Then, to top it off, the devotional reading reminded me that when I go into this secret place to pray to my Father in secret, even if it is difficult and it seems that He is not there, then every public thing I do “will be stamped with His presence.” Astonishing.

The second blessing came from this promise to God’s people in the Old Testament that alludes to the future glory that will belong to His people in eternity . . . 

I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. (Isaiah 65:19)
With Jesus in glory there will be no more tears, no outward cause for grief, no inner pain. Broken relationships, ruined plans, poverty, famine, peril, persecution and slander are unknown there. I will not have any emptiness, losses, thoughts of death or bitterness of bereavement.

Further, I will be perfected. No “evil heart of unbelief” will move me away from the living God (for is it not true that I move away, not Him?). I will be without fault and fully conformed to His image. All fear of change will be past, all sin shut out, and His people are eternally secure and shut in.

The rest of this second reading speaks of the eternal delights in that eternal city: no storms, a sun that never sets, a river that never floods or runs dry, fruit trees that never wither. I will weep no more because every desire is fulfilled, all needs possessed. The joy of Christ will never leave.

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God, this devotional reading finishes with, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” and in the reading of them, You comfort me. The losses, threats and weakness of this past week have not changed. They are still looming over me, but You are here too, and You have not changed. Even when I struggle to keep my eyes on You, in that secret place You keep Your eyes on me. I also know that the trials of life are but a “light and momentary affliction that is preparing me for an eternal weight of glory.”

I’m not enjoying the stirring of the pot in this preparation process, but thank You for turning my mind toward the present reality of Your power — and the future reality of never losing sight of You.

Monday, August 22, 2011

God owns a threshing machine

While I am not old enough to remember my farming family using threshing machines, we did have one of these monsters rusting away in our yard. Large and covered with wheels and gears, it was respected and considered dangerous. Mother warned that even though it was at rest and no longer working, we could be hurt if we fell inside a threshing machine.

Today’s devotional is about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is a controversial topic in Christian circles and I don’t want to get into all the views about what this means. However, I am certain that when Jesus came into my life, His Spirit came also. This is His promise to all believers. I also know that I cannot live or walk with Jesus apart from the grace and power that the Holy Spirit provides.

Scripture speaks much about life in the Spirit and how God’s people must walk in the Spirit and be filled with the Spirit. I am aware that God generously gives His Spirit to me, but if I sin, I become filled with that instead of Him. Each day I must repent of any sinful attitudes and actions so the Spirit can again fill me and use me.

That makes being Spirit-filled a daily event. Some think this is also a crisis event. That is, there comes a time when a Christian is brought to the end of their own effort. Then the Holy Spirit fills them for service and their life is never the same after that crisis. It is not about having the Spirit but about the Spirit taking charge in a new and fuller way. Those who do not agree with this idea say that all of us wish that God would “zap” us and we didn’t have to fight sin, but this event is not a biblical promise.

Today I notice that all four gospels quote John the Baptist promising that Jesus will fill His people with His Spirit. This is called a baptism, but it is not about water.

I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:11–12)
I included verse 12 because it speaks of another work that the Holy Spirit does, a work of separating the wheat from the chaff. In this context, it seems to be mostly about judgment and how God will gather those who believe into His care and send those who do not believe into eternal punishment. However, there is an experience in the lives of God’s people where He works to rid us of the useless chaff in our lives. Does this purifying process have anything to do with this supposed work of Holy Spirit baptism?

John hinted at growing deeper in Christ when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30). Paul also spoke of a change of priorities where he lost the sense of what was once important. He said,

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith . . . (Philippians 3:7–9)
Today’s devotional reading also points to this end of self and of what Christians depend on to serve God. It asks if I have ever come to a place in my experience where I can say “not I but Christ”? The author suggests that I will never know what the baptism of the Holy Spirit means until I am at an end of my own resources and helpless, unable to do anything.

I’ve been working through a separate Bible study on repentance. God is showing me all sorts of things that are not right in my life. Today’s devotional touches the way this study is affecting me. It says repentance does not bring a sense of sin, but a sense of unutterable unworthiness. While helplessness is necessary for the fullness of the Holy Spirit, this realization of not being worthy even to carry His shoes leaves me feeling as if I am empty, without ambition, even as if I fell into a threshing machine. It is not a glorious thing and makes me want to run and hide. 


