Saturday, March 31, 2012

Like Father, like daughter - my goal

Maybe we thought that Jesus said it first, but the idea of loving an enemy goes back a few thousand years to the time when God gave His law to Moses.
If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. (Exodus 23:4)
Much later, Jesus talked about enemies and gave a clearer reason why God wants His people to treat them well.. I’m supposed to love my enemies because God does, and as His child, I’m supposed to look like my Father.
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 5:44-48)
When I first heard this, I thought it meant the emotion of caring about someone who hated me, and concluded that God’s standard of love was humanly impossible. No one can have warm feelings without reason, and especially for those who give us every reason not to have warm feelings.

However, this kind of love is not ordinary affection. It is “agape” love and is more about doing good to others, just like the example in Exodus 23. However, this is not easy either. How can I do good for someone that I do not feel like loving? Again, the answer is in that example. This kind of love does not spring from feelings, but is a doing kind of love, actions not emotions.

But what about the feelings? Wouldn’t it help to love others if I felt like it? Years ago, a woman told me that feelings follow action. I realized that I knew that already. She put words to something I’d discovered with my children. If they were mad at their father, I’d get them to shine his shoes or some other activity for him. Very soon their anger was gone. When we do good to both friends and enemies, even by praying for them, we please God, but we also experience a change in ourselves.

God has other reasons for loving enemies besides wanting to change our attitude. This impossible task is God-like, as Jesus said. Loving enemies gives a flesh and blood demonstration of His nature and character. He blesses those who have done nothing to deserve it, even those who ignore Him or mock Him. Agape love is like that and everyone needs to see it in action.

Agape love also is a conviction to those who receive it. Finding out that God loves me no matter what I do or how many times I disobey Him makes me feel ashamed, but also humbled. That is part of the reason I am to love my enemies; love has power to overcome sin.
To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20-21)
This agape love cannot be produced in the human heart apart from the Holy Spirit. As Romans 5:5 says, "Love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." This “fruit of the Spirit” is given to those who have received Christ as Savior and are yielded to Him.

Salvation is by grace, and so also is the ability to genuinely care about others. Agape love is never my own doing. It came from Him in salvation and was demonstrated by the way He send Jesus to die for us - even while we were His enemies.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
Love comes in when Jesus comes in. It is who He is. Love also remains in my life as the unseen God lives in me. He tells me to practice His love with other believers, and as I do, I will grow in love and be able to love my enemies.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:12)
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Lord, I’m not able to call by name anyone that is a personal enemy, yet there are many who are enemies of the gospel that I believe. Some of them simply ignore You to their peril. Others mock and openly stand against all that is from You. No matter who these are or how they express their resistance and dislike of truth and Your Word, help me to have Your perfect attitude toward them. I am Your child and want to grow up to be just like You.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Priorities

The past two days have left me feeling overtired and subnormal. While prayer has been good, I’ve not been able to complete other things started, or accomplish normal chores. I’ve been busy, but feel like I’ve been spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. 

Today’s devotional reading at first seemed pointless, but as I look at it and various comments about it, God has something to say to my situation. The scene is a conversation between two lovers. The man, likely Solomon, is asking his beloved to go with him, perhaps a walk in the garden. He praises her virtues and speaks loving words to her. Then one of them, it is not clear who, says this strange line,
Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom. (Song of Solomon 2:15)
Foxes or jackals often came into the vineyards and ate the grapes. In this case, the vines were in bloom only, but the inference is to make sure the foxes are gone before the grapes appear. Either she is asking him to do it for them both, or he is asking her to do it since this may have been her responsibility prior to their relationship.

This verse has many interpretations. Is this literal, perhaps a suggestion that since she had failed somehow before (1:6), she needed to be more zealous to take care of their vineyards? Or is it less literal and more about tending to any subtle sins that might spoil their blossoming relationship?

From the latter idea, several commentaries suggest that readers apply this to their own spiritual lives. That is, take care of the small things that destroy the work of God in our lives. This could be the first thoughts of actual sin, or any hindrances that keep us from doing what is right. It could refer to any little thing that ruins our judgment, muddies our conscience, perplexes our thinking or discourages our inclination to virtue.

Some theologians suggest these little foxes could also be whispers of false teaching that obstruct the progress of the gospel. These also must be tamed, restrained, or destroyed before they ruin our witness.

I can think of all sorts of examples in both these interpretations. In personal relationships, any problems can become wedges if not addressed. A small doubt leads to mistrust and that can separate two people. A small disagreement can grow into a large feud. Lack of forgiveness can become bitterness and turn our focus from God to self-pity. Attraction to worldly pleasures can start small and eventually turn Christian workers from their primary purpose to share Christ and glorify God.

One writer thinks that despite the endless variety of interpretations, this verse does not represent anything. Instead, this man is inviting the woman to join in some sort of childlike play that young lovers often do. Yet even that has application for those who work all the time and never take a rest from their labors. As another writer says, this could even be her excuse for not going with her young lover —she has work to do in the vineyard. 

