December 31, 2012

My anchor holds

Anchors normally connect boats or ships to the bottom of a body of water to prevent them from drifting due to wind or current. They can be temporary or permanent, such as a mooring that is heavy and rarely moved. Anchors have holding power because they either hook into the seabed, or are very heavy, or both. Also, a sea anchor or drogue is not in contact with the seabed yet may control a drifting vessel.

The Bible uses the term “anchor” to describe the power of our hope in Christ to stabilize our souls.

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf…. (Hebrews 6:17–20)

As I read the descriptions of literal anchors, other symbolism came to mind. For instance, everyone looks for an anchor when life tosses us about like a cork on the water. We want something to hold on to or keep us stable.

We also drift from our goals without some sort of mooring to hold us against the pressures of distractions and life events that threaten us. Some of our moorings are weighty and able to keep us in one place a long time, but that may be a hindrance, not a benefit. Other anchors may or may not do the job because they are not connected to anything that is stable.

God gives me stability. His promises are guaranteed because He is faithful and does not lie. Not only that, all that threatens me has also threatened Jesus. Yet no matter what endangered Him, He remained anchored, secure in love and obedience, secure in the will of God. Since He lives in me, I have the same anchor, His same power to remain anchored to the promises of God.

Looking back over the past year, I recall more storms than calm waters, more waves than placid moorings. Yet in all of it, God provided an anchor --- Himself. His grace and faithfulness is my anchor.

O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me! (Psalm 40:11) Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. (Psalm 63:3–4)

December 30, 2012

Like a Charlie Brown tree

Every Christmas some artist in the cartoon world honors Charlie Brown’s spindly Christmas tree. It shows up as a humorous yet needed reminder that beauty is often only in the eyes of the beholder.

When the world was new and people began to fill it, the sin of Adam and Eve spread to every living soul. As the population increased, so did human rebellion against God.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (Genesis 6:5–8)

The grief of God over sin isn’t a popular topic. It isn’t easy to explain either. We are so accustomed to the way that we are, that we don’t realize the seriousness of our sinful rebellion against our Creator. Parents who love and want the best for their children may get an inkling of this grief if their offspring make dreadful choices and ruin their lives. Instead of the pride and the joy of seeing them grow into fine men and women, there is sorrow over the loss of potential, sometimes even the loss of life.

God felt that sorrow to the uttermost. He regretted His creation and decided to do something about it. He is criticized for this decision, but who would criticize a parent sorrowing over the birth of a wayward child? Besides, God is holy. For Him, sin is worse than muck on a rose or pollution in a crystal stream. Unlike us, He cannot bear it.

Yet something in His great heart would not give up entirely. He looked down on humanity and selected one man whom He would bestow favor. Noah was singled out, not because God looked for and found something special about this man (all have sinned), but because God decided that He would selvedge someone out of the chaos that humanity had become. Noah was picked.

This choice is about grace. God had every right (and every reason) to wipe out the human race and start over. From Adam to Noah, none of them were righteous, no, not one. Genesis 5:24 says that Enoch walked with God, and that he was not found, for God took him, indicating some sort of unusual death or translation into eternity, but this also was by God’s grace. No one deserved His favor then, nor does anyone earn or deserve it now.

We are like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, barren and stripped of anything that is beautiful in the sight of God. We cannot earn His favor. Yet God is full of grace and mercy. He cannot and will not give up entirely, not that we deserve it, but that this is how God is — tender-hearted toward the mean and dejected, gracious toward the bent and twisted, willing to take home that which others pass over and reject.

Salvation isn’t about our merit. It is about the goodness of God’s heart. 

December 29, 2012

Who’s listening to me pray?

A few weeks ago, my husband was asked to pray at our church, specifically for the men and women in the military. He prayed as he usually did, saying whatever was on his heart. Later in the week, someone called asking for a copy of his prayer. He was astonished and told her that it was not written. He also said he scarcely remembered anything he said.

In today’s devotional reading, Spurgeon writes, “For real business at the mercy-seat give me a home-made prayer, a prayer that comes out of the depths of my heart, not because I invented it, but because God the Holy Ghost put it there, and gave it such living force that I could not help letting it out.”

He goes on to encourage praying even though sometimes words are broken and sentences are disconnected. He says when the heart is sincere, God does not mind how it finds expression. Even if I have no words, I might pray better without a planned prayer than with one. “There are prayers that break the backs of words; they are too heavy for any human language to carry.”

Today’s Bible verses are from the story of Hannah, a barren women who deeply wanted a child. She was in the temple and overheard by Eli, the current priest. His response to her prayer was not the same as the woman from our church to my husband’s prayer.