Yet even as I say that, the devotional author says this: “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire.” John does not speak of the baptism of the Holy Ghost as an experience (i.e., a new power that I will feel), but as a work performed by Jesus Christ, “He shall baptize you.”

Then he adds, “The only conscious experience those who are baptized with the Holy Ghost ever have is a sense of absolute unworthiness.”

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Lord, I’ve known this sense of “Your power perfected in weakness” that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians. I’ve even taught others that when this happens, we ourselves feel our weakness, but others see Your strength in us. Even with feeling weak, this has been a good experience for me, up to now.

This week it seems that my words only scratched the surface. You are doing something in my life that is bringing that weakness to deeper helplessness. But I, in my flesh, don’t want to be helpless or feel as chaff being winnowed like wheat through a threshing machine. I know that You know what You are doing, and that this is for my good and Your glory, but there is no deep joy in my heart. Instead, I feel heaviness as in a spiritual war. I’m also feeling resistance and anger — and do not want to be unable to stand on my feet.

Some say that this could be about unconfessed sin or simply fatigue, but it seems more as if You are leading me through what some have called “the dark night of the soul” — a time when my longing for You will deepen and my faith is eventually strengthened. In regard to this testing, someone said, “Growing up in the Christian life, just like growing as a human person, is not all fun and games” — reminding me of that warning not to play on a threshing machine. 


(Photo credit)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

God blesses sacrificial giving

My mother used to say that a person cannot be truly happy unless they are doing things for others. This was her expression of a biblical principle that requires discipline to learn.
Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. (Proverbs 11:25)
Some television-based ministries twist this to mean that the more you give, the more you get, making the motivation for giving a self-centered one. They quote Jesus who said, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)

However, this is not what God has in mind. By nature, we are selfish, me-first creatures. By giving in order to get, I make generosity all about me and what I can get out of it instead of truly thinking about others. Instead, the biblical idea of giving is like Jesus gave — sacrificially.

Jesus never once considered the cost to Himself more important than our need for forgiveness and redemption. As He died on the cross, He put us first. As God “so loved the world that He gave His Son,” He put us first. Jesus focused on the “joy set before Him” so He could endure, but that is not why He died for us. For Him, our lost condition was of utmost importance.

The verses quoted above do offer a sense in that by giving, we accumulate, but this is not the point. The point is that by putting the needs of others first, we do not need to fear the cost to ourselves. God says that when I make others happy, I will be blessed, but the sacrifice of giving must be entered into with that idea; I am making a sacrifice, not doing this so I can gain in some way. In fact, that focus is of the world and is not a reflection of God and His ways.

Spurgeon adds more to this idea of giving. He says that in order to become spiritually vigorous, we must seek the spiritual good of others. In watering others, we are ourselves watered — because “our efforts to be useful, bring out our powers for usefulness.”

That is, God gives me all that I need to serve others. I can be a source of love and power to them, but these resources are brought to light by using them for others. I cannot see or release the goodness of God in myself unless I am willing to give up my “i-wants” and obey the Lord. For instance, the tender sympathy of Christ comes out only when I try to soothe someone’s grief or carry another’s burden.

I understand this in terms of my God-given ministry of teaching. It is in teaching others that I gain instruction — and learn how little I know. As I try to help others, God teaches me His ways for my own life. “Watering” someone else produces humility in my own heart, as well as  deeper insight into divine truth.

It is the same with comfort. God increases my sense of joy when I forget my sorrows and try to soothe others. Spurgeon reminds me of the two men in the snow, one rubbing the other’s limbs to keep him from dying, and in so doing kept his own blood in circulation, saving his own life also.

Another way to say this is that God’s love and grace flow through open channels. When the channel is blocked by “me first” or a “my goals” motivation, then love and grace bless no one. The person who gives in order to get might receive some financial recompense (or not) but others will miss out on the blessing that God intended, and so will the self-focused giver.