This “non-interpretation” suggests to me that I’ve made my to-do list more important than it should be. At my age, and with this heart problem, I’ve been somewhat driven to finish things and get my half-done projects off the table. They have lined up and backed up, and are getting too heavy on my mind. I sense from these verses that my ambitions have become more than little foxes and that the Lord is inviting me to do something different. It could be spending more time with Him or chilling out with family and friends. In either case, I need to deal with those foxes.


Lord, I’m from a family that values accomplishment. I know that there is nothing wrong with being busy or getting things done — unless it interferes with the ripening of the spiritual fruit You desire in my life. Work, work, work can keep me from listening to You, from deepening relationships with others, and from getting the rest that my body needs. I need to find a picture of some little foxes and attach it to my chore list as a reminder to not let those things happen. I need to remember that putting a check in all those little boxes is not nearly as important as going for a walk in the garden with You.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Walk in the light that I have

After eight hours sleep, I woke up feeling exhausted. This could be the result of trying to do too much with a medicated heart that will beat only 50 times a minute. It also could be the after effects of praying much of yesterday involved in a spiritual battle for those who walk in darkness and need Jesus. Whatever the cause, I came to my Bible this morning feeling a great desire that God would renew my strength.
 
Today’s verses are about the contrast between those who believe in Jesus Christ and have His imputed righteousness, and those who have not yet had their sins forgiven and cleansed.
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble. (Proverbs 4:18–19)
This has a calming effect. As I go into my day, I know that God will give me light. That is, He will help me with decisions and make known all that I need to know to stay on His path. I checked other verses that are like the first one above, and found several that urge me to rejoice.
And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning. (Job 11:17)
This follows an urging to confess my sin. When I do that, God will shine His light on my path. Instead of stumbling about and not knowing why, God wants me to clearly see and understand all that I need to walk with Him.
You will decide on a matter, and it will be established for you, and light will shine on your ways. (Job 22:28)
This verse is about decision-making. When I walk with God in the light that He gives, my choices will be confirmed, even made stronger. I will know what I need to do and God will send more light to help me continue in the doing of it. As I consider my ordinary chores and the myriad of choices that are always before me, this is a great comfort.

The next verse is a promise that urges me to continue in intercessory prayer. “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).

“Those who are wise” is not about human wisdom. The New Testament tells me that Christ is my wisdom and because of Him, I will know what to do and be able to do it. In that wisdom, my life will shine. Obedience to God, including any actions that turn others to Jesus and His righteousness will have eternal results, comparable to the brilliance of stars that shine for eternity. In this, I am encouraged in my prayer battles for others. While the Holy Spirit does the work of enlightenment in their lives, God does urge me to intercessory prayer. Unlike prayer for temporary blessings, the answers to these prayers will be enlightened souls who shine forever.

The cross reference to the “brighter and brighter” in last part of Proverbs 4:18 reminds me of two verses. One is, “They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion” (Psalm 84:7). The other tells me that when I “behold with an  unveiled face the glory of the Lord, I am transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). 

Both promises say that God wants me to stay close to Him, to keep my eyes on His glory. On a day like today when I’m tempted to keep my eyes on me, I’m thinking I need some pity and attention. Yet when I do that, that is all I will get. When I gaze at Jesus, I become more like Him, increasing in strength also. This is reinforced by the last verse that refers to that “full day” and the final outcome of this life . . .
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
Here and now, fatigue and discouragement happen, even to God’s children. We don’t know what will happen next nor do we have a full understanding of what God wants from us, or how we will respond to life’s trials. However, we do know this: when that “full day” comes and Jesus appears, we will see Him as He is and be like Him. 


Holy God, You have given me light. I no longer am in deep darkness, nor do I need to stumble over pitfalls and hazards that I cannot see or understand. Because of the light You give, I know that self-pity is a hazard. So is thinking only about what I want or need. So is letting fatigue (real or not) keep me from praying for those who need Jesus. For those reasons, I will continue to battle for the salvation of others, walking in the light that I have and trusting You to give me even more until that day that all shadows will disappear in the brightness of Your glory.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Absolutes in a world of gray

The expression “black and white” usually refers to a person or an opinion that sees everything as either right or wrong, with no shades of gray and no other interpretations. While this is considered “not useful” in reaching solutions, there are occasions that call for a distinct separation of two viewpoints. For instance, it is never right to abuse or torture a child. It is always wrong to steal what belongs to another.
 
In these days of “whatever is right for you might not be right for me” the idea of ethical absolutes has been tossed in favor of “each one doing what is right in his own eyes” as it was in the early days of the Old Testament (see Judges 17:6 and 21:25). As a result, our society is adrift in moral chaos. 

I tend to be a black and white person. While I see great room for opinions about art, music and other likes and dislikes, in my mind there is no place for gray when it comes to right and wrong. I also believe there is no place for personal decisions in those areas that are not black and white. The Holy Spirit might direct one person into some activity and forbid another, not because the activity is right or wrong, but that God sees and considers the needs, strengths and weaknesses of each person, and has eternal reasons for His direction. For instance, it might be okay for one to take up a hobby of making and flying model airplanes and not for another. The hobby is neutral, but God considers things like motives and possible ministry opportunities.

