May 31, 2013

Mountain Climbing

Natural facts say that the higher a person climbs a mountain slope, the deeper appears the valley below. Why then should I think that the closer I am to God, the purer will my old nature will become, as if the valley will rise up the mountain with me?

In being a Christian, the contrast between who I am in Christ and who I am in the flesh increases as I climb the mountain toward God, and just as a valley drops into a fearful pit, my vision of who and what I am does the same.

When Jesus began His ministry, Andrew heard about Him. He followed, listened, and was intrigued, then convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, so he brought his brother to the Lord.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). (John 1:42)

Names were important in Jewish culture. This change of name indicated that Jesus saw something in this man’s future that meant a change, but Peter had yet to climb the mountain. As the story of Christ’s ministry progresses, Peter stands out, but from two perspectives. In one, he is climbing the mountain toward God. In the other, he descends into the valley. For much of his climb, the two seem very far apart.

On the mountain, only Peter senses the holiness and majesty of Christ during that time the disciples miraculous filled their nets. Only Peter fell at Jesus’ feet and cried, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” After Jesus said difficult things and the crowds were deserting Him, and after He turned to his disciples with, “Do you also want to go away?” it was Peter who said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” When Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” it was Peter who replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

This is the future man that Jesus saw from the beginning, the one who followed closely, was given great insight and a powerful vision of God. He could see Jesus climbing a mountain.

But Peter also occupied the valley. He was a braggart. He tried to correct and even rebuked Jesus. He fell asleep in the garden instead of praying. He also denied Jesus three times when the end finally came. Even though he was there and the others had fled, his place on the mountain and his place in the valley became farther apart. The closer this man was to Jesus, the potential for falling grew deeper, as did the depths to which he fell.

Christians may presume that walking with Jesus becomes easier with practice, that the older and wiser a saint becomes, the safer they are from temptation and sin. This is not true. Like Peter, it is possible to see the glory of the Lord on the mountain and then deny and forsake Him in the garden. It is possible, even increasingly possible, to confess Him in one place and then deny Him in another.

The only stability possible is to look both ways at all times, up to Jesus who gives me all that I need, and back down at that “awful abyss” of my own heart. From that place, I can see both heaven and hell. I can grasp the new life and the desires of godliness and move forward, but only if I humbly keep in mind those hideous possibilities that growl at my heels and threaten to pull me back down into the valley.

Heaven and hell contended for the mastery in Peter’s heart. Heaven and hell contend for the mastery in my divided and distracted soul. For this battle, God’s Word offers this,

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do…. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:16–17, 24)

For this, I rejoice that Jesus is my Savior, that I do not climb in my own strength. I’m also glad for the others who climb with me. All Christians know the depth of that horrid valley, but together we also know the grandeur of the lofty heights.

May 30, 2013

Eden is in our hearts

Every time I complain, it is because I want a perfect place, a perfect situation, not just for me but for everyone. Every time I long for better things without complaining (which is a far better attitude), still I am longing for that perfection that was lost.

We lost Eden because of sin. Adam and Eve were put out of paradise because they disobeyed God. Their home had been a garden where all living things served them and they walked with God. Then they did the only thing God told them not to do, and that was the end of perfection.

Isn’t that perfection memory part of our genetic code? Whether we invent, create, complain, or simply hope, we want Eden back. Perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind when taught His disciples about prayer.

When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come....” (Luke 11:2)

This is a prayer for the future. We are asking for the perfection we lost to come back, for Eden, but it is also a prayer for a King. When I pray it, I am asking God to reign on earth, that people acknowledge Him as King, that life is according to His commands. I’m not asking to be taken from here to heaven, but that heaven may come down to my world, and that my world becomes like it.

Those who are in darkness concerning the kingdom of God still long for a king. As today’s devotional says, the Israelites associated it with King David. The British perhaps look back to Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The peoples of the world long for a perfect leader, a ruler who will govern us in Eden-like perfection. Of course, there is no such perfection and as soon as we elect a new leader, we are disappointed in his or her decisions. The longing in our hearts is for Eden and a perfect king, but it isn’t being fulfilled. It cannot be until the kingdom of God comes and our King is Jesus. When that kingdom is established and that King is enthroned, we will experience a better Eden than the Eden we have lost.