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Lord, it was good yesterday to be occupied in serving someone else. It is also good to be reminded that while it is okay to feel sorrow at setbacks and losses, that sorrow can become “poor me” and block the blessings You want to give me. Thank You for those who put this sacrificial giving principle to work in ministering to me, and thank You for the privilege of being able to do the same for others. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Sweet Psalmist of Israel

Books filled with “famous last words” interest many, perhaps because they often sum up a life and reveal regret or accomplishments. The last words of David, king of Israel and a “man after God’s own heart” were recorded:
Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, the son of Jesse, the oracle of the man who was raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel. . . . (2 Samuel 23:1)
The passage goes on with a few lines of how God spoke through him and blessed his life, however, David’s last words are not nearly so famous as his poetry recorded in the psalms. For instance . . . 
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23:1–6)
Why are these and other psalms so striking and such a blessing to our hearts? Spurgeon nails it. He points out that, of all Old Testament characters, David is the most suggestive of Jesus Christ.

David knew the trials of all human ranks and situations. Kings have their troubles; David wore a crown. Peasants have their cares; David handled a shepherd’s crook. The homeless have many hardships; David lived in the caves in the hills. Leaders have difficulties; David had many of those. He was tested by his friends, forsaken by some, and his worst foes were of his own household.

David also faced the temptations of both poverty and wealth, honor and reproach, of health and weakness. He had external temptations to disturb his peace, and internal strife that marred his joy. He no sooner escaped from one trial than he fell into another. He moved from seasons of joy to despondency and fear. As Spurgeon says, all God’s waves and billows rolled over him.

No wonder then that David’s psalms are so universally a delight to those who walk with the Lord. Whatever I experience, from ecstasy to depression, David describes those emotions of his heartfelt, personal experience and I can relate to what he says. I cry the same way, wonder why the same way, and hopefully also am learning to love God the same way. As I grow in grace and in years, his psalms are increasingly appreciated and become my “green pastures and still waters” also.

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Lord, in my sorrows over these past few days, I’ve neglected the psalms. As I read Spurgeon, You remind me how You offer so great a solace and companionship in this part of Your Word. As I go there, I know that You will use the words of the sweet psalmist of Israel to bless me this day. Thank You. 

(Clipart credit)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hugged by God


The dictionary says that peace is “a state of tranquility or quiet, freedom from civil disturbance, a state of security or order, freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions, harmony in personal relations, a state or period of mutual concord between governments” and so on. None of those kinds of peace come close to the peace that is offered by Jesus Christ.

Before Jesus came, when the Old Testament prophets wrote about the coming Messiah, they used the word peace. He was to be the Prince of peace, bringing peace to His people. 

And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace. . . . (Micah 5:4–5a)
Of course the Jews thought this meant that Messiah would end all wars, and certainly free them from political oppression. They didn’t understand that they first needed a different kind of peace.

The Bible says that all mankind is at war with God. Sin (going our own way instead of His) is a form of hostility. Scripture talks about our “fist in His face” attitude toward God, but it also talks about the wrath of God on sin. This hostility goes both ways. Not only that, there was enmity between the Jews who knew they were the people of God and the pagans or Gentiles who did not have the same history or privilege. However, when Jesus came, He ended all that.

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. (Ephesians 2:14)
This peace is the end of enmity between me and God, and the conflicting difference between Jews and non-Jews. In the Bible, it is called “peace with God” because Jesus paid our penalty for sin and satisfied the wrath of God against us. He gives all people opportunity to be His people, not just the Jews.

But there is another kind of peace. This one depends on the first one because no one can have it unless they also have dealt with the sin issue in their lives. That is, peace “with” God is necessary to experience the peace “of” God. Jesus described it like 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 hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
I can never lose my peace with God. It is established by Jesus Christ, not by anything I do or do not do. Since Christ came into my life, this is no animosity or enmity between me and my Lord, and never will be.

