December 31, 2013

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow

On this last day of 2013, I’m thinking of the past year and the coming year, but my usual pattern is to think about the current day. I want to forget the past and would like to predict the future, but reality says I can do neither. Even the challenges of each day are often overwhelming.
Yet this is what I love about the Lord; He has the ability to get inside my head and heart and speak to whatever is happening in there. Today’s devotional reading is about those thoughts about the past, the future, and about right now. It uses this passage to speak to my heart . . .  

The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the Lord. For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard. (Isaiah 52:10–12)

God guards the past. As I try to look ahead to new beginnings suggested by a turnover on the calendar, I also think about all my sins and mistakes of the past year. Those memories mar my joy, yet God says they are important memories. He allows them so I do not have a shallow security for today or my future.

God also uses my failures to teach me to pray about everything and to be on the alert regarding temptation and specific weaknesses. Without the stumbling and bumbling, I would still need to learn those lessons, but thankfully, some of them are behind me. Even though some of those hurdles were tipped over by my big feet, I’m glad to be moving forward and glad that I’ve learned to jump higher.

The Lord will go before me. God is my security for the future. He knows my weaknesses and will watch over me. He knows what to allow and what to keep away. He watches so that my life will grow in likeness to Christ and all that happens to me will be toward that end. The past affirms that He will be here for me no matter what, and that all things have purpose for His glory and my good.

I will not go out with haste. The devotional reading suggests that as I go forth into the coming year, it should not be with impulsive thoughtlessness or impetuous delight that remembers nothing, but with the patient and steadfast assurance of knowing that my God will go before me. My yesterdays present irreparable things. I have lost opportunities which will never return, but the Lord still promises to use all things for my good, that I might become more like Jesus. He can transform destructive anxiety about failures into constructive thoughtfulness for the future. He will help me leave the irreparable past in His hands. He invites me, and all who love Him, to trust Him as we step into the future.

I cannot undo past mistakes, or control the future, or even make sense of most of today, but my sovereign God is willing and able to take charge of all that as He goes before me, guarding the past, planning the future, and guiding each step of the way.

December 30, 2013

Every virtue must be His

I’ve long ago given up saying things like, “So and so would be such a good Christian,” for I know now that natural virtues are useless in the kingdom of God. I’ve realized this in the most difficult possible way --- by having them stripped away leaving me helpless.
Oswald Chambers says this is a sure sign that God is at work. He destroys confidence in natural virtues because they are not what He is building in His people. These are remnants of what God intended and may look good on the surface, but He knows and He shows me how even the best I have has been thoroughly ruined by the Fall.

Yet I cling to natural virtues. They not only seem right, but they are expressions of my self, giving me some value before God even as I say that I fall short and need Jesus Christ. From experience, I am learning how sad and how frustrating to try and serve God depending not on His grace but on what I have by the accident of heredity. It is a most difficult lesson to learn that God isn’t going to build up my skills and abilities or even transfigure them --- for nothing in me can ever come anywhere near what Jesus Christ is and wants. Unsaved or saved, I fall short.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested . . . through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . .  (Romans 3:21–23)

The life God planted in me means a development of a new creation. He isn’t remaking even the virtues Adam had before the Fall, but the character of Jesus Christ. As He withers up my confidence in anything in myself and in any power I might have, He wants me to learn to draw my life from the resurrection life of Jesus. He wants me to say what all who worship Him must learn to say . . .

Singers and dancers alike say, “All my springs are in you.” (Psalm 87:7)

Natural love, patience, and purity cannot measure up to God’s demands. His life in Christ is so much more than I can imagine, never mind duplicate. Even my best interferes with His plans.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:20–21)

The only way to experience it is by dying totally to my old life --- even yielding the best of me, so that Jesus Christ rules entirely.

December 29, 2013

Follower or deserter?

The problem of writing the truths that Jesus reveals to me from His Word is that it works the same as a recipe or a grocery list. It I have it on paper, then I tend not to think about it or remember it the same way as if it were rehearsed in my head.
Those who instruct in the keeping of journals say that the value of a journal is lost if the author does not reread what he or she has written. The important truths revealed and understood from the Bible are the same. They require meditation, but even more, obedience. Just writing them down is a double tragedy for an attention deficit scatter-brain because I’m so easily distracted.

Today’s devotional reading from My Utmost for His Highest is about this serious problem. Oswald Chambers uses a verse that comes just after Jesus reveals a deep truth to the crowds that are following Him. Some of them could not accept what He said . . .

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:66)

Chambers says that when God gives a vision by His Spirit through His word of what He wants, and I am excited about it but do not follow through in obedience, I will wind up with a point of view that Jesus never had.

He says that this will start with an inner debate. Then certain things will begin to develop, such as a sense of property and a sense of personal right. I want to do what I want to do. Such an attitude is foreign to Jesus. He says that life does not consist in the abundance of what I possess. I understand this means more than the stuff in my shelves, but also any ideas I possess about how to run my life.

