March 31, 2013

Putting on my Sunday best…

Today is Easter Sunday. Jesus is risen!

We are getting ready for church and I’m thinking about the ‘old days’ when Easter Sunday meant trotting out in your best and newest clothes. For women, this ‘Easter parade’ was a competitive time of being the best dressed and if not that, at least adorned with all things new.

Times have changed, thankfully. Most churches (at least the ones I’ve attended) stress casual. The emphasis is on being there, not being a fashion model, not even on Easter Sunday. Today’s devotional verses are for those who still might be concerned about that, but are more for those concerned about simply having clothes.

And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:28–30)

This blog is called “Practical Faith” for a reason. God has shown me that trusting Him is about all of life, all my needs, every detail, including clothes. However, it is also about an eternal perspective. Much of what concerns humanity who live on this tiny planet in a vast universe will not last very long. Our lives are short and the things that can become a preoccupation will eventually wind up in the trash.

This is why we are not to be anxious about a lot of things. In fact, a verse that follows the passage above says,

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

This means if I keep my priorities right, God will take care of the temporary needs. Today, my focus is on worship and on being the wife, mother, and mother-in-law that pleases God and does good for my family. He considers righteousness a vital quest. What I wear to church isn’t nearly so important!

March 30, 2013

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

The idea of being what we are plays itself out in a myriad of ways. First of all, it means integrity. If something is going on in my heart, on the inside, I cannot pretend otherwise on the outside. Usually we think of that in terms of bad stuff, failures and junk on the inside covered with a fake smile and attitude on the surface. However, it can go the other way.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14, 16)

God says that I am light in the world. If I try to cover up that light from Him with acting as if I am just like those who don’t have it, I am just as much a hypocrite as those who pretend to be enlightened when they are really in the dark.

Today’s devotional says that every Christian is placed amid scenes that will bring out her or his character. This is true. How will I act today? I am spending time with my lovely daughter. What will God bring into my heart that He wants shown in my relationship with her? My husband is golfing. He goes out as a single, often winding up with one to three strangers. What has God put in his heart that He wants demonstrated on the greens?

The devotional writer writes about unsaved loved ones whose current status before God presses my heart to prayer and concern for their eternal destiny. He says this also should call forth a demonstration of that burden in my heart. What shape will that take?

Lastly, he writes of a sleeping church with hundreds who profess no interest in all in what Jesus has done to save them. Are they actually not renewed, not pardoned, not even concerned, merely warming the pews until they go to eternity, either up or down? What light does God want me to shine before them?

Can my prayers and concerns have any effect at all in a pagan world or on the foulest guilt or filth and woe? Can my light reach into any dark dungeon of depravity and bring God’s love to sinners there? Whatever I might think isn’t the issue. God says His children are the light of the world and that we need to let our light shine. It is then up to Him what He does with it.

March 29, 2013

Another test…

Yesterday’s experience was puzzling and somewhat painful. In the course I am taking online, all students were to post a short topic that invited discussion last week. These are designed to make sure each student is engaged in the subject matter and is thinking about what we are being taught. Then, this week each of us needed to respond to two of those posts.

One of them confused me so I responded basically by asking for clarification. That student answered my response by email instead of posting it on the discussion board, insisting I was mistaken and stubborn rather than confused and eventually was harsh with me. The whole thing left me a bit unsettled and asking the Lord what was going on. I didn’t get any answers concerning the other person, but today’s devotional tells me again that confused or not, I am what I am…

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:14)

The writing that goes with this verse is about the trials God uses to bring out this light. It says all Christians experience trials, but in them He will bring forth the principles of Christian living that He has given us in Christ Jesus. Losses show the world that we trust Him, as do danger and the mistreatment of others. In all of these things, we are still light in a dark world. Our love for Him will be seen, as will His love and care for us.

Through this writing I hear God assuring me that I hold the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation, in my heart. It is this Gospel that that can enlighten the nations, alleviate all sorrows, comfort mourners, and change the outlook of every person and realm of human life. Yet God does not want me to sit around and watch it happen. I’m to be active and involved. Every time life slaps me in the face, He calls me to shine. Every blessing that I experience will also test my character and ability to shine.

Not only that, trials and even good experiences are from God -- presented to me as opportunities that test my character but also develop that character. For that, the Lord put this verse into my mind…

If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? (Jeremiah 12:5)

Indeed! If I cannot cope with the unkind words of another person in the family of God, how can I manage if some greater threat confronts me? God has put me into a world that will challenge my faith, a world where, if faith is not called forth, it is proof that it does not exist.

I’m also reminded that every form of testing I might experience also slammed into God’s own Son. I should not wonder that similar things will happen to me.