However, I can lose that peace of God, or the sense of it. If fear, anxiety, or any contrary attitudes well up inside me, the peace of God gets pushed out. This is why Paul wrote:

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)
This happened yesterday as I struggled with my hubby’s blood test results and what that means for our not-so-distant future. Then God spoke to me about my worries. He pulled my thoughts back to Himself and to His goodness for me. As Micah says, He stands to shepherd me, to keep me secure. He is doing His part; I need to do mine.
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)
Doubting God will drive away peace. So will a focus on doom and gloom and worrying about its possibility. His promises to give me His peace have nothing to do with doom or gloom. His peace is not like the world’s peace. It depends on absence of disturbance but the peace of God surpasses human understanding. It is there, deep within, no matter what.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4–9, italics mine)
God does not ask me to be in denial. Instead, He asks me to find my joy in Him and to be reasonable in my demeanor. I know the way of life. Here I will experience trouble and turmoil, not heaven on earth. This is reasonable thinking. Yet one day all of my trials will be over and I will enjoy perfection forever. Besides, God is with me. He tells me to pray with thanksgiving about all the matters of concern. In return, He will give me that “peace that passes all understanding.”
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Father, I know all this is true. You do not advocate denial or even positive thinking (even though the above verses advise positive thoughts). Instead, the peace You offer is entirely supernatural. I’ve seen it on the face of a new widow as she turned from the burial place of her dead husband. I’ve seen it in the life of a woman whose husband is dying and in many others who have never married and live alone. You have given it to me when I was in great physical pain, when one of my children ran away, when I was horribly betrayed by another. Your peace is nothing like the peace of the world. It does not depend on pleasing circumstances; it bubbles up from Your Spirit who lives in my heart. You fill me with a sense of well-being even when there is nothing that can be described as good. Your peace is for me a great strength, often unexpected, but incredibly assuring. You are my peace.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sorrow

As it says in my profile, my husband has CLL, a chronic form of leukemia. This particular version develops slowly, some having it twenty years. However, it is relentless. Each time his blood is tested, we are reminded that there is no escape; all of us are terminal.

Yesterday’s test results showed a big leap in the numbers that matter. My heart is heavy. I know that God could intervene with this disease as He did with another less serious, yet normally incurable ailment that my husband once had. However, that does not change the fact that every person dies, and some will suffer greatly.

Spurgeon’s reading for today points me to Jesus, who when dying on the cross was offered a temporary balm for His agony. 

And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. (Mark 15:23)
The devotional reading is bitter sweet. Again, I paraphrase Spurgeon’s words . . .
    A golden truth is illustrated by Jesus refusing the wine-cup. On the heights of heaven the Son of God looked down upon our world and measured His long descent to the utmost depths of human misery. He knew the horrible agonies which redemption for sin would require, but did not back down. Instead, He solemnly determined that to offer a sufficient atoning sacrifice, He must go the whole way. This meant descending from the throne of highest glory to the cross of deepest woe.
    This cup mixed with myrrh with its sleep-inducing influence would have abated some of that utmost misery, but He refused it. He would not stop short of all He determined to suffer for His people.
    How many of us have longed for relief to our grief — not thinking that such relief would injure us more? Have I ever prayed for ease in hard service or relief from suffering with a bad-tempered or selfish and wilful attitude? Has life ever taken from me the desire of my eyes with a stroke? If the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “If you so desire it, that loved one of yours shall live, but God will be dishonored,” could I put away the temptation and say, “Thy will be done”?
    It is sweet to be able to say, “My Lord, if for other reasons I need not suffer, yet if I can honor You more by suffering, and if the loss of my earthly things will bring You glory, then so let it be. I refuse the comfort, if it comes in the way of thine honor.”
    Oh that I could thus walk more in the footsteps of my Lord, cheerfully enduring trial for His sake, promptly and willingly putting away the thought of self and comfort when it would interfere with me finishing the work which He has given me to do. Great grace is needed, but great grace is provided.
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Father, I do not know what You are going to do in my life or in my husband’s life with this increasing threat. I know that he is using it to speak to others about salvation. His attitude is cheerful. Such is grace.

As for me, I needed to read this and to realize that You are not acting randomly. All of life’s events are part of Your plan. I need grace and that peace that passes understanding. It was no coincidence that You had me read these verses this morning also. I love what they say. Help me live this out each day . . . 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. . . . And I know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. . . . What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? . . . . Who (or what) shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?. . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:18, 28–39)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Illness has purpose

While some insist that there is physical healing in the atonement, I believe that God allows sickness for various purposes. In the story of Job, it was to demonstrate that the faith He gave Job was stronger than pain and suffering. Even though this man complained and could not understand what was happening to him, he did not abandon God. When this test was over, his health was restored.

Sometimes affliction is a wake-up call regarding sin. It could be directly related to the sin (like recklessness leading to broken bones) or God’s way of getting our attention so He can speak to us about a sin that has permeated our lives.