True, God is King now and the world is His, but by creation mostly. Those who follow King Jesus know that others do not. These others are often as disgruntled with Him as they are with human leaders and authorities. They want perfection, but on their own terms. This is how sin works: “I want my own way.”

The Coming King loves us to death (literally), yet being a king means being in charge. If I am praying, “Thy kingdom come” I am asking Him to rule, not asking Him to give me an Eden where I am the boss. As long as I insist on being in charge, or at least having my way regardless of who is in charge, then I will not have Eden. My sinful selfishness will ruin it, just as Adam’s disobedience ruined the first Eden.

What makes the difference between having what I want and having the perfection of Eden? It is the love of God that knows and gives what is best for His subjects, but receiving it involves faith in His subjects. If I do not trust Him, then no matter what kind of world I live in, I will complain and want things done differently, supplied differently, organized differently. It was in perfection that Satan convinced Eve her life was not good enough without that forbidden fruit. Sin also convinces me that no matter what I have, it is never good enough.

Eden (and God’s kingdom) is about being content with the supply of God. Yes, there will be a future day and a future kingdom when and where that supply is without trial, sorrow, pain and sin, but even now — with the abundance of all those negatives — it is possible to taste Eden. I can do it, not by gaining perfection, but by being thankful for what I have because I trust the King, the One who has given it to me.

… for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)

May 29, 2013

“Hallowed be Thy Name” means…?

Today’s devotional reading convicts me. Even though I’ve prayed the “Lord’s Prayer” hundreds of times in public and in private, I’ve failed so often to do the very first thing that Jesus instructs in this model prayer.
And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name...” (Luke 11:2)

Hallowing God’s name stands above all else. It comes first, before asking about daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance. It is asking that God is given the glory due to His name, that the character of God made known in Jesus Christ is honored, respected, exalted. Today’s devotional rounds this out.

I hallow God’s name when I cherish worthy ideas of God. That is, if I think He is harsh or uncaring, rather than having true thoughts about Him, I am sinning against His name. The more that I know about God, the more I see of His grace and mercy and the more I realize that He is worthy of honor.

I also honor His name by trusting Him. If I complain about life or how God deals with me — as if He no longer loves me — I am dishonoring His character and forgetting that His nature is love and His name is Father. If I think He is unkind, I am forgetting Calvary and insulting His love. But if I trust Him no matter what is happening in my life, I am honoring His name. Yet so often, I grumble and act without relying on Him, failing to hallow His name.

The bottom line is that God’s name is hallowed by obedience. Profession without practice dishonors God. Prompt, total, and willing obedience honors Him. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:34). For Him, obedience was His daily sustenance. Can I say the same thing?  

A big part of obedience is making God’s name known to those God puts across my path. Jesus set the example of hallowing the name of the Lord by making disciples and teaching them to do His will.

I (Jesus) have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. (John 17:6)

I believe that God is worthy of honor, but this must be expressed by far more than outward respect, or praying, or singing praises. It means daily obedience in all of life, in my studio, at my desk, in the grocery story, with relatives and friends by my words and deeds. It means honoring Him even when I’m alone by having God-pleasing thoughts and plans. To hallow His name means making His will my food and drink, my very life. 

May 28, 2013

Is the door open? Or closed?

There is a story about a certain queen who got in an argument with her husband. He stomped out and locked himself in their bedroom. She pounded on the door and he asked, “Who is there?” She replied, “I am the Queen of England! Let me in!”

He did not open the door. After repeating her actions several times, she finally tapped lightly on the door. When he asked who it was, she said, “It is your wife.” He let her in.

I’m not sure about the truth of this story, but I do know about another door. On one side of it, it is the door to my heart. On the other side, my side, it is the door to the throne of God. While either side may knock on that door, the answer to the question, “Who is there?” has several possibilities.

