September 30, 2012

Living without fear

At 32,000 feet, I sometimes imagine what it would be like if the airplane lost its engines. On a busy highway, I wonder about careening vehicles and big trucks coming out of nowhere. While these thoughts don’t keep me awake at night or fearful during a flight or travelling in my car, I’ve seen folks driving or riding with white knuckles and fear evident on their faces. 

A few weeks ago, a friend drove me through our city to a meeting. Her fear of traffic was obvious. My husband and I just left Barbados with its narrow roads and late afternoon bumper to bumper traffic. We drove the center of Bridgetown and decided that would happen only once. How would my friend do this? How did we do it? Those islanders drive on the left side of the road, with roundabouts and unexpected one-way streets, no signs and no parking. We shake our heads at the memory of it. But we were not afraid for our lives, just perplexed that we couldn’t find what we were looking for.

Early this morning we got on a plane for Miami. This city airport is a small city itself and driving in and out of here is as confusing with signs as Bridgetown is without them. As I sit here waiting for our next flight, I watch travelers. Some of them are relaxed; most look frustrated and many seem fearful. Do they worry about their plane falling out of the sky, or their car being a statistic on these frantic streets? 

Today’s devotional makes me say “ahhh” and breathe a sigh of thanksgiving to God for His mercy, love and grace --- mercy because I do not deserve love and grace, love because He has made His love real to me, and grace because my life is made valuable by Jesus Christ. The verse offers wonderful promises…
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge— no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. (Psalm 91:9–11)
As easily as I can imagine a plane falling out of the sky, I can see a myriad of angels holding it up. Instead of an out-of-control vehicle smashing into me, I can picture a thousand angels directing traffic on those busy highways. Rather than getting lost for days in a melee of confusing one-way streets without any street signs, I can laugh and remember that a quick prayer brought us the way out and the way home.

We will soon leave this massive airport and land in a smaller one where we will visit our daughter and her husband for a few days. I cannot post this until we get there, for this airport charges a fee for WiFi  which I will not pay just for a quick post. However, God gave me these rich thoughts for rest of today…

He is where I live. No matter where I am, I am in Christ. He is my refuge and my strength. He controls what happens to me and will not allow evil or illness unless he has purpose for it. His angels are serving His desire to take care of me, and because of His grace, I can live without fear.

September 29, 2012

Robbing the world of its power

We are vacationing on an island and noticing how island life in a hot climate affects us and the people who live here all the time. For one thing, heat and humidity dull ambition. They may also affect logic for we notice a few things that make little sense. 
For instance, in the heart of the largest city, there are almost no signs to tell you what street you are on, and a multitude of one-way streets that change to the other way at major intersections. 

This island is filled with signs of poverty, but also pride. Many houses are half-built or abandoned, yet 99% of the women are dressed like models. Clothes are definitely more important than a weed-free yard. 

Do these island priorities and values also dull the desire for God? We see many churches but less signs of godliness and biblical living.

The world at home is different. Our weather can kill you in the winter, so housing must be maintained. Many take pride in their ambition and so-called logical thinking, but this also can draw people away from God. Our lifestyle reflects increased wealth, but that easily interferes with genuine spirituality. We can be just as worldly as any islander.

The Bible speaks of the dangers of loving the world. It also defines what worldliness means…
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17)
I cannot love the beach more than I love my lawn, or think my priorities regarding spiritual matters makes me better than those who slave to keep their yards lush and their bank account full. I cannot desire a suntan, or nice clothes thinking this improves my status in life or makes me better than those who are pale-skinned and less well dressed. This too is worldly.

Yet God also commands me to live in this world as His child. I’m to obey Him rather than those desires of the flesh and eyes and the pride of life. In fact, obedience is my only option for overcoming the pull of the world.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:3–5)
Today’s devotional reading says that the world conquers me when it succeeds in hindering me from seeing, loving, holding communion with, and serving my Father, God. It doesn’t matter if it lures with me easy living or ambitious challenges. Anything that will stop me from drawing near to God, striving to be more like Jesus, thinking often about Him, and gladly doing His will can quickly become an enemy to my soul.

