December 31, 2014

Bad news, yet there is hope

Today we drove from northern Arizona through heavy snow and white-out conditions on icy and slushy roads with crazy traffic and bitter winds. We were happy to arrive without incident in warmer clime, raining but with the desert greening in the moisture, full of hope for the leaves and blossoms soon to come.

During the drive, we listened to a talk show discussion the theme of “anti-cop” concerning recent killings of police officers. Even though many are frustrated with what they call ‘lack of police accountability’ most agreed that this violence is inexcusable. We wondered about the anarchy, the lack of accountability in so many other areas, and how the news these days is usually bad.

Tonight, I’m reading some sad news passages in the Bible, or at least they remind me of current sad events. The first was an OT passage where the people of God were in great distress. Their land had fallen to Babylon with many taken into captivity. Those who survived this catastrophe grieved, yet God sent them Jeremiah who challenged them to examine their ways and return to God with contrite hearts. He said to God . . .

“The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning. The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned! For this our heart has become sick, for these things our eyes have grown dim, for Mount Zion which lies desolate; jackals prowl over it. But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations. Why do you forget us forever, why do you forsake us for so many days? Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old— unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us.” (Lamentations 5:15–22)

My thoughts went to the state of God’s people in the western world. So many professing Christians are taken captive by the world, the flesh, the prince of darkness. It seems at times that God has forsaken us. We too are in need of examining our ways and returning to God.

Then I read the closing verses of Romans where Paul sends his greetings to his friends and co-workers. One line stood out: “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.” (Romans 16:3–4)

Earlier I posted my ‘word’ for 2015 – humility. Again, God pokes at my need for it. Humility is not thinking less of self, but thinking of self much less. That isn’t easy, but what about being so taken up with serving others that I would risk my neck for their life? This is an over-the-top example of humility. I’m not there yet.

The next assigned passage is familiar to Christian women. One even wrote a book with the title, “The Proverbs 31 Woman and Other Impossible Dreams” as the woman described here makes all of us look bad. It begins with this . . . “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” (Proverbs 31:10–12)

After several descriptions of her godly life and resourcefulness, the passage ends with, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:25–30)

At this, most of us gulp and give up. Reaching this ideal is so remote that it gets rejected, or is said to be out of date, or even laughed at. This also is both a sad commentary on the state of our values, and a challenge to me. This woman is not thinking about herself or trying to show off in any way. She is humble, thinking of her family and how to serve their best interests. I’m not there yet either.

But there is good news. The Bible points to a time when the problem of sin will be over. Satan has already lost the battle and his manipulations are temporary. I can say as Jeremiah said, “But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations . . . . Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!” Lamentations 5:19–22).

The world around is self-destructing and full of bad news. I feel totally unable to be a more humble person, never mind do anything that will help others desire godliness, never mind gain it. Yet there is hope – nothing is impossible with God. 

New Devotional Guide: John D. Barry and Rebecca Kruyswijk, Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).

God’s word for 2015

Sometime early in this year, our pastor challenged us to select a focus word that would remind us all year of our relationship to Jesus Christ. I’ve done this before, usually picking a verse rather than a word, but a word popped to mind almost immediately. It was “kept.” Within a few days, the Holy Spirit led me to a verse that expressed the thoughts that would bless me all year . . .

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

I needed that prayer and promise as 2014 was a year of battle. Strong attacks from the liar attempted to un-glue me from God. Being kept was important. Being kept blameless was even more important.

For the coming year, I’ve been praying for an appropriate word, not knowing what lies ahead. The word that keeps coming to mind is “humility.” This word is often misunderstood. It is not about thinking less of myself, but about thinking of myself less. It is about having the mind of Christ rule my life so I give greater effort to better serving the needs of others.

How appropriate on this day before the New Year begins that my devotional booklet should take me to a passage that reveals the mind of Jesus Christ and His passion for others. He had no concern about His reputation or what anyone thought of Him. All He was interested in was doing the will of God. Herein lies the wonder and the freedom of humility . . .

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:1–11)

Jesus was God in human flesh, but He didn’t consider that a big deal. Instead, He thought about and served others, even to death on a cross. He trusted His Father to do right. He sweat blood yet said, “Not my will but Yours be done.” He also anticipated the joy set before Him so endured the cross and kept His mind on the goal. This was the greatest act ever, and this is also humility.

December 30, 2014

He will clean out the crud

It is Tuesday. We are in Flagstaff, Arizona. Last night we phoned eleven hotels before we found one with a room left, their last room. We are in a suite so picked up a can of soup at a convenience store and heated it for a late supper. There is no dishcloth, no towel racks, and we have either heat, air conditioning, or off. The table is too high and the chairs are too low.

Both of us were tired and I was irritated. We drove too far yesterday. We plan to stay here two days but it is supposed to blizzard so it might be wise to get out of the mountains and into the desert. Still, our suite is brand new and this location is beautiful.