However, there are two more reasons that God allows illness. One is that He often uses sickness to take His people home. It is a part of the end of life. The other is a surprise, and in my thinking, if I have to be sick, this is the reason that I would pick . . . 

But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4)
Lazarus did die, but Jesus raised him from the dead and in doing that, He glorified the Giver of life.

I’ve known several people who were ill and became well with no other explanation except that God did something unusual. My husband had an incurable ailment requiring him to take enzymes to digest food. One Sunday our pastor asked those who were ill to come forward for prayer. My husband was an elder at the time so prayed for others that day, not even sharing his own need. However, God healed him and he has never had that ailment return. His doctor said that this was a miracle, and glorifies God with us.

Spurgeon says that God limits the time, manner, intensity, repetition, and effects of all our sicknesses. He knows and ordains even our sleepless nights, relapses, depression of spirit and the outcome. Nothing escapes the hand of the One who numbers the hairs of our head. This is a comfort to me. I know God is wise. I might not understand why He does what He does, but illness is never random.

He also says that God’s limits on illness are also adjusted to our strength, to the purpose God has for it, and to the grace He gives. Affliction is never haphazard, nor its intensity. God makes “no errors in measuring out the ingredients which compose the medicine of souls.”

For this reason, I am convinced that when I seek medical attention, I am wise to seek spiritual attention too. What is God trying to say to me when I am sick?

Illness has another divine limitation. God never afflicts us more than necessary. He wisely knows what is needed to deal with our sin. Spurgeon says (and I agree) that, “when we consider how hard-mouthed we are, it is a wonder that we are not driven with a sharper bit.”

Most of us instantly seek a return to good health when we are ill. It is certainly okay to do that, yet it would be a good idea to first say, “God, what is Your purpose in this? Does something need my attention? Am I disobeying You in ways that I have not recognized?”

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God, I am so thankful for good health, but notice that even a hint of something going amiss has me quickly running to the medicine cabinet or doing whatever I think will make me better. Yet You have also taught me to pray (and mean it) that if illness is Your plan for me, I will accept it. If not, and if this is just another tactic of the enemy to keep me from active service or whatever, then I trust You to take care of it.

As I grow older, I expect wear and tear will take its toll on my body. May I maintain an attitude of trust when this happens, knowing that You know all about it and can even use it in some way to bring glory to Yourself. May I cooperate, not complain or be anxious, but trust You to do in me whatever will bring great blessing to You.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Disquieting inertia

Discouragement settled over me this morning even as I got out of bed. Spurgeon’s devotional words seemed just words. I tried My Utmost for His Highest and those words were also just words. Then I noticed the reading for tomorrow. Its title: “Are you discouraged in devotion?”

The author asks if I have ever heard Jesus say a hard word. Of course, but then I thought about yesterday’s word. It seemed so lovely, but already it is hard. He told me to begin a new habit. We had company last night and by the time we had dessert and tea, it was late. Going out to “meditate in the field” seemed too hard. I wanted to go to bed, tried to meditate there, but fell asleep. I did not get off to a good start in this new habit.

While this rich young man who came to Jesus was looking for salvation, we are alike in that he also found the words of Jesus very hard.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. (Luke 18:22–23)
The devotional writing points out that Jesus put no pressure at all on this man. He did not plead, cajole or make him feel that he must do it. Instead, He spoke those words and said nothing.

This is exactly how I heard Him speaking to me about changing my evening routine. I listened. It sounded great. I understood exactly what He asked and even liked what I heard — but I didn’t do it. Like this young man, I came to Him full of desire and now feel thoroughly discouraged. Instead of His Word producing enthusiastic devotion, it produced nothing.

Jesus did not go after him. Instead, He let him go. The devotional writer says that the Lord knows that when once His word is heard, it will bear fruit sooner or later. Is that true? He says so, and says that when I do make up my mind to follow through on this particular issue, He will never cast my failures in my face. This encourages me, but I know that if left to myself, I cannot obey. In helplessness, I must rely on His Spirit to give me the motivation and follow-through for even this seemingly pleasant change.

