September 30, 2013

Even a spoiled brat can learn how to be thankful

I cannot blame my parents. They indulged me, for they were told I would not live past sixteen. I cannot blame any other person but myself — for being never satisfied and prone to complaining. For years, the word “enough” was not in my vocabulary.

Jeremiah once was my favorite prophet, but now I read him and see lament on every page. He sees the disaster around him and declares that God is filled with wrath at the disobedience of His people.

My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me. Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people from the length and breadth of the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” “Why have they provoked me to anger with their carved images and with their foreign idols?” “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded; I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me. (Jeremiah 8:18–21)

The author of today’s devotional focuses on the phrase about end of summer. It is that time of year here in Canada where the days grow shorter and that summer season of beauty is fading. We had frost this past week.

He compares autumn to the cycle of life moving toward the end. He warns that I do not lament as I grow older and enter those days when “the sap of the tree is halting in its upward current” and “the night is fast conquering the day.”

For some, and this touches me, there will be an Indian summer. The nights are cool, the days shorter, but they are sunny and beautiful. Those living in this season, metaphorically speaking, may have a haziness in their vision, but the sweetness of heaven has come into their souls. He quotes those proverbs that bless old age, if the aging are found “in the way of righteousness.”

His last lines touch me too. He points out that it is folly to sit down in midlife discouraged. The meridian of life may be passed and I have been routed in many a conflict, yet there are victories yet to gain. I need not mourn over physical, financial or other losses of prosperity because all things are mine: life, death, immortality, a throne in heaven, rivers of joy, even shining mansions and most of all God Himself.

The Lord has taught me the value of trials and how trouble comes for good and eternal purposes. I know that “on the coldest nights the aurora is brightest in the northern heavens” and that in Christ it is possible to take the hard knocks without complaint. It will not take long for God to make up in the next world for anything I have suffered or lost in this one. Instead of complaining how hard I have it or about what I don’t have, I can still take up my Bible filled with promises, get down on my knees before God, and thank Him for what I do have.

September 29, 2013

God’s calling on my life . . .

Speakers and attendees at writer’s conferences usually talk about their calling as a writer, or that God called them to do this. One said that without this call, you should not be a writer. Another said that we must respond to the call and be persistently faithful in doing what God has called us to do. Another said (see yesterday’s post) that we are called to love and obey God and it might be writing today but something else tomorrow.

I’ve not heard any calling from God to be a writer or to focus on anything else. I continually wonder what I’m “supposed to be when I grow up” for I can do many things. Which is God’s “call” for me? This is perplexing and as I drove home yesterday, I was thinking that question. What am I called to do? God gives me an answer this morning. The problem is with my understanding of a calling.

Oswald Chambers says that the calling of God is not necessarily one of those ah-ha moments that I thought it was. I was looking for a lightning bolt from heaven, writing on the wall, a sudden revelation. But Chambers suggest something different. He even says, “If you can tell where you got the call of God and all about it, I question whether you have ever had a call.”

Chambers speaks of this calling being more the mystical, supernatural touch of God, a deeper yearning of the heart. He draws his thoughts from this verse . . . 

For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)

The call of God is more supernatural than I thought. While understanding can come with a sudden thunder-clap or with a gradual dawning, but has an “undercurrent of the supernatural that cannot be put into words” and is always “accompanied with a glow” which I interpret as a deep and rich knowledge of who I am and what I must do.

I understand what Chambers writes. It is that sense of this is the job for me. Paul’s words were not about salvation nor about becoming more like Christ and because of that, we should do this thing. He didn’t describe his calling in those terms, but as a necessity laid upon him.

I take that to mean that this was something he had to do. It was built-in, like breathing. For him, preaching was in total harmony with the way God made him. He couldn’t help it. He even said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” This task had no competition in his life. It came first, was a necessity that he could not resist or change and was more important than anything else.

For me, that has always been sharing spiritual truth with others, not preaching but teaching what God says. For the past year since we moved, I’ve felt somewhat like a fish out of water. We moved to a new church as well, and that situation has an adjustment time, time to meet and know people, time to get “the lay of the land” and for the leadership of the church to see where I best fit.

I’ve also been in a wilderness of temptation and testing. God has shown me ugly things about myself and been at work changing my thinking and how I speak and act toward others. That seems a good thing, but for me, it has been realizing just how much farther I have to go to “grow up” and be mature as a Christian. Instead of greater confidence, God is far more concerned that I have a contrite and teachable heart, so needful no matter my “calling.”