I tried to be thankful and not crabby. Trusting God for a safe journey worked out. Trusting that we would find a place to sleep worked out. After answered prayer for these and other things, I asked my hubby how he liked being married to God’s spoiled brat! But the trouble with grace and blessings, is that when the Lord isn’t pampering me, I find out how easily I take Him for granted.

So now I read this: 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)

This is a rebuke of sorts, and a blessed promise. One day I will see Jesus and be like Him. That is an incredible expectation and fills me with joy. He will do it and I will forever be with Him. But, right now I am not like Him – did He get crabby and irritated with such minor things? I’m certain He did not. Did He take the Father’s care for granted? I’m certain He didn’t do that either.

So here I sit like a pouting brat who should be spanked. I don’t think He will do that either, but He does expect something of me -- because I hope in Him, I am to purify myself as He is pure. That means getting rid of, or at least saying no to, the grumpiness and irritation when things are not as comfortable as I want them to be. I am thankful for this place, for the stalwart man I’m married to, and for so much more. There really isn’t anything to grouse about, except that I’m still such a child – when I should be more mature.

A bit after the above verses, I read this and again am both rebuked and blessed: No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” (1 John 3:9)

God put His Son Jesus Christ into my life; He abides in me! Because that is true, then I cannot continue forever being a self-centered brat. The new life of God eventually will crowd out the old life of me. How exciting! I look forward to the day when sin is gone and I no longer act so childish.

The rebuke is simple . . .  why is it taking me so long to stop pushing against the inevitable and just cooperate?

December 29, 2014

Passion shows up in many ways . . .

A woman at the table next to us “never stopped talking.” Another person my husband saw at a hotel breakfast room the next day “never stopped talking.” This phrase came to mind when I read this passage of Scripture because the translators actually had to create several sentences out of the original. Apparently, the author (Paul) barely stopped to breathe, never mind put in any sentence breaks.

I’m thinking he was excited. At least that is what happens to me when I am passionate about something and start talking. Some of his letters were dictated to a secretary, but this one seems from his own hand. He never stopped writing long enough to add a few breaks or take a breath.

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do(.) But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:8–14)

The mind of a Christian ought to be like Paul’s mind in some ways. While personality will flavor it, some details of this passage tell me how this man thought, the way I should think, and the way that Jesus Christ thinks.

First, the mind of Christ is never ashamed of the Gospel or of those who believe it, even if believing lands them in jail as it did Paul. The implications for my own life are broad. Would I go to jail for being a Christian?

Second, the mind of Christ is willing to suffer for the sake of the Gospel and the testimony of Christ, even suffer with others who are persecuted in this way. That is, I should never turn the other way when anyone is mocked or harmed for believing in Jesus. Hundreds of Christians are murdered every day for believing in Jesus. Am I willing to suffer with others?

Third, the mind of Christ inserts the Gospel into conversation wherever possible. Paul was passionate about the truth. He preached it and it landed him in jail, but he preached it even as he explained how preaching it landed him in jail! The Gospel was his reason for living. What is my reason?

Fourth, the mind of Christ is convinced of the care of God and not at all worried about what God has entrusted to him. God will give all that is needed to perform whatever He asks of His servants, including the task of sharing the Gospel, even in the face of opposition. Am I convinced?

If my mind is not like this, then my mind needs to be changed!

December 28, 2014

Eternity on my mind

Because of the mind of Christ, those days that are difficult, those times that seem hopeless, and this life that is so fleeting do not bother me, at least as long as I allow His mind to rule my thinking. Jesus has an eternal perspective and is happy to share it with His children. That is, when this life turned against Him, He had His mind on something else and therefore could say, “Not my will but Thine be done.”

The secret of thinking that way is in looking to eternity. The Bible tells me to “run with endurance the race that is set before me, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of my faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despised the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2, personalized)

The older I get, the more excited I am at the thought of eternity with God be. However, even without the aging process and the inevitability of dying, there have been tough times where God showed me that having Jesus living in me was a treasure beyond compare. How else could I stay calm in threats to my family? How else could I endure physical pain and close calls to health? How else could I not worry when life became hopeless and I was helpless? It is Jesus, my treasure, who gives victory . . .

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh . . .” (2 Corinthians 4:7–12)

Knowing Jesus and trusting Him means knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” When I die, I will live forever with God. I will also share that joy that enabled Jesus to endure the cross. With this secure, then all else is bearable, even seems a small thing. Because of Jesus, life is as the rest of this passage says . . .

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

This is not a pie-in-the-sky faith, nor is it a form of defeatism. It is not an excuse to be uninvolved in life. Rather, having this treasure means death not my enemy, and life is an amazing adventure where I can confidently give it my all knowing that He is with me. Even on those days where my confidence lapses or I worry instead of pray, I still have that deep sense of hope and joy, not because of me, but because of this amazing treasure that lives within.