July 31, 2012

Escaping spiritual pride

Spiritual pride takes my eyes off the One who gave me whatever I am proud about, and as soon as that happens, I lose that gift of grace and crash into my own strength. There is no sadder place to be.
For instance, loving others is the grace of God to selfish sinners. Loving others, in the strength of Jesus Christ, is a delight. But as soon as I start thinking about the virtue of loving others and that I have it, and that this is a blessing, that introspection is in danger of becoming spiritual pride. Who is loved when I say, “Look at me, look at how much I love others”?

Doing acts of kindness in the grace and power that God gives is another example. Whenever I am engaged in godly ministry to anyone in need, as soon as I begin looking at myself and what I am doing, even patting myself on the back and thinking I am some sort of spiritual hotshot, the kindness dissolves into inflated ego and I fall off my pedestal. 

The Bible is filled with warnings about spiritual pride and the need to humble myself lest pride overcomes me. Pride begins in the mind so I need to fill my mind with better thoughts. One way to do that is reading the stories of God’s people in the Old Testament. Paul explains how these events “took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6). When I see what happened to those God chose as His people, I know that the same things could happen to me. 

Paul knew that too, so after he points to them and my need to avoid the same mistakes, he warns,
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:12–13)
I notice two things. One is that the fall from spiritual strength to looking inward and losing that strength does not have to happen. With every temptation, God provides a way of escape. I do not need to gloat in any gift from Him, then become a pain in the experience of those around me. I do not need to yield to that temptation to pat myself on the back as if I am the source and sustainer of my own spiritual life. God does offer a way of escape.

His way of escape from the temptation of pride is the way of humility. While verbally exalting and thanking the Savior for all good things in my life is an important habit, humility goes beyond words. I cannot respond to success or the praises from others by just mouthing the words, “Give God the glory.” I must know deep in my heart that He is God and I am mere mortal, sinner and totally dependent on Him and His grace. 

The note in today’s devotional is short, but it is a humble-reminder. These words put into perspective the ease at which anyone, especially me, can fall into spiritual pride. The reading says only this:
Angels fell in Heaven, Adam in paradise, Peter in Christ’s presence.
No matter what place I am in or how close to God I am, temptation can knock me from that into the mire of self-reliance, or worse, into the muck of more blatant sin. Every day, every moment of every day, I need to remember who God is and who I am.

Lord, You often say that Your people are to “humble” ourselves. Life often does that for us as we stumble through it. I learn from falling on my ego that I am nothing and You are everything. Please keep my focus on You today. No matter what happens, I want to remember that You are the Savior and I am merely the saved sinner.

July 30, 2012

The best Teacher

Our former house is for sale. I’ve prayed that it will sell quickly, mostly because that would relieve stress for my husband. However, I also pray for my husband, that God would keep working in his life, transforming him into the man He wants him to be. I am well aware that God might be far more interested in answering that prayer rather than the one for relief of stress.
I am reminded today of the faith of Mary. She was at a wedding in Cana. Jesus and His disciples were also invited. During the celebrations, the groom faced the humiliation of poor planning and thoughtless hospitality. The wine ran out.
When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3–5)
My usual focus for this incident is the power of Jesus to turn water into wine. Lately, my attention is directed to the faith of His mother. She took the problem to Him, and when it appeared that He wasn’t going to do anything about it, she expressed her faith by telling the servants to do whatever He asked. 

Today’s reading says that when I ask for temporal blessings, I am wise to put the request into the Lord’s hand and leave it there. He knows my heart and my needs. If He sees it is good for me that the water is turned into wine, He will do it. If not, He will say no.

I cannot tell God what to do. He is not a genie in a bottle, or a spoiler of His children. He knows what is best for me. When I ask for prosperity, perhaps the thing I most need as trial. When I want Him to remove a “thorn in the flesh,” perhaps my greater need is to understand that His grace is sufficient. 

A child of God never stops going to school. At times, when life is not rosy or my heart is filled with negatives like fear or discouragement, I will say, “Lord, if this is what You want for me, I will accept it.” I have to be genuine about that acceptance, and when I am, He removes those negatives and replaces them with love, peace and joy.  

In the school of life, my best teacher knows far more about what I need to learn than I do.

Father, it would be nice to have that house sold. It would be nice to have all nice things happen in our lives. But You know what is best. May my faith be like Mary’s in that I will trust You to do whatever is right for us.

July 29, 2012

Selecting my wardrobe

Any beloved activity begins with a zeal and energy that drives me. I make progress because of enthusiasm. Then reality hits and I realize that if I am going to finish this activity, I must press on, even enduring drudgery and lack of motivation. 
Making a large quilt is one example. I’m excited by the design and color and begin with great desire. Planning it and doing the initial work is fun. I’m filled with anticipation of the finished project. However, after cutting out 270 triangles and 350 squares (or whatever this project calls for), I start calculating how long it will be before I am finished. In many cases, I am tired before the half-way point, and must simply press on if this project is going to be completed.

