June 30, 2012

Jesus is enough

An odd thing happened; I read today’s devotional yesterday, so have yesterday’s reading for today. Since I’m using a digital book, I’m not sure how this occurred. Did my brain go to sleep? 
Actually, this morning I feel very sleepy. I want to put my head on my desk. My mind is wandering. This sense of being less than fully alert ties in to the verses for the missed reading. They are about a willing spirit in a sleepy body.
And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Mark 14:37–42)
Some say Jesus’ question, “Are you still sleeping and resting?” is not an inquiry, but a criticism. The disciples knew they were supposed to be praying. Others say Jesus is making a statement of fact. That is, “It is enough” was used in ordinary life to mean “It is paid.” So Jesus is saying that Judas has received his money and the betrayal is at hand, a statement of fact. Their sleepiness is also a statement of fact. 

“The hour” is the hour Jesus prayed to avoid. Soon the “cup” will be given Him. This cup represents the wrath of God for all sin for all time. He’d asked if He could avoid it, but then said, “Not my will, but Thine be done” and willingly accepted it. 

Perhaps if the disciples had stayed awake and prayed with Him, they would have realized the significance of the next events. They would have known that Jesus would be arrested and crucified. They would have understood what He was doing and why He was doing it. Instead, they slept and those events surprised and shocked them.

“It is enough” could mean that prayer had settled the issue; Jesus was going to the cross to drink the cup. It could mean that He had enough time to do the Father’s will and now the end has come. It could also mean that the disciples had enough sleep and it was time for them wake up and move on to what would happen next. 

As I read and reread this passage, I get the impression that these disciples had given in to their fatigue just long enough to realize the weakness of their flesh. They wanted to pray with Jesus, but they did not have spiritual rule over their own desires. Jesus could have granted them grace to stay awake, but they needed to see and recognize their own need for His sacrifice for their sin.
I can imagine the disciples without this realization. They would tout themselves as being “His special men” and in spiritual pride, lift themselves above the rest of humanity. But they did not do this. Sleeping when Jesus needed them the most insured that they would never forget one important fact; they were sinners also.

I bow my head with this understanding. I too have betrayed my Savior, letting Him down in some very important times when I knew better, when my spirit was willing, but my flesh ruled instead. I hear Jesus say to me, “Are you still failing? It is enough. I have been betrayed by you too. I have suffered and died for you too. Your spirit has been willing only because My Spirit lives in you, but your flesh is still unable. You are a sinner, saved and forgiven, but nevertheless a sinner.

Watchman Nee, a Chinese martyr, said that the problem with the flesh is not that it is too weak, but that it still has “a little” power. That little power continually tries to run things. However, the Word of God condemns the flesh (my old self). Instead of giving it strength for that “weak” condition, God’s solution is to crucify it with Christ.
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:6–11)
Jesus asks me to worship Him and serve with Him. I fall asleep. I fail. Will I ever come to the place where I’ve truly learned that even my best efforts are insufficient, that my flesh is weak? Will Jesus ever say to me, “It is enough” and fill me with the sense of being finished with trying to serve Him in my own weak strength?

Yet even as I ask them, I recall that these words can also be translated “It is paid” and what else can that mean now (after the garden prayer and after the cross) that Jesus has paid for my sin and failures. No matter how many times my weak flesh interferes with His will, what He did at Calvary is enough.

Lord, what can I say? The disciples didn’t understand what was going to happen, but I understand what did happen after that sleepy night. You gave Your life to cover my sin, even the sin of falling asleep when I should be awake, and the sin of being weak (even apologizing to You for it) when I’m supposed to consider myself dead. Fill me with Your Spirit that I might serve and love You with all my heart and soul.

June 29, 2012

Staying awake

These days of packing and hauling boxes are making me more tired than usual, sore too. If I didn’t set my alarm, it would be easy to stay in bed or at least lounge drowsily in a hot Epsom salts bath. Yet I know that too much sleep makes me even sleepier. 
If I didn’t meet with the Lord every morning, and if I didn’t spend time with other Christians, my spiritual life would ebb too. It would not disappear completely, but I would display less evidence of the Lord in my life and slide into a state of thinking and talking much as those who do not know Christ.
So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:6)
The New Testament warns Christians to stay alert. The admonition to “be sober” means be discreet, watch, pay attention, and in this verse is not about sobriety from avoiding too much alcohol. A similar Greek word is used for “fasting” —abstinence from food or drink, but like “sober”, it can also mean the mental attitudes that come with fasting for spiritual reasons. Being circumspect and vigilant come to mind.