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Lord, as I follow, You lead me through green pastures and beside still waters, but You also take me over mountain passes and up steep slopes. Changing a habit seems a simple thing, particularly when You are asking me to do something that in itself is lovely. Why then is it so difficult?

Part of this is about the inner resistance of my old nature to all that is good and godly. Part of it is inertia; old ways are easier that taking a higher road or a new path. Break my love of routine and move me in the direction You are asking me to take. I agree that what You ask is good, but my physical body needs to move beyond mere acquiescence to actual obedience.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A new challenge

In the evening, I’m usually too tired to do very much. Sometimes a book catches my attention. If the weather is nice, I might hop on my bike and go out for a tour of the neighborhood. However, far too often the television fills in those few hours after supper. Even though we watch something recorded and skip the commercials, and even though I might do some hand sewing at the same time, I often feel that I have wasted precious hours.

I’ve wanted this to change, but starting new habits is never easy. This morning, God draws me to this short segment of a verse in the Old Testament and challenges me with what Spurgeon has to say about it.

And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. . . . (Genesis 24:63)
First, Spurgeon points out that meditation is an admirable occupation. It is far better than spending those evening hours in “idle company, light reading and useless pastimes.” Rather, it is an aid to learning wisdom and certainly more profitable to my life and even to society than the uselessness of many other activities.

Meditation helps me draw closer to God. By dwelling on Him, His grace and all that He is teaching me, I can “extract real nutriment from the mental food gathered elsewhere.” Meditation can stamp the lessons of the day more deeply into my life. Also, when Jesus is the theme, meditation is far sweeter and more rejuvenating than even the best reading material and certainly superior to any form of entertainment. 

Spurgeon also takes note of the place. In the field, there is much to notice, think about and offer food for thought. The sky, trees, birds, even insects all point to the Creator and His great wisdom. Nothing in my house can instruct me or refresh me like a wildflower or a wild rabbit. All of creation points to the glory of God. Not only that, being in the field is far more restful than being in a recliner in the living room.

Last but not least is the time of day. When sunset draws an end to each day, very often the color in the clouds fills me with awe. The glory of the evening sky and the first few twinkling stars lift my heart from the toils and burdens of the day. Evening marks closure and putting aside all that has bothered or perplexed. It reminds me too that Jesus said, “It is finished.”

I live in a city. Fields require a car ride, although nearby parks are a short walk from my home. Many evenings offer distracting weather, but some do not. I have no excuses. I could be like Isaac and go to the fields and meditate toward evening. And as Spurgeon says, if I cannot spare an hour to walk in the field in the evening, the Lord is in the town too. He will meet with me in my home, or my backyard, or out in a crowded street — if I discipline myself to go forth and meet Him.

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Jesus, old habits are like old shoes, difficult to toss because of their comfort. Yet this verse challenges me to start a new habit, one that would not require any “breaking in” like new shoes. Instead, it means simply doing it. I am challenged. Help me forget the books, sewing, television, other idle time-wasting and spend my evening hours with You, if not in a field, at least apart from all the old and tired activities that have no lasting value. May this be an expression of my love for You as well, not for any profit it might give me, but more for the joy it brings to Your heart.


(Photo credit)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Faith for the journey . . .

This week I read about Madam Guyon, a Christian woman who lived in France during the reign of Louis XIV. She suffered abusive treatment and incredible losses during her life yet was able to say, “Thou hast ordered these things, O my God, for my salvation! In goodness Thou hast afflicted me. Enlightened by the result, I have since clearly seen, that these dealings of Thy providence were necessary, in order to make me die to my vain and haughty nature.”

This week I’ve also talked with Christians who have enjoyed great prosperity and protection. From all appearances, it seems as if they have never suffered at all. Yet I know they too have had affliction in their lives as God works to make them more like Jesus.

These bring mixed emotions. In me, that is in my flesh, I would like the sweet attitude of Madam Guyon without any of the losses she experienced. I would like the prosperity without the affliction. But then I would not experience God’s power to deliver.

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people . . .  and have heard their cry. . . . I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them. . . .”  (Exodus 3:7–8)
God delivers in several ways. As one described it, sometimes He removes the boulders from life’s stream, but sometimes He just gives us deeper water.