Sometimes I feel like that about my spiritual life. The goal is being like Jesus, and that is exciting. I began with great enthusiasm and anticipation. Yet as the years go by, the closer I want to be to God, the farther I feel I am from that goal. I see sin in me that I never saw in the beginning. Like a relentless army of locusts, all sorts of bad attitudes, selfishness and indifference march into my head. There seems no end in sight. Instead of being excited about making progress, I feel like any small step forward leads to three or four steps backwards. Without the promises of God, I’m certain that I would give up.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…. (Colossians 3:2–5)
Paul wrote this to people just like me. My mind strays to the stuff of the world. Would it not be easier to grow and become more proficient with those things? I know all of them are temporary and do not matter for eternity, but at least a prize here and a compliment there feels as if I’m accomplishing something. The business of being dead to sin and living by the power of the Holy Spirit should be fresh each day, even exciting, but some days not so much. I need to read passages like this one, reminding me that walking with Christ may be uphill, but it is glorious, not drudgery. It is also a choice.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12–17)
The decision to follow Jesus happens to those who are given new life in Him. He gave me a new heart and new life, like a new set of clothing. However, the old stuff is still there. I must choose. I also know that putting on the new life never means that I simply cover the old ways with new ones. Those old ways are dead, separate from the new life of Christ, never mingled. In this put off-put on business, the word is “instead.” God bids me to choose His power, His life, rather than living in the power and characteristics of the old life. He gave me Jesus Christ and eternal life, but He never made me a chess piece that He moves around His kingdom. I must choose.

Oh Lord, at times, choosing new life seems far too difficult. Sometimes I just want to be a spiritual couch potato and watch the world go by, rather than put on all those active qualities of compassion, kindness, meekness, and love. Each of them means giving, sacrifice, doing something. The old clothes of selfishness seem easier and more comfortable. Yet I know that the comfort quickly becomes a poor fit, pinching here and sagging there. You want me to let Jesus rule in my heart, experiencing His peace and joy. That cannot happen unless I get off that easy chair and put on those new clothes.

July 28, 2012

God’s daily care

Moving is stressful. Part of the stress is the physical demands of decluttering and packing up the leftovers. Another part of the stress comes from thinking too much. During our recent move, my husband and I both lost sleep thinking about what we needed to do the next day. Diminished sleep did not help the physical process at all. Now we still have much to do. I also must deal with that habit of planning ahead and letting those plans keep me awake.

Jesus knows. He knows the worries of ordinary people who wonder about their health, length of life, where the next meal will come from, and even what to wear on any given day. The following verses are God’s version of, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:27–34)
Today we have a wedding, a possible showing of our former house, errands like getting the address changed in important documents, besides needing to sort and put many items away in our new house. In all of this, God reminds me that He knows these things must be done, but He still says first things first. Seek Him and seek to be like Jesus. In the hubbub of life, this is always the most important thing.

Thank You Jesus for these timely words. Most of the things we fuss about are really not very important, yet You know all about them. You understand the daily stuff that occupies our minds. You bid us not to be anxious about any of them. Because we are children of God, we can trust our Heavenly Father to make all the rough places smooth, taking care of our needs at just the right time and in just the right way. Praises to You for You amazing grace and kindness!

July 27, 2012

Rising to the Challenge?

When macramé was popular, I decided to try it and picked the most difficult pattern available. When I started making quilts, my first project was a queen-size using a pattern I had to resize and add borders to make it large enough. I’m one of those people that if someone suggests a task might be too difficult, I jump at the opportunity to try it. 
Challenges to accomplish something are one thing, but this “I can do it” attitude could get me into trouble when applied to forbidden things, like the “shall not’s” that God commands. Even speed limits and other legal or moral restrictions tend to bring out a “who says?” and “I can do whatever I want” response in most of us.

The apostle Paul wrote of his struggle with sin and with the desire of his old nature to rule his life. He recognized that attitude when he said: “For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” (Romans 7:11) 

From this verse and the context around it, I can see that Paul was aware of the danger of sin. It is not a mere annoyance to brush off or take lightly. Sin is deceptive and deadly, deceptive in that most of us regard it too lightly, thinking it “really isn’t so bad” or that “everyone does it.” 

As for being deadly, sin like breaking the law or running over the speed limit obviously can lead to physical peril, but there is another kind of death that is far worse. Instead of life being separated from the body, this more serious death is being separated from God. 

It happened first in Eden. Adam and Eve ate forbidden fruit and hid from God. After He confronted them, He put them out of the garden. The New Testament explains that, “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Every one of us has been ‘put out of the garden’ away from God and the perfection He created for us, because all are sinners.

Paul clarified this to the Gentile church at Ephesus. He reminded them that before they believed in Jesus, they were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12) 

In Romans, he also wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

When he wrote of his own struggles with sin, Paul said that sin “seized an opportunity through the commandment.” Another verse says, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). This makes me wonder about the connection between my struggle with sin and how that connects to the law and to death. 

Part of the answer is that tendency of sinful human nature to rise to the challenge when given a “you cannot do it” command. That tendency to resist the law gets us into trouble all the time. When God says no, the sinful human heart responds otherwise, seemingly oblivious to the danger.

Instead of trying to control these crazy impulses, the solution is found through faith in Jesus Christ. Trusting Him brings eternal life, forgiveness of sin, and the power of the Holy Spirit to live in a new way. Instead of trying to live by rules and “thou shalt not” commands, Christians are set into a different realm where we die to the law and can put to death that old nature.
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)
The law of the Spirit of life gives me a new response to the choices that are before me. Instead of being challenged to “do it anyway” the Holy Spirit changes my desires and removes my interest in being stubbornly independent. Like Paul, I have lapses, but God is persistent and thorough. He patiently and continually opens my eyes to the deception of sin and helps me stay alert to its deadly consequences. 

Lord God, thankfully You care about the dangers of sin and the awfulness of what it can do to those You lovingly created. You sent Your only Son to die for my sin and offer me new life to replace that sin nature that was (and still is) determined to kill me. Keep my eyes open and my heart turned toward You.