Behold, I (Jesus) stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

The door to my heart can be closed to God, shut because I’ve reasons for not wanting to hear Him or let Him in. Maybe I’m harboring sin in my heart, or trying to run my own life. At times like that, Jesus patiently stands and knocks, waiting for me to hear Him and open that door.

A few verses later, John, the writer of Revelation says God brought him around to the other side of the door, the side where humanity stands and where the door opens to God.

After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (Revelation 4:1)

For John, that door was wide open. He had learned what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9) He was granted free access to the throne of God by entering through that narrow but blessed way offered by His Son.

This morning I read again the model prayer that Jesus taught His disciples…

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:1–4)

The story of the angry queen came to mind, as did the idea of the door to my heart and the door to God’s throne. Imagine standing at that latter door and demanding to be let in for reasons like, “I am a good person” or “I’ve given X dollars to the church” or “I deserve to be heard.” The door remains closed because the only way to be heard is by first getting down to the truth about my identity. The door will open only when I can honestly admit, “I am a sinner.”

Then imagine God standing at the door to my heart. I’m that stubborn sinner who refuses to open it to “Almighty God” or “High and Holy God” or even to “Creator” or “Redeemer” but when I am willing to say, “Who is there?” and hear Him say, “It is your Father” something happens to my heart. I am eager to invited Him in.

Perhaps this works for me because I had a good earthly father, but more and more I realize that even those who have had abusive fathers still long for a father, a daddy who loves and protects them, who cares for them and wants the very best for them. The pain of abuse is deep because we want and expect a dad’s love and devotion.

“It is your Father,” also works for me because it evokes another response. Yes, I think of my sinner identity when I say, “Father” but I’m not just a sinner, just another rebellious human being who needs to let the Father God into my heart. I am also His child, His little girl. I can open the door and run to Him with my broken doll, skinned knee, disappointments and pain, because I know that He gladly opens His arms and longs to hug me and kiss it better. And even if all is well and there are no particular needs in my life, I can still open the door and have lunch and a cup of tea with my dear Father…

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

May 27, 2013

God is my Father

From Genesis to Malachi there is no instance of an individual speaking of God as Father. Moses, Abraham, David or Isaiah did not use this name for God. It was the Son of God who told us we could say, “Father” when we turn to Him in our prayers and in our need.
And he said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come…’” (Luke 11:2)

I’ve been thinking about my earthly father this week, mostly about his sense of humor. He seemed always happy and quick to share funny stories with others. When I read this verse, I wondered if my heavenly Father enjoys laughter in the same way. I also thought how easy it is to attribute to God the same qualities of our earthly fathers, sometimes in grave error.

My dad was a good man who worked hard and loved people. He was generous to me, even spoiled me. For a long time, I thought God would do the same. My father was a smart person, but my heavenly Father is wiser and knows that what I want is not always the best choice for me, a lesson that took some time to learn!
Others struggle with thoughts of a father who was less kind, even cruel or abusive. How can a heavenly Father be thought of as loving and perfect when the word ‘father’ is filled with horrid connotations?  For some, this is an insurmountable learning curve.

Still, Jesus Christ told us to call God, “Father” because He wanted to bring sunshine into our souls and hope into our lives. He wanted us to know that God is more than wisdom, power, and justice, He is also relational, caring, protective, all things that a good father should be.

The devotional writer adds that God is Father to everybody, but not all are His children. Those created by His loving hand have gone astray. All became alienated from their true heritage by sin, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) 

Christ came into the world to reveal God as Father, but also to seek His lost children and bring us back home again in a new relationship. That is, whoever receives Jesus into their hearts also receives the Spirit of adoption and becomes a child of God by a new birth. In those, Christ lives, gives His life, becomes a brother. We speak the name Father with a new sense of relationship, one not the same as when He is acknowledged as Creator.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God… (Romans 8:14–16)

He is now “Abba” an ancient term that means “Daddy.” By calling Him Father, I acknowledge Him as my Creator, sustainer and source of both this life and the life to come. By calling Him Abba, I declare that He is far more than that.