Today’s devotional reminds me to guard against that sleepy, undisciplined life that dozes off instead of remaining engaged with God and the pursuit of godliness. I need to be vigilant. It is one thing to lose my battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil, but quite another to be unaware that there even is a battle. 

Spurgeon comments on how to stay awake. He focuses on the need for fellowship where Christians communicate together the ways of the Lord. He quotes a line from Pilgrim’s Progress where “Christian” and “Hopeful” journey toward the Celestial City and agree, “To prevent drowsiness in this place, let us fall into good discourse.”

In Christian circles, getting together for a coffee and chatting about life in general is often confused with fellowship. Biblically, and in my experience, fellowship is less like that and more like Spirit-filled people sharing the life of Christ with one another. This can be verbal where we speak of how God is working in our lives, or we pray together. However, fellowship may not be about words. Spirit-filled believers can express the attributes of Christ in other ways. Some examples are being patient, taking care of needs, teaching truth, comforting, and so on. All of these things encourage that spiritual wakefulness that God wants us to have. 

Spurgeon also says that if I isolate myself too much, I am liable to grow drowsy. Good Christian company can keep me awake. Yet on the other hand, if I spend too much time with sleepy believers, I’m often affected with the same affliction. We are united in Christ and need to be careful that we do not slide from that into being united in drowsy apathy.

This reality admonishes me. My wakefulness is as vital to them as theirs is to me. Each believer needs to be refreshed and encouraged to make effective progress in spiritual growth. While all of us are on the road to Heaven, genuine fellowship can ease and stimulate the journey and keep the love of Christ flowing outward from our hearts and into the lives of those around us.  

Lord, sometimes I get spiritually sleepy and tend to blame others for my decreased vitality. Instead of doing that, I need to be a source of vitality for others. Keep me awake, alert and obedient. Help me know when someone needs to hear words about Your goodness and love, or needs to experience actions that demonstrate Your grace. Grant me creative ideas to stay awake and help others do the same.

June 28, 2012

An unreachable goal, yet God will get me there

At my age, most people tend to slack off and set few goals. I understand why, but today I’m thinking about that saying: It is better to aim for the stars and hit the woodpile than to aim for the woodpile and hit your foot. God is challenging me to keep setting goals.
Yesterday’s thoughts from the Lord pointed to the goal of perfection, making it clear that this is a process. God commands it, but I cannot reach it without Jesus Christ helping me. The verse yesterday (2 Corinthians 13:11) used katartiz┼Ź, a Greek word sometimes translated as perfect. In my Bible version, it was translated “restoration.” Instead of asking for instant perfection, God wants me to aim toward restoration. The ideal is His full intention for me. He wants me to be like Jesus. 

Today’s verses offer a different word that is also translated “perfect.” In context, it is about the amazing and perfect love of God and how His people are to emulate it.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43–48)
“Perfect” in this passage is translated from a different word that means to set out for a definite point or goal. It can also refer to the conclusion or results of that action. The idea is that I become complete and fully mature. In other words, “grow up” in my faith so that I am as God is in my actions. 

If people retire without goals, they tend to fade quickly because life loses its meaning. Without a sense of purpose, the desire to live decreases. As a Christian, I have good reason to keep on aiming for this “be perfect” goal that God commands. Not only does it give purpose to life, if I set anything else for a goal, I might reach it. However, this one will be reached only when I step into eternity because I will never run out of things to change or improve!

My spiritual gift and ministry has been teaching. This idea of pressing on to maturity and perfection increases my understanding of the psalmist’s words. They are also a goal…
So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. (Psalm 71:18)  

Father God, the idea of being like You is an incredible thought. It seems unreachable. Yet You command that I “be perfect” and give many examples of what that perfection looks like. I need to grow up in my love for others, and in all other aspects of Christian living. No matter what limitations may dictate, physical or otherwise, I trust You to keep this impossible yet possible goal before me for the rest of my life.

June 27, 2012

A goal or a command?

