November 30, 2012

Illness affords a glimpse of glory

A brief battle with bacteria does one good thing; it reminds me of my mortality. It also reminds me that my body is not my own; it was bought with a price and now belongs to Jesus Christ.

In the context of writing to a church situated in a city filled with idols, Paul reminded the Christians at Corinth that their bodies also belonged to God. Instead of spending any time in any type of idolatry or even associating with those who did, Paul exhorted these Christians to remember that they also were not their own.

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16)

As I think about these things and the weakened state of my body, I feel very aware that the life of Christ and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit is in me, but separate from this shell where that He has chosen to live. The body is just that, a dwelling place. It is dispensable and one day will serve out its usefulness and die. But I will not.

This is the strange thing about this session of being ill. While weak and sleeping for most of the past 72 hours, I was aware of the life of Jesus Christ, and felt content, even joyful. There seemed a separation of what was happening to my body and my true life, my spiritual life. I was not moaning and complaining (this surprises me) nor deeply concerned that I was missing a few days that could have been otherwise occupied. 

Being the temple of the living God is a most assuring thing. As Ephesians 1:13-14 says, it is God’s seal that guarantees my destiny, like a down-payment guarantees the final purchase. Because of that, I can relax and not be concerned about what happens to my body. First of all, it isn’t mine anyway; it was bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) but more significant, it is temporary. One day I’ll get a new one that will last forever.

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51–53)

My assurance? Jesus Christ died and rose again. Because He lives, and because He lives in me, I will do the same. That certainty grants me a deep assurance of my victory over death and the grave, even over a few bacteria that would rather have me worried and complaining than rejoicing.

Thank You.

November 29, 2012

God can do the impossible

As children we played a game of trying to come up with something that was impossible. Most of our suggestions were silly, sort of like standing angels on the head of a pin or our dad sleeping past 7:00 a.m. When I became a Christian, the game became more serious. Among the list of impossible happenings were things like God  telling a lie or the failure of His love.

Of course my belief in God’s faithfulness has been tested and I know that He does not lie and that His love never fails. His grace and mercy endures forever. Anything that has ever been true about God is still true. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Perhaps the biggest test of all is trusting in God’s ability to change lives, to bring sinners into His kingdom by a new birth. I don’t know why I’d ever doubt that, for He did it for me, but I have doubted it. So did the disciples. In their belief system, they thought that wealthy people were particularly blessed by God. Then Jesus challenged them…

Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:23–27)

While some speculate about the significance of the camel and the eye of the needle, my focus goes to the words, “how hard it is for those who trust in riches.” Faith and being born again isn’t about crawling on your knees like a camel, or about the narrowness of the way in. Nor is it about how much money a person has. Instead, it is about what is trusted and about the power of God. 

Money, position, skill, personal merit, or whatever else a person may rely on to gain them favor with God will not cut it. All human effort is useless when it comes to having eternal life and a place in the kingdom of God. Only God can make that happen.

I’m encouraged by these words for many reasons, but the most significant is that I pray for the salvation of several people who appear to be impossible. They seem uninterested and hard of heart toward God. However, because Jesus said, “With God all things are possible,” I will keep praying!

November 28, 2012

He gives power in weakness, not in self-confidence

Today I feel like Jacob. He was a self-sufficient man until God touched him and left him limping.

Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip. Therefore to this day the children of Israel do not eat the muscle that shrank, which is on the hip socket, because He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip in the muscle that shrank. (Genesis 32:31–32)

Yesterday was a great day. I did my chores with a song in my heart, rejoicing in the goodness of God and having more energy than I’ve had for a long time. Then, just before supper, something kicked me in the stomach. I’ve spent most of today in bed, feeling anything but energetic. 

The same thing happened three years ago after our annual Grey Cup party. I know it was something that I ate, but that is a secondary cause. God is sovereign and anything that happens to me is His doing. Three years ago I was angry in my weakness. This time my heart is calm and I’m oddly comforted by today’s devotional verse. 

Jacob experienced God and it ended something of the confidence that he had in himself. Right after this incident where God made him lame, he was tested big time. In that test, this man demonstrated humility instead of self-confidence, and God was glorified.