Instead, the Spirit of God challenges me to gain victory over the world by making it “serve me in the highest things.” That means I can use the world to give me a clearer vision of God, even a deeper love for Him and a joyful commitment to serve Him. As the devotional writer says, I win over the world when I make the world a ladder to lift me to God. 

When the world comes between me and God as an obscuring screen, it has conquered me. When the world comes between me and God as a transparent medium I have conquered it. To win victory is to put whatever is in the world beneath my feet, standing on it and letting it motivate me to reach to God that I might live out His love for those in it. This victory is as Jesus said,
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12)
Worldliness is about comfort, power, impressing people, and thinking that having more money and stuff will make me a happier, better person. Worldliness also focuses on this live only instead of continually remembering that this life is so short, but what is done in obedience to God will last forever. 

In a place where “the living is easy” I can easily forget the eternal things. However, because of Jesus who lives in me and saves me from sin and the world, I can also forget the stuff of this world. There because there is no pressure here to have, obtain, or impress, so it is actually easier to think of eternal matters.

Lord, my spiritual life is in Your hands, whether in this world or out of it. Help me to be obedient, for obedience overcomes the power of sin and any power the world might have to draw me away from You. Keep my heart focused on You, no matter where I am or what kind of pressures the world may put on me.

September 28, 2012

Wait? Or get on with it?

A Christian friend expressed her frustration about asking God to help her with a decision between two worthy options. She asked my advice. What should she do in light of having not received an answer? Can she move forward without hearing from the Lord on this particular issue?

She mentioned logos and rhema, making me think of how God speaks. Logos is the written and living expression of God in the Bible and in Jesus Christ, more of an objective understanding of Scripture. On the other hand, rhema is the way He speaks to our need of the moment. He might use a passage from the Old Testament to remind me of His mercy on a day when I need to remember that He is merciful. Rhema is personal and can seem subjective, even though I need to be careful that I don’t “read into” the Bible what God does not say.

The Bible gives a classic answer to this question of how God speaks to us...
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Hebrews 1:1–2)
Jesus is the Word, the Logos, the ultimate expression of God to the world. In Him, that is in His life and character, I find answers to most of my questions about how to live. Furthermore, He often directs me back to Scripture with phrases like, “Has not God said…?”

Today’s devotional reading does that too. After His resurrection, Jesus was staying with the disciples. He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to…
…wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. (Acts 1:4–5)
Even though Jesus said they had heard these words from Him, there are no verses that directly quote Him, only verses that quote John the Baptist...
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. (Matthew 3:11)
This points to the attitude of Jesus. In His thinking, whenever John (or anyone else) is filled with His Spirit and speaking truth, He considers those words as His words. That is, this promise did not come from John but from Jesus. John actually said this was true; he got the promise from God…
I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ (John 1:33)
These verses are helpful regarding the question from my friend. John says God made a promise. Jesus said to wait for that promise, repeating it so the disciples knew which promise He meant. The writer of today’s devotional simply says, “Tarry at a promise till God meets you there. He always returns by way of His promises.”

God promises to hear and answer our prayers, and to give us wisdom when we ask. I believe that this is true, but what my friend and I both need to remember is that He may also ask us to wait.

Lord, how like children we are --- impatient and anxious. We know You hear our prayers, and we know that You love us and care about our needs, so why do we have to wait? I sense that You are smiling. You know that Christian maturity is measured by patience and You want us to grow. As James 1:3-4 says, that the testing of our faith produces patience, and we are to let patience finish its work that we might be mature and complete, not lacking anything. From Your Word, I hear You saying that both my friend and I need to patiently wait for Your answer.

September 27, 2012

Faith is more than a fire-escape

In a recent conversation, a man talked about the people he works with, “They are religious, and they go to church every Sunday, even every Saturday too, but that does not match the way they live.”

Today’s devotional reading calls me to think about this again. The reading says that religion is not a fire-escape that you build in anticipation of a possible danger only to leave it outside the house until danger comes. The problem with doing this is that when a fire breaks out, that neglected escape route is not what you hoped. It is rusty and broken, weather-beaten and useless. This is a picture of those who build a surface appearance of faith for some future day they might need it, thinking that makes them safe. 

However, as the reading says, religion is not something to add on to our lives. Instead, it is the house in which we live, even the table where we sit, the fireside that warms us, the room that arches its familiar presence over us. It is our bed where we rest and think of the past, and anticipate the future, and become refreshed.