(Hannah) was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. (1 Samuel 1:10–13)

Praying aloud, or even in private can be a problem. We read or hear the prayers of others and feel intimidated. I can remember when I hesitated to pray aloud because I felt inadequate or not eloquent. Others prayed with loftier language or sounded more biblical, but my prayers were weak or I stumbled through, not sure what I was asking, never mind how to express it.

Hannah sets a good example. She prayed from her heart even though the priest chastened her and she had to tell him, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”

Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” (1 Samuel 1:15–17)

Her prayer and the priest’s blessing were heard by God, and He lovingly gave her what she asked. Her son Samuel later became a mighty leader in Israel.

From Hannah and from what happened to my husband, I conclude that when I pray, I’m not to think much about anyone who might be listening. My prayers are for God’s ears and only God knows my heart. He will hear and respond no matter what others might think about my prayers, positive or negative.

Lord, to be invited into conversation with You is an amazing privilege, but also a responsibility. You bid me to pray without ceasing, to bring every concern and joy to You in prayer. May I never worry about how I sound, but simply tell You what is on my heart.

December 28, 2012

What makes me tick?

The shooting in Connecticut raises the question of what makes people do what they do? While no one can get into the minds of others, we can understand what drives someone else if we have similar motivations or have at least thought of doing the same things.

Last Sunday I heard a sermon about motivation, the first one I can remember on that topic. Even though it was delivered with grace, I felt a little uncomfortable. Is that because I don’t want anyone to know what makes me do what I do? I’m not sure.

Being challenged about my motivations must be a good thing because God challenges me often on this topic. I’m to be motivated by love, just as the sermon indicated, but Jesus had lots to say about other motivations, for instance, money.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

While some intend with their resources for good, the Bible warns that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10). It can be the means by which we satisfy our desires, gain power, or become well-known and well-liked. These motivations go deeper and God warns me about them too.

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. (1 John 2:15–16)

To those who respond to Jesus in faith, He offers a different way of life. He gives us new motivations along with a new citizenship. Because of that, we find ourselves aliens in this world.

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:19)

This is not very comfortable. Humanly, we want to be friends with everyone, not rejected because we love Jesus and belong to His kingdom. Not only that, as a Christian how do I respond to God’s command to love others when they hate me? How can I love people without getting involved in the things that motivate them? Why is being separate from the world so important to God and so difficult for His people? We live here. This is not an easy assignment.

Today’s devotional verses add a further warning to show that this is no small command. Instead, it is vital in my relationship with the Lord.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the Spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:4–7)

The devotional writer says that being friends with the world is like ivy growing on an oak tree. The ivy may give the oak a beautiful appearance, but is actually feeding on its vitals. This is what the world can do to me. These verses also suggest that the devil is behind this motivation.

I have to ask myself if I am compromising with this enemy. Am I motivated by the world? By its honors? Its pleasures? Its applause? Those things might add to my appearance in the world’s estimation, but they suck away my spiritual strength.

Other examples come to mind: the desire to be smartest or the best, one-upmanship, quick answers or the desire to be noticed by what clothes and accessories I select, how and when I talk, what I do or don’t do. These are convicting and conviction is why most of us are not excited to talk or even think about what makes us tick. Yet there is an alternative…

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

December 27, 2012

My faithful High Priest

Some church traditions include a priest who acts as an intermediary between the church members and God. When there is sin to confess, this is made to the priest who then offers forgiveness.

However, there is a better way. Instead of priests who sin themselves, Jesus “has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people, since He did this once for all when He offered up himself.” (Hebrews 7:27)

To those who have a personal relationship with Jesus, John wrote, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1) This means that I can go to Jesus, my High Priest, to confess my sin and receive forgiveness. He is my intercessor with God.

The Bible gives more reasons for Jesus as High Priest. One of these is that He lives forever, therefore is always available to sinners of every generation, no matter when or where we live. 

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but He holds his priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:23–25)

I love that word “uttermost” — which means full-ended, completion. If I confess my sin to another person, he might be able to assure me that God forgives sin because of the sacrifice Jesus made for me, but only Jesus can forgive AND remove that sin.

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)

This is a lifetime process, yet cleansing is a reality. The more willingly I draw near to God, the more He is at work in my heart. He changes the way that I think and how I respond to others. He takes away bad attitudes. He replaces my grouchiness with a thankful heart.

Confession can be humiliating. Sin is difficult to admit to a loving, forgiving God, never mind another person who may not be as gracious. Yet because of Jesus, I know that God never turns His back on me. He is always ready to listen to my confession, forgive my sin, and change my life.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)