Besides that, from the very first verses in the Bible, God Himself is described as being black and white.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3–4)
Well-known preacher and writer, Charles Spurgeon says that no sooner did God create a good thing than He saw the necessity of a division. Light and darkness have no communion. For one thing, darkness is the absence of light and has no power over light. As John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” While he was speaking of Jesus, the principle is true regarding literal light. As soon as one candle is lit in a dark place, it is no longer dark. The two are separate by nature.

Spurgeon goes on to say that since God has divided light and darkness, we are not to confound the two when it comes to our actions and doctrines. The Bible calls us “children of the day” who must be “sober, honest, and bold in the Lord’s work, leaving all works of darkness to those who shall dwell in it forever” because they love being there.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)
He tells His people to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers because there is no partnership between righteousness and lawlessness and no fellowship between light and darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14). God has separated the two groups literally, morally and spiritually. 

He also calls us to live in the light because He is light. We are to be like Him and live as Jesus did.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Because of Jesus, I can be black and white in both theology and in finding solutions to the problems of life. Since God is light and calls me to walk in the light He gives, then I know there are ways that are dark. Walking in them is not only disobedience, but also puts me in harm’s way. For that reason, and because God separates me from my former life of darkness, then I must also divide the light from darkness in my judgments and actions, in what I hear and teach, and even in my associations. I must discern between precious and vile, and maintain that great distinction which the Lord made upon the world’s first day.


Father, I understand this and embrace it. As Your child, I am to be like You. While You are patient and longsuffering with those who oppose You, You never add gray to the distinctions You make between wrong and right, sin and righteousness. I am either in the flesh or in the Spirit, walking my own way or obeying You. I cannot determine these things for others since this is Your responsibility. Besides, I often cannot see the Light in my own life and need Your continual guidance. Nevertheless, You call me to be black and white when hearing and doing Your will. You know that I am easily muddled. I am also totally rejoicing that You avoid shades of gray.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Assurance of Eternal Life

Who will stand before the throne of God in honor rather than in judgment? Who will be saved rather than lost? Who will make it into eternity without guilt and condemnation? Can anyone know for sure? Or do most say, “I will have to wait and see if I’ve been good enough”?
 
My husband talked to a man last week who asked him, “How can anyone know for sure?” He was concerned about his eternal destiny and repeated this question several times. Part of the answer given was that the Bible says much about eternal life and how to have it, even how to know that you have it. This good news is stated plainly in verses like these, and assurance comes through believing them.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11–13)
My husband shared with this man that when he believed in Jesus Christ and received Him and the salvation He freely offers to those who believe, the Holy Spirit changed him. Part of that change is a deep assurance. He said, “Besides the affirmation of the Bible, I just know.”

Some Scripture passages are less obvious, yet imply details about eternal life and being sure of it. When I read these passages in Revelation this morning, I thought about the core of my assurance. It never is, nor can it ever be, based on myself or what I do. Salvation is always about Jesus.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:9–12)
This is about worship in heaven, in eternity. A great crowd stands before God from every people-group in the world, every language. This says that salvation is not about Anglo-Saxons or denominations or specific groups. It is available to everyone and the way of salvation is the same for everyone.

Those who are standing before the throne and before Christ are dressed in white robes. This symbolizes their worth and status before God. I discovered that the Jews used to array priests who were approved for ministry in white robes. They served God by being declared blessed and spotless, yet the Bible is clear; no man is spotless. We must be forgiven, redeemed, justified, and cleansed through the sacrifice of Christ. Our robes of righteousness are never earned but imputed, put on us by the grace of God. 

This is why the angels, the elders and those who represent Christ, and the entire multitude are singing praises to God. The saved ones worship Him because they know their own merits have no value before this throne. They also know who gave them this blessed place. They had previously sang another song:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Then I (John, the writer of Revelation) looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:9–14)
Implied in this litany of praise is the reason a person can know they will live forever. None of those in this crowd are relying on their own belief system or performance. They stand there because they know that Jesus is worthy. To Him belongs all power and glory and worship. No one can pat themselves on the back and say, “I made it.” They know that apart from Christ, we can do nothing. Pleasing God and eternal life are all about falling down on our knees before Jesus as Savior and Lord.


Lord God, these days You have brought this truth to my heart again and again. I realize how deeply all people need to know Jesus and have the assurance of eternal life with You. The way to life seems so clear to me, only because You reveal such things to Your people by grace through faith. I know I’ve done nothing to merit this amazing revelation. Yet because of You, I can bow even now in worship at the wonder of the Father, the saving power of the Son Jesus Christ, and the gracious blessing of Holy Spirit. You assure me again and again of my eternal destiny as You declare that all glory concerning this amazing salvation belongs to You alone.