Last week I was asked to teach again. This is actually a command from God for the Great Commission says I am to do this . . . 

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19–20)

But this is also how He made me. In my heart, the most important thing for Christians is to learn about God, to think His thoughts, to grow in grace, to grasp what the Bible says and apply it to their lives. Teaching is His purpose for me and my purpose in the church. I have never termed this a “calling” but now I see that is what it is.

This weekend, several told me that they learned from me as writers, and were thankful. That was a confirmation, but I also look back at thirty years of teaching Bible studies and see how God has used the process in my own life. As Paul said, woe to me if I am not doing what the Lord has laid on my heart. It is a necessity.

September 28, 2013

Only one calling

“Persevere at your calling,” says the speaker at this weekend’s conference for writers. His message is good, yet I keep thinking about the message of a previous conference years ago. The speaker at that one said, “We are not called to be writers, but called to love and obey God. Today He may be asking you to write, but tomorrow He might ask you to do something else.”

For some reason, my computer devotional reading for today jumped backwards two days. I checked and it will be on the proper day by Monday, so decided to read “My Utmost for His Highest.” God has his ways of giving me what I need to hear. Chambers is on the theme of absolute surrender, a challenge on my mind for these past few weeks. He offers two verses that point to the call of Christ for total abandonment in following Him.

And Jesus, looking at him (a rich young ruler), loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

The rich young ruler wanted to be perfect, even wanted to be like Jesus, but Jesus did not ask for personal holiness but the absolute annihilation of any right to himself or his stuff. Jesus wants a relationship with Himself in which there is no other allegiance, one in which He is the only treasure.

That verse from Mark is not about how to be saved, or even how to be set apart for God. It is about giving up everything else that tugs at my heart, every ambition and desire, every possession and every other thing I value that I might hear and obey Him.

Luke 14:26 also is not about salvation or even sanctification, but concerns unconditional identification with Jesus Christ. It is the breaking of alabaster and the pouring out of all that is costly and held dear. It is the absolute “go” of abandonment to Jesus, a life that very few choose or even know.

When Jesus looked at this young man, and loved him, that look should have broken his heart and the hold on it by any other treasures. Sadly, it did not. I can relate. Chambers asks, “Has Jesus ever looked at you?” He goes on to say that the look of Jesus transforms and transfixes. What he does not say is that this transformation may not be instant for some. It is a look that softens the heart toward God, but if I am hard or insistent on my own way, this indicates chunks of my nature that have never been transformed by His eyes. I need to stay under His gaze.

“You lack one thing . . .” and it is a different thing for each one who has not totally surrendered his or her life to Jesus. The only ‘good thing’ He wants is absolute union with Himself with nothing in between.
Selling whatever I have is a euphemism for reducing myself to total reliance on nothing else but Him. This is not for saving my soul for only one thing saves — faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.

This absolute reliance the only answer to His call to “Come, and follow Me.”

September 27, 2013

Love drives out selfishness

One high school teacher played a game with our class. He told us not to think about apples. We quickly realized the folly of trying to “not think” about something. Had he said we should think about apples, we may have struggled a bit with that also, but not nearly as much.

My mind is “scattered,” a problem of ADD and shared by many. For me, focus is extremely difficult. I have trouble keeping my mind fixed. The Bible makes this promise: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you,” (Isaiah 26:3) yet even as I trust God, my thoughts tend to wander all over the place.

Another favorite passage for my scattered mind is the hope of transformation . . . 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:2–3)

God says that my mind can be changed. Romans 12:2 refers to the way the world thinks, that is, thoughts based on selfish desires instead of on the will of God.

These worldly thoughts are always opposed to God. I am not supposed to wallow in them for they push away the love of God from being “shed abroad” in my life. I cannot think so highly of myself that all I want is what I want.

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. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17)

Romans 12:3 puts another spin on this command and transformation. It says not to think of myself more highly than I ought. I’m familiar with conceit and an arrogant attitude. The worst of it shows up when I look down my nose at others, or when I become envious thinking I should be as blessed or privileged as someone who has what I don’t have. This is not the love of God nor is it healthy thinking.

God says that I’m to think with sober judgment. That word “sober” is not about refraining from drunkenness, but about having a “habitual inner self-government” that keeps all passions and desires in check and hinders temptations from arising or at least arising to the point that they I’m no longer able to say no.