The interesting part is that after all of the events from yesterday, I got a surprise email from the class professor who knows nothing of those events. In it, he commended me for the very things that student criticized. I am awed and humbled at the same time. The Lord is good and works everything for the good of those who love Him. Sometimes we don’t see that until later, but must remember that it is His goal to make us more like Himself and bring out the light that He has put in.

March 28, 2013

In what do I boast?

In a playground, some children will show off their athletic abilities. The same happens at the pool and during recess. Some show off their test marks in the classroom, or show off their skills, appearance, or how many friends they have on facebook. For Christians, all of this is not important.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16)

What is this light that Matthew is talking about? Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5) so this light is tied to the Person of Christ as well as the truth that He brought. That truth is fairly basic. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and God wants to restore us to that glory, so He sent Jesus to seek and save sinners.

The odd part is that many sinners don’t find this to be good news. They are not interested in light or salvation from sin, but want to stay the way they are.

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. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:19–20)

That means that as a Christian, I can expect opposition when I “let my light shine.” However, Jesus makes it clear that this is not to hinder me nor be incentive to put it under a basket. Some will see Jesus in what I do (only when I am in obedience to Him and relying on His power) and then give glory to God.

Lest anyone think this is like boasting about anything else that God has given me, a children’s chorus has these words: “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine… don’t let Satan blow it out, I’m going to let it shine.” Being a light for Christ is a spiritual battle. Not only do other sinners resist the light and love darkness, Satan also tries to stop that light. He wanted Jesus dead and wants me to be more interested in either hiding His light or attracting attention to other stuff that is not important.

Today’s devotional reading says this with blunt clarity. To paraphrase, there is not a single principle of the Christian life that the people of the world do not at heart hate. I will always face opposition to test my character and reveal my priorities. That opposition may come from family or friends. It will hit me in public life and daily tests. It will also reveal if I have strength of devotion sufficient to still shine amidst those who despise the cross. Persecution is God’s testing ground to make the light of Christ the governing principle in all that I do.

2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” – not a welcome promise, yet God allows it to verify the amazing strength of His light, the Lord Jesus Christ.

March 27, 2013

How can lives be changed?

News this week tells of two boys who tried to rob a woman who didn’t have any money, so they shot and killed her baby. I’ve not heard it yet, but have little doubt that some will blame lack of education for this tragic event. Others will cry for more gun control, or blame social services. Some might even blame the mother for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Law, philosophy, morals and education have failed to restrain and reform a world full of sinners. Yes, there are decent folks, but when push comes to shove, most will look out for themselves even it hurts someone else.

The good news is that one Person looked out for us at great cost to Himself so that we might be the kind of people God intended when He created us.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16–17)

The Gospel is not about self-reform, pulling up my boot straps, being taught a new way to live. It is God’s power that changes lives for everyone who believes it. The Gospel is also a revealed thing, something Christians know because God opens our eyes and hearts to know it, and in the process, He does a marvelous thing.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

This does not make me perfect. Until I see Jesus face to face, I’m also stuck with my sinful nature. This is the part of me that can resist God and fall short of loving others. But now I can choose to follow Jesus because He gave me a new nature. My old life has gone and I can obey commands in the Bible and be what God intended. He says of me that I am “the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14).

Today’s devotional says it too: “No principle in the universe can be brought to bear with such weight as the gospel.  Nothing can develop the principles of humanity if not the gospel. Millions of women and men have been changed, redeemed, purified, saved. The gospel is powerful enough to overcome all the tendencies of sin. It will unclench the hands of greed, silence the blasphemer, make pure the corrupt heart, and stop the strut of the arrogant. There is not a grasp on gold or pleasure that the gospel has not the power to break. And there is not a sinner who, if he or she fairly comes under its dominion, will not become holy.”

Yet the oddest thing happens. Even though the Gospel changes lives and subdues our strongest propensities to sin and harm others, people resist it and would rather go their own way. That might be their own moral way (“I am a good person and don’t need changing”) or the other extreme (“No one, including God, is going to tell me what to do”) with many variations in between.

Imagine if that were not the case. Gone would be our vain systems of morality, but also the world’s most gigantic schemes of corruption. Instead, thousands of sinners would be humbled and changed into holy people. The difference would change persecutors and blasphemers to people who see Jesus and are awed, saying, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” 

Most of the world, from the dearest souls to the thieves and murderers of babies have no idea that the Son of God is available to them. Jesus can lift them out of whatever holds them into a life filled with light that can shine forth His goodness. How vital that I, along with others who have been transformed by His saving power, shine the light we have into dark places and not hide it under any petty selfishness that belongs to that old life for which Jesus died.