Chambers adds that I might also lie back and bask in the memory of the wonderful experience of that revelation rather than hopping to it, doing what it says. He warns me that if God reveals anything to me and I do not come up to it, and do not feel inclined to come up to it, that is the beginning of backsliding. It means my conscience has not answered to the truth. He says that I cannot ever be the same after the unveiling of a truth because that moment marks me. I will either go on as a more true disciple of Jesus Christ, or go back as a deserter.

December 28, 2013

Humble dependence

Last night our daughter and son-in-law went out for a few hours. Despite their vet calling him the happiest dog she has ever seen, their “nearly human” little pooch whined and pined for them the whole time. Not only does this pet depend on them for food, he also depends on them for emotional stability.
We don’t have children in the house now. Even our grandchildren are grown up, with the youngest in grade nine. For the most part, their dependence on us has changed from total to very little, if any. So when I read these verses this morning, I thought about this little dog who is so much like a little child . . .

And calling to him a child, (Jesus) put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2–4)

Entrance to the kingdom of God is about humility. At breakfast, I picked up a copy of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” an old book that is still packaged as good advice. Some of Dale Carnegie’s ideas seem biblical even if the goals are suspect. The first chapter is filled with illustrations of how people refuse to think ill of themselves. Criminals blame others for crimes they call self-defense. Politicians cannot see their blunders and say they did the best they could. In this, Carnegie has seen the truth about sin. One of the first things that it does is makes us blind to its presence.

However, the gospel does what that book would say not to do. It convicts us of sin and says that without the grace of God and His life-changing power, we are lost and doomed. Of course the gospel brings good news too, but first there is bad news that must be humbly admitted.

This is true for that initial conversion to a life of faith, but it is also true for every step of the way in that life. I need God. I cannot do this myself. I am a sinner with a new life, and living that new life takes a great deal of humility, of being willing to say that I need Jesus, of being like a dependent little child.

Oswald Chambers reminds me that when I trust my wits instead of God, then I am responsible for the consequences. He also says that because I have obeyed Him once or ten times, that is no guarantee that I will do it again. The relation of my old life to my new life is one of continuous conversion, and believe me, this is one thing that I do not like. In every setting in which I find myself, the Spirit of God remains unchanged and His salvation unaltered, but we have to “put on the new man” and be filled with the Spirit. Otherwise, I am trusting myself, not God.
God holds me responsible every time I refuse to convert myself from trusting me to trusting Him. Why would I refuse doing that? Unlike Carnegie’s advice to never tell others their faults, Chambers calls it like it is; disobedience is willful obstinacy that thinks I know better than God. My pride and my idol-making heart still want to rule.

I am hindered when I refuse to let God continually “convert” my independence and obstinacy. He has given me enough light to realized there are whole tracts of my life that have not yet been brought into subjection. As Chambers pointedly says, this can only be done by continuous conversion. This is discouraging except that Chambers also adds a positive side by adding that those who humble themselves can slowly but surely claim the whole territory for the Spirit of God.

December 27, 2013

Win by losing

Israel lamented that they had disobeyed God from the beginning and throughout their history. They declared, “Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us. For we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.” (Jeremiah 3:25)
The older I get and the more I understand the will of God, the more I realize that I am no different than they were. I’ve been guilty of bad attitudes, unkind thoughts and words, and selfish deeds, and I have fought those things. Some of these wars were short and easily won. Others have taken years to conquer. Yet in the winning, there is no recall of the foe or the battle, for such is the grace of God. He keeps me moving through life, not dwelling on the former things or the shame of them.

Right now, my concern is those sinful issues that seem to stick like crazy glue. Perhaps the reason for their tenacity is that I’m fighting some of them in the wrong arena. Like Oswald Chambers says, the battle against sin is lost or won in the secret places of the will before God, never first in the external world. I cannot wait until the temptations come before engaging in the battle.

If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory. (Jeremiah 4:1–2)

Israel could not defeat their enemies unless their hearts were right with God. This is as true for me as it was for them. When the Spirit of the Lord convicts me of sin, then I need to get alone with God and realize how I have been opposing Him. The battle is always first with God and until I yield to Him, I will lose all other battles.

In those wrestling matches with God, my resistance involves: not trusting Him, thinking that I know better than He does (how silly), and putting up some kind of substitute (idol) to take His place, if not me, then another person, plan, or ideal. The battle may take one minute or a year, but that depends on me, not Him. He is patient and holds on to me just as He did in the wrestling match with Jacob (Genesis 32:22-32). Like Jacob, I need to cry “Uncle” and yield.

When that renunciation happens, then nothing has power over me, but if I wait until I get into the tempting or testing circumstance and think I will trust God there, I cannot. It does not work that way. I must get the issue settled between myself and God in the secret places of my heart. Then I will be certain the battle is won regardless of when or how I will be tested. If I do not yield first to God in that secret battle, then disaster and calamity are certain.

Chambers says that every now and again, not often, but sometimes, God brings His people to a point of climax, a Great Divide in life. From that point we either slide downward into a procrastinated and useless type of Christian life, or move upward into a life that is increasingly set on the glory of God. He did that with Jacob who yielded and from that point on, walked with a limp. But he also glorified God with a different attitude and new strength gained by losing that wrestling match with the Lord.