In the New Testament, a similar event happened to the Apostle Paul…

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7–10)

I don’t know what is coming next, but feeling physically weak has a way of making me more aware of spiritual weakness. I cannot function without the power of the Holy Spirit. Well or sick, confident or afraid, I need God all the time.

November 27, 2012

Not easily moved

Sometimes I’m like the duck that seems to be placidly swimming along the water without a care in the world, but under the surface is paddling like crazy. Sometimes I’m like the sparrow who is nested without a ruffle in the cleft of a rock while a storm rages all around her. Sometimes I’m like all three kinds of people in the world; those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who say, “What happened?” 

Today’s devotional reading makes another suggestion about people and their relationship to the world and its events. It says that the people that move the world are those who do not let the world move them.

The first Christians were movers and shakers. At one point, Paul and his helpers went into a synagogue in Thessalonica and preached the gospel for a few weeks. Some were convinced and joined them, but others were jealous. They gathered a mob and set the city in an uproar. Then they attacked the home of Jason, thinking they would find Paul and his men there.

And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” (Acts 17:6)

Christianity was making an impact on the world. Those who believed also demonstrated changed lives. Religious leaders were jealous. The makers of idols felt threatened. Some were angry simply because the gospel declared they were sinners. They pushed hard against Christians, yet the Christians were “turning the world upside down.”

Later, Paul met with the elders at the church of Ephesus. He knew that as he continued his work of sharing the gospel, he would experience persecution, imprisonment and afflictions. His answer to that was…

None of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)

I can relate to these two verses, but only a little, and only part of the second one. I’m far from being someone who moves the world, but God has given me a tremendous sense of serenity in almost any situation. That is, the world is not able to easily move me. 

Part of the reason for this is how God impresses truth in my heart. As a new Christian, He showed me something that has sustained my faith for more than forty years…

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:28–29)

By knowing God was able to use all things to change my life, I began looking at how I could change my own life and attitudes rather than how I could fix my situation. In that, there is peace. As I learn and experience His sovereignty and grace, trusting Him is easier, and in trusting Him there is peace. 

Again, I sometimes paddle like crazy or huddle in fright in the storms, or recoil from life saying “what happened” but for the most part He keeps me unmoved and at peace. I know who is in charge, so no matter what happens, He will make it right.

Thank You, Jesus.

November 26, 2012

My Hiding Place

During the late 80s, I experienced a terrible event that challenged me on every level. At that time, I was in Bible school (the only granny there). One of the professors often began his classes by playing the piano. His mastery of music calmed the class in preparation for learning. On a day when I was about as low as I could get and still function, he played a piece that the class sang. “You are my hiding place, You always fill my heart with songs of deliverance. Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You…”

That song that day blessed me to the core. I spent much time trying and finally found a recording. Since then, this song comes to mind, comforting me with the truth in its words. God’s promises kept me going back then, and still do as I think of the reality of His grace and protection.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1–2)

Sometimes people in distress will hide themselves in their work, or in a hobby, or even something as drastic as emotional shutdown, alcoholism, drugs or psychosomatic illness. These escapes may allow a reprieve from the pain of their experience, but one important thing is missing. None of those human refuges actually do anything for us simply because they are without power. 

Only God can remove or change the situation, or give us the ability to stand and survive. As the psalmist says, He is the “Most High” and the “Almighty” — above and in control, Lord in charge of the events of life. Things, devices, ideas, strategies might manipulate our emotions, but they do not have ultimate control, nor do they care if we suffer or not. On the other hand, God cares deeply, proving it by dying for our sin.

Psalm 91 is a wonderful promise of God’s power and continuing care. He is my refuge, not only during the storms of life, but is my haven when I need to pull away from the stresses of ordinary days when my list is too long and I feel overwhelmed. Hiding in Him always produces peace and rest. 

But He also protects. Yesterday I told someone that I often felt like God’s spoiled brat. He takes care of me. He is in charge of every part of my life and I am deeply aware of being protected by the Lord.

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)

Thank You.