While most of us would like the rocks removed, learning how to rise above them is what produces the attitude of people like Madam Guyon. For her and for many, there is a measure of deliverance in just knowing that God knows. He understands the way that I take. He knows the state of my soul, the pull of the flesh and the spirit’s desire to be like Jesus. I can come to Him and He not only acknowledges all that is happening, He also knows what to do about it.

As Spurgeon puts it, God is my Physician and I am His patient. I don’t need to analyze the disease, the symptoms or even the medicine He dispenses. This is His work. Mine is to trust and His is to prescribe. Even when I cannot read the handwriting of His prescription, I can rely on His skill, take the medicine and know that He will use it to heal me.

God is also my Master. He knows what He is doing, but I, as His servant, need to trust His knowledge, not judge or second-guess Him. “The servant knows not what his lord does.” As His servant, my role is to take orders, trusting Him with the reasons and the results.

In the same way, an architect does not explain his plans to every carpenter on the job nor does a potter explain his design to the clay on the wheel. The designer knows his intent. I cannot guess God’s pattern any more than a brush can figure out what the artist is painting. Instead, I must let Him do His work without protest. He keeps me in a need-to-know state to help my faith mature.

Another analogy is that Jesus Christ is the Head and I am part of the body. The head makes the plans, does the thinking. Body parts do not have brains. In a healthy body, they simply do as they are told. With these examples, I understand that I must not compare myself to other patients, other servants, other works of art. He has purpose for my life and I must trust Him with that, not wish I were like someone else.

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Thank You God for these analogies about childlike trust. You have a plan for my life. Now and then I catch glimpses of it, but for the most part, I’m more like the little one in the back seat of the family car. I could keep asking, “Are we there yet?” but You would be happier if I trusted You concerning the route we are taking and Your timing for the trip. You want me to trust and obey You — then simply enjoy the ride.

(Photo credit)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

God remembers

With all our rain, we have enjoyed spectacular rainbows. Some are double and a full arc. One shone in the western sky after a thundershower at dawn. During the past year I’ve seen one rainbow that had no sky in the background; it was below the clouds and mountain tops. Years ago, our family saw a silver bow created at night by the light of the moon after a storm. So beautiful!

As a quilter, I note the rainbow colors as they move from deep purple to bright yellow. This is like the color wheel upon which artists, designers and quilters base their combinations. All this is from God, but when He created the rainbow, it had an even greater purpose than signaling the end of a storm or inspiring artists.

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:12–17)
Today’s devotional reading focuses on the parts of this passage that declare it is not up to me to look at the rainbow and remember God’s covenant and promise. Instead, it is God who looks and remembers the promises He has made. While He does not need a reminder for that, we need to know that a rainbow was created as a sign or reminder for us — so we know that He is watching and remembering. With even something as ordinary as rainfall, He is thinking about His covenant and His promise.

There are other promises like this one. When the Israelites were in bondage in Egypt and God sent plagues to convince Pharaoh to let them go, the last one was the most terrible. An angel of death would pass over the land, but if anyone (including the Egyptians) killed a flawless lamb and put the blood of the lamb all around the door of their homes, the firstborn in that home would be spared. Notice the wording:

The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:13)
God did not tell the people to look at the blood and be saved. He said that they would be saved when He looked at the blood.

Of course this prefigures the salvation that is in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His blood was shed for my sin, and while looking at Jesus gives me great joy and comfort, my salvation is about God looking at Jesus and seeing that blood that covers all my transgressions.

God cannot judge sin when He looks at His Son because that sin has already been punished in Him. Nor does He make that incredible salvation dependent upon me and my looking. Faith is required to enter into His saving grace, but salvation was and is secured by God alone.

I need to remember this covenant of grace and am able to do so because of His grace to me, but my safety and security as His child who has escaped the angel of death is because God looks at the blood of His Son and passes over me. I am not and will not be destroyed, not because of what I do, but because of what God sees.

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Father, sometimes Your Spirit fills me with such a deep sense of my sinfulness that I wonder how You could possibly continue to love me and keep Your promises to take me to glory. Selfish ideas and motives seem to be stronger with each day, yet today You say again, “Salvation is not about you.” I am saved because of what Jesus has done. My life is hid in His so that when You look my direction, You see Him and His blood shed for me.