Also, this effort to govern the mind is grounded in faith. In its context, it is an appeal for a basic attitude that perceives my own limitations and even the limitations of others, fully aware that we are all sinners who need Jesus Christ. It is not a mere determination that stoically says “I must be this,” but a necessary element of that love of God that pushes away selfishness.

One of my Bible dictionaries says that the love of God can maintain the tension between commitment and reflective distance. That means God loves me with a great commitment to my well-being, but this is not to the point that He overlooks my sinfulness and need for correction. I’m to think of others that way and also myself. This is sound judgment.

The bottom line for me today is that my scattered mind needs a resting place, perhaps not a mantra but something like, “I am trusting Jesus for this . . .”

This works by pushing self-effort aside. It also works when I see the sins of others and make it my prayer. When the grass looks greener somewhere else, that must be my prayer. When I’m tempted to do or say something that is unloving toward God or others, that must be my prayer. If I cannot get a handle on right thoughts, or struggle to stop thinking about sinful or useless thoughts, that must also be my prayer.

I am trusting Jesus for this.

September 26, 2013

A renewed mind . . . ?

Caught up in stinkin’ thinkin’? I prayed this morning about a thought pattern that is troubling me. I want it changed so my entire mind honors God rather than takes side trips down rabbit trails. After I prayed, I read this verse from today’s devotional reading!
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

I know that conformation to the world means thinking, talking and acting as if I did not know or belong to Jesus Christ. Even with His saving power, being transformed is a challenge. Had I been saved as a child, would it be as difficult as it is? Would I have better habits had I been raised in a Christian home? I don’t know. I do know that all are sinners and all struggle with something.

Verse 1 of Romans 12 tells me to offer myself to God as a living sacrifice that is holy and acceptable. Holy has a lot to do with wholly, the whole person, all of me.

I first thought my actions might be the easier challenge, but if I listed them, how many would conform to actions that characterize those who are not Christians?

Words are just as difficult. As James says, bridling the tongue is a mark of the mature. For this, the power of God is my only source and recourse. He has been working to teach me when to shut up or speak up at His command, and to be transparent and truthful in all I say. The goal is to edify and encourage others. This also means a transformation.

The way I think seems to be the greatest challenge of all. My imagination is creative and my thoughts are easily distracted. The mind is also the realm of Satan. He knows if he can get me thinking wrong, then my words and actions are also his. Instead, I want to have a sanctified and holy imagination and thought life. Obviously God wants that also. He says my mind needs to be renewed and transformed, and I agree.

The first part of this command is non-conformity to the way the world thinks. The Bible says that apart from Christ, all are wholly perverted and do not seek God. I already realize that seeking all other interests pulls me away from Him. This list includes riches, glory, beauty of person, luxury, or of whatever else that might seem great. However, the stuff of this world is but a show and a mask without abiding substance. We use them to make ourselves appear better or more important, and think they will make us happy and comfortable, but all self-indulgences do not satisfy, nor do they last.

God says do not conform to this. Instead, think differently. Be transformed by the renewing of my mind. Virtue and the things of God may or may not have an outward appearance, but they do have a real form, a timeless beauty rather than the false and fleeting appeal of temporary things that soon vanish.

Today’s devotional writer says, “Throw the appearance aside, and you will speedily come to the form. For nothing is more strengthless than vice, nothing so easily wears old.”

I know that godless thoughts are like that. They can stay in the mind and come to nothing, or work their way into action and produce great sorrow and trouble. Either way, the fruit is rotten. How much better to have the mind of Christ transform all my worldliness into a life that God can use.

The biggest problem of aiming for a sanctified mind is that sins of the mind are much more pervasive than any other kind. If I control my actions and my mouth, my thoughts can still be bombarded with temptation and sinful ideas, every day and even in my sleep. This tells me that my mind needs renewal every day, even all day long and all night.

This transformation is something like the repair and maintenance of a home. As the building wears old, it needs renewal or it will fall apart, only the mind cannot be fixed with a mere paint job. My mind needs a renovation that acknowledges its condition and deterioration (repentance). It needs a trip to the Great Physician for new supplies, new ways to think. I also need the power and filling of the Holy Spirit so I have the self-control necessary to keep my mind stayed on course, discarding the old and retaining those new ways until they become part of who I am.

And I cannot ever think that I have arrived (pride goes before a fall) but persistently continue doing this until that day when the battle is over and I am with Jesus.

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. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:2–3)