In Chinese (I hope this is correct), the word Xiang can mean at least four different things, depending on how it is pronounced. Xiang is: to miss, to think; to want; an elephant; to be like. These sentences could be translated as follows: Wo shi xiang xiang = I am like an elephant, or Wo xiang wo de xiao xiang = I miss my little elephant.
Translation is tough for those learning Chinese, but it is also difficult for those who work with Hebrew and Greek, the major languages of the Bible. For instance, this verse came up in my devotions today. In the English Standard Version (ESV), it says…
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)
In the older King James Version, the verse is translated:
Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.
In my mind, “Aim for restoration” does not convey the same thing as “Be perfect.” I wonder thane if whatever version I am reading could produce a flawed interpretation. Comparing what a word or a verse seems to mean with the rest of Scripture will help, but in this case, it seems better to get out a Greek dictionary. 

My first clue is that even though the KJV uses the phrase “be perfect” in several passages, the ESV indicates that the author may have intended something different from “right now be perfect.”

The author of today’s devotional used the KJV but he did not use a Greek dictionary. His explanation is helpful as he line ups perfection with reality this way…
Be perfect …. strikes us with despair…. we feel how far away we are from our own poor ideal…. how much further from God’s ideal. Be of good comfort…. is very different; (it) seems to say, ‘Do not fret; do not fear. If you are not what you would be, you must be thankful for what you are.’ ….How can these two be reconciled? It is only ….Jesus Christ that reconciles them. ….With the right hand of His righteousness He points us upward, and says, “Be perfect” (for) there is no resting-place short of that. Yet with the left hand of His love He….says, “Soul, be of good comfort; for that is what I came to do for you.”
On the other hand, the ESV does not offer what seems an impossible command. Instead, it says to aim for restoration. Restoration in English means a return of something to a former, original, normal, or unimpaired condition. My first thought for restoring is to bring back to what it once was, rather than the more biblical idea of restoring sinners to what they should be. To me, this word does not fit the rest of Scripture. It might even be more misleading than the ideal of being perfect. 

Yet as the KJV suggests, God always points me toward goals that seems impossible. He knows that I am not perfect and will not ever be perfect in this life. However, the rest of the passage offers comfort, even a description of the perfection that interests God, unity and peace. 

While the old King James version has its drawbacks, it almost always drives me to a Greek dictionary. I’m not an expert with that language, but do realize that the verb tenses have significance, and that many words have more than one meaning.

For me, the downside of “Be perfect” is either despair because of that high goal, or pride that pushes me to “try harder” which would not work and also lead to despair. The upside is that Christ is my perfection. He stands in the gap for me, obeying this impossible command as well as setting it up as a goal

God, I know You are not asking for perfection at this moment. This is a future possibility. For now, You have shown me that becoming like Christ (perfection) is a process that You and I are working on. One day I will be “perfectly complete” but for now, the goal rather than the command draws me forward.

June 26, 2012

Small things

Our oldest son used to speculate how much the world would change if he did or did not step on a bug on the way home from school. We discouraged him about speculation, but missed a teaching opportunity. The Bible offers more than one admonition to not despise small things, or not to think anything is unimportant.
Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. “These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.” (Zechariah 4:8–10)
Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? (Haggai 2:3)
In both these instances, the people of Israel become disheartened by what they saw, thinking that their lives, the events of their lives, or their place of worship had no significance. God told them otherwise. They were not to despise anything or consider what He was doing as nothing.

God also speaks of the importance of other small things. He uses small creatures that are wise to give us an example to follow…
Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; the rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces. (Proverbs 30:24–28)
He also speaks of small body parts being important to the rest of the body. Lest we think our words have no impact, He says, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5) 

In case any feel they have no significance as a Christian, He says, “On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:22–26) 

Today’s devotional reading adds this: “It is the little words you speak, the little thoughts you think, the little things you do or leave undone, the little moments you waste or use wisely, the little temptations which you yield to or overcome—the little things of every day that are making or marring your future life.”

Next time I talk to our son, I will apologize for teasing him about his speculations. Until today, I didn’t know that God wants His people to pay attention to the details, for even the littlest things are significant to Him

Lord, the days are filled with details. I’m sure that some things I will do today are woven into Your eternal plans. While I might not know what they are, or how You will use them, help me pay attention to the details and be mindful of Your will in all that I do, even those things that seem unimportant.