The difference between fire-escape faith and a faith that is lived in (and lived out) is hinted at in this verse used in the devotional reading…
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
Paul is talking about genuine believers who have understood the riches of glory, a mystery that was once unclear but has been revealed to them. This mystery is this: Christ lives in those who believe. He not only gives His people hope concerning glory, but He changes our lives, giving us power to make known or broadcast or reveal to others the reality of true faith. 

That is, unless Christ lives in me, no matter how ‘religious’ I may act, the glory of God is not revealed in my life or by my life. Without Him, I can do nothing. In Him and because of Him, my life says something about the sure promises of God and the hope of glory.
Imagine the difference made in the world because the disciples of Christ followed Him, doing what He told them and letting their faith be seen in every part of their lives. Here is a very short list.

Power over evil spirits and able to heal the sick. “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. (Matthew 10:1) And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:7–8).

Wisdom and endurance in opposition. “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16) …and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:22–23) And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household (Matthew 10:36). 

Boldness to share Christ with others. “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. (Matthew 10:27) So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven…” (Matthew 10:32).

None of these are ‘Sunday only’ activities. They are part of life, which makes faith practical, not fanatical. It means letting the Christ who lives in me be seen wherever I am and in whatever I am doing. 

Actually, His life is so powerful that hiding it is impossible. Sadly, what can happen and often does, is claiming to have ‘religion’ without having Jesus.

Oh God, the religious people of this world who have no relationship with You also have no hope of glory. This puzzles some, like that man we talked to this week. So many become disillusioned, not knowing the difference between those who claim to be Christian and those in whom You have made Your dwelling place. It would be easy to blame the ‘merely religious’ for this confusion, but Your Spirit tells me that genuine believers bear the greater responsibility. We are supposed to live like You have commanded, not making claims without backing them up. My faith is supposed to permeate all of life, starting in my heart, my home and radiating through every part, not for my sake but to reveal that great gift from You  --- the hope of glory!

September 26, 2012

Number my days. . .

This week, with nothing at all on our to-do list and no plans whatsoever, God is talking to me about wasting time. My first (selfish) thought is that this is a bit unfair, but then realize how being busy can keep me from thinking about whether or not I’m using my time in the best possible way. What better time to get me thinking about my schedule than when I am not being governed by it!
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
Today’s devotional reading reminds me that “every day is a little life; and our whole life is but a day repeated” and how some of the sages in Scripture numbered their lives by days. It also says that those who dare lose a day are “dangerously prodigal” meaning that time-wasting is an indicator that I am slipping away from obedience to my Maker. The reading adds that misspending it indicates a self-centered desperation, a way of life characterized by assuming I know better than God what I should be doing.

David, who is called a man after God’s own heart, realized how easily a person can fiddle away their days. He wanted God to put right thoughts in his heart about his sense of time and of the shortness and priorities of life.
O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! (Psalm 39:4–6)
But I’m on vacation! Then I think of Jesus, who may not have gone on vacation. The only clue is when He went to Jerusalem with His parents to attend the Feast of the Passover. On their way home, His family realized He was missing and went back to the city looking for Him.
Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:46–49, NKJV)
I’m not Jesus, but God give me that same sense that I must be doing what He wants me to do, all the time. Not only that, even though we are on vacation, God gives opportunities to attend to His business. Last night we talked to a man who works here, but is from another country. He was frustrated at the population here who “go to church both Saturday and Sunday” but their lives don’t match their “religious” activities. His perplexity was not anger or scorn, yet this was a barrier for him. 

I wanted to answer his frustration, but all that came to mind was, “Standing in a garage does not make you a car.” God can use even a simple remark to give a  person something to think about. While I’d rather have said something profound, maybe He will use that remark.

I’m convinced that any opportunity to speak or behave in a godly way cannot be ignored, even on vacation. We are not here long, and by here, I mean on this earth. I am in the last one-third of my life. Who knows, it could be the last week. While there seems to be ‘time to waste’ in the sense of what do I do with hours of no people contact and no marching orders from the Lord, even as I type this, I am hearing, “Always be prepared to _____________.” I feel a measure of excitement knowing that God will fill in the blanks.