Thank You for the image of the lamb and the blood on the doorposts. Thank You also for the more visible image in the sky after a rain. The next time I see a rainbow, I will think of Your covenant with Noah and that You will not judge the earth with water as You did then, but please remind me that as I gaze at this beautiful bow in the sky, You are looking at it also — and remembering.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Stability in the storms


In our part of the world, it rained so much last month that when I went out, I didn’t know whether to take an umbrella or a canoe! August is a most welcome month as it brings more settled weather. It hasn’t rained for at least 36 hours and the sky today is clear.

Storms are often used in the Bible as a metaphor for the trials of life. However, what the disciples experienced on the sea of Galilee with Jesus was no metaphor.

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”(Matthew 8:23–27)
Today’s devotional reading points out that for parts of life there are no storm, no crisis, and during those times, we do our human best. However, when a crisis arises, we instantly reveal upon whom we rely.

This is so true. If my trust in God only goes up to a certain point, trouble will produce those basic panic prayers like those prayed by people who do not know God. This reveals that I am not really trusting that Jesus controls the world and the affairs of my life. Instead, for me He seems to be asleep and I can see nothing but high waves ahead. If I am relying on myself and suddenly find that I have no resources, I panic. I see others do the same, just as the disciples did.

Jesus said that they had little faith, yet they did not stay that way. As they walked with Him, their faith increased. It is the same for His people today. Through His Word and our experiences with Him, our faith grows. As I learn to worship and trust Him, then a crisis ought to reveal that even when I come to a breaking point, my confidence in Him remains firm.

The devotional says God expects His children to be so confident in Him that in any crisis we are the reliable ones. That means that we not only give joy to Him because of our faith, but we also become an anchor for others. Even if my faith in God is not shared by someone else who is in trouble, I’ve had people say that they like to hang around me because, “you are so stable.”

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Lord, I know You are my anchor in storms and the solid rock upon which I stand. I’m totally astounded and humbled that others would see me as a solid place for them when they panic. This is so amazing because when I am relying on You the most, I am also the most deeply aware of my weaknesses. Because of You, even when I feel like a useless pile of mush, others can see me as their source of stability. You again impress me with the importance of trusting You — all the time, no matter what happens, and particularly during storms.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Having my pie and eating it too . . .

John Piper calls it “future grace.” This refers to the promises of God that will happen in the future, but that give His people encouragement for the present time. This amazing grace is expressed in these verses. 
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16–17)
Christians are sometimes accused of a “pie in the sky” religion that gets us thinking about heaven to the point that we are no earthly good. There is nothing like that expressed in Scripture. As the above verses say, our eternal comfort and good hope have a purpose; it establishes our hearts so that we can speak and do good things.

This is practical. Today I woke up with a sore throat and feeling like I didn’t want to get out of bed. Thoughts of God began drifting into my mind, thoughts that came from Him. I know this because if left to my own, I’d quickly succumb to self-pity. I got up and ready for the day, then began reading the Bible. I was reminded of how I was lost in sin and am now blessed by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

As I read these verses in 2 Thessalonians, I thought about the promises of God for eternity — where there will be no more tears, sickness or sorrow. A smile formed. Those aches didn’t vanish, but they didn’t seem so pressing. Instead of thinking about myself, the Holy Spirit put other ideas in my head — thoughts of the goodness of God and thoughts about how I can honor Him today.

Simple? Yes, but important. When I am thinking about myself, this is continually reflected in my words, such as complaining, bragging, or whatever else points to me. When I’m thinking about God — and this happens because of His grace — then I can speak to the needs and interests of others, even telling them or showing them the love of God, a totally different approach to life.

The joy and promise of some day being with Jesus fills my head with thanksgiving and worship. Those thoughts produce different words and actions than thinking about the pains and pressures of life. This is what the Bible says they should do. That means faith is never pie-in-the-sky. Instead, it puts my head in the right place. Besides comfort, the love and hope that comes through grace is entirely practical.

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God, You are amazing. Just thinking about heaven and the delights of eternal life that You promise has given me great encouragement for this day. I’m not sure what You have in mind, but I thank You for putting my mind on You. I know that no matter what the day will bring, You will take care of my body. Thank You for also taking care of my heart. Instead of being wrapped up feeling sorry for myself, You have wrapped me in Your grace and comfort! 

(photo credit)