May 31, 2014

The joy of being led into new pasture . . .

. . .  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3)

Sheep love fresh pasture. When the shepherd leads them to new grazing places, even the older ones kick up their heels in delight. The shepherd moves them to keep fields from being overused, implying that for each new move, they have munched to the full and are ready for a change.

Christians ought to be the same. That is, when God gives me new truth, I am to read, think, meditate and apply it. Then I am to follow His leading to the next place where He wants me to be fed. In this way, I am nourished in spiritual truth without getting stuck or stale. Because the Lord is faithful to do, as I read and study I can relate to those sheep leaping with delight.

Revealing truth is the work of the Holy Spirit. I learn in stages, and cannot feed in every pasture all at the same time. That is, if I am obedient to what I am learning, He leads me into new pastures, continually feeding me fresh fodder that gives my heart joy. This is as Jesus said to His disciples . . .

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12–14)

God has blessed me in daily devotions for more than forty years. Now He is also blessing me in the theology courses I’m taking. However, in the vast reading required, one thing continues to frustrate me. Many theologians (so called) spend years speaking and writing books in debate over issues they cannot know with certainty. Their arguments are based on opinion only, without any supporting evidence, scriptural or otherwise.

To me, this is a big waste of time and I think of sheep. They move on to fresh pastures that they might flourish. No shepherd would have them foraging on weeds or seeking food in barren places. But they also must eat and digest where they are already placed. This is not difficult for most sheep, but some balk at feeding and balk at moving on. I’m not sure about what goes on in the mind of those sheep, but in God’s flock, it seems that some are more concerning about speculating over pastures that do not exist or that are withheld from their experience rather than eating the food they have.

Of course whenever His sheep hear some theological idea that is new, God wants them to carefully check it out. The Jews of Berea were said to be noble because “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:10–12) This suggests that if the Word they received had not been in line with the biblical account, they would reject it, or at least set it aside until the Holy Spirit showed them otherwise.

Debating issues that cannot be known is a waste of energy. Obeying what I do know is challenging enough. God’s fresh food requires all my time and energy, leaving me no desire to wander about in that which has no value. I’m very thankful that the seminary under which I am studying is presenting spiritual truth that passes the test. While a few of their professors make us aware of some heresies and junk that is floating around, the focus is not on that, or even on disproving it. We are given what the Bible says and encouraged to receive and obey it eagerly — like sheep leaping with joy when led into fresh pasture.

May 30, 2014

Only one way . . .

. . . He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3)

Last night we arrived home from our vacation to a couple of requests. One challenges my hubby’s problem with getting sticky; the other is far more serious and could mean a risk to life (unless I read too many mysteries). My first thought was that there is no way around this; we have to say yes.

God continually addressed the things of life in daily devotions and today is no exception. Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples facing the greatest challenge of His life. He says to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”

He went a little farther and fell on His face praying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

The disciples were asleep. He questioned them then prayed again, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” They were still sleeping, so He prayed the third time in the same way and then told them it was time for Him to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. (Matthew 26:38–46)

Following Jesus means having the same mind and heart, being willing to do whatever God asks me. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23–25)

It is fine to declare this as an ideal, but never really face anything that causes loss or threatens life. Christians in North America may talk about denying ourselves, but when the rubber meets the road, we easily become like those who approached Jesus in His day . . .

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57–62)

The Bible tells me that if my faith is genuine, and if I have been raised with Christ, then I will “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” because I have died, and my life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1–4)

The passage goes on to describe what that will look like. It means putting off sinful attitudes and actions, but also putting on “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another . . . forgiving each other . . .  putting on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” It also says to let the peace of Christ rule in my heart and whatever I do in word or deed, do it in His name. (Colossians 3:12–17)

Following Jesus means following Jesus, wherever and whenever. There is no other way.

May 29, 2014

Counting the cost . . .

. . .  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3)

On a flight from Toronto to Edmonton, we were delighted by a family with thirteen children. The youngsters were lap-size to late teens, well-behaved and a pleasure to see. I complimented the parents as we landed. Building obedience and serenity in a family that size takes patience and skill and much wisdom.

This morning I’m remembering them and how God demonstrates His grace and wisdom whenever His children follow His lead. We are not always serene and obedient though. For me, realizing He knows best still requires His grace plus some personal experience.
The psalmist figured it out. He knew that God was wise and that following Him was a testimony to His goodness . . .

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1–3)

He added that doing the will of God was his pleasure, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:8)

Jumping to the New Testament, a rich young man came to Jesus wanting to know how to have eternal life. Instead of enlightening him with the Gospel message, Jesus said things that were designed to show him what was keeping him from trusting the Lord. It became obvious that this man trusted his own riches. At that, Jesus said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:24–25)

A year ago I asked the Lord to bring me to a place of absolute surrender to His will. I didn’t want anything to come between and thwart my obedience to Him. The past year has been a battle as God showed me the things in my life that were doing just that. I read a quote this week from Martin Luther that said if you want to get closer to God, you need to read the Word and meditate and then fight with all your heart a host of temptations and trials. It works, but it is not easy nor what I expected.

Perhaps all Christians have this idea that following Christ will result in new songs of praise and constant delight. This happens, and I am thankful, but this is not all that happens. In the life of Christ, absolute surrender led Him to Gethsemane and then to the cross.
And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:40–44)
The garden was a small window into what was going to happen next. In following the lead of His Father, He sweat blood, but also shed blood, giving His life so that we who believe would have eternal life. He was willing to do whatever God asked, no matter the cost or the results.
Jesus entered into suffering and endured the shame of it “for the joy set before Him” and I understand that. However, I am not able to see ahead like Jesus could, and any endurance God calls for must be based on total trust and believing His promises. One of those says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24)
Eventually, obeying God will be seen as a wise thing, for God is a wise God. Nevertheless, absolute surrender is not entirely delightful as I hoped. There is a battle to fight and a cost to count, ending only when life ends and I see Jesus face-to-face.

May 28, 2014

Walking in righteousness while buying more stuff?

. . .  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3)

We were driving out of a shopping center with a few purchases and spotted a man with a sign that said “Homeless and hungry.” The traffic pushed us out of the parking lot, but the sight of that man bothered my husband. He said that he might drive past many, but felt he needed to help this one. He said, “Here we are, able to buy whatever we want and he looks hungry.” So he drove around the block and re-entered the parking lot.

For many, the first thought when seeing someone like this man is, “get a job” or “is he for real?” I tend toward the latter, not really wanted to believe that people can be that destitute in a well-off country like this. But I have to admit that most of my thinking is pure selfishness.

Looking out for number one is part of this culture in which we live. It seems the right thing to do, but that is a poor excuse. The Bible says, There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

Taking care of our own assets and seeking to add more to the pile does seem right for those with the money to do it. How could buying things be so dangerous that it ends in death? It wouldn’t if a person has the right attitude toward God . . . 

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good. God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. (Psalm 53:1–3)

Someone once said that people can go through life picking up all the baubles they want, but eventually they must go through the checkout. This isn’t very good theology in one sense, but I agree with the importance of thinking about the whole of life and what really matters at the end of it. Only fools refuse to seek after God and His righteousness. The worst of it is, unless He seeks us and changes our hearts, we are all fools.

God describes a fool as someone who refuses to be accountable to God concerning sin, but also concerning direction in life. He says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15) I would add that the way of a fool is to look out for number one without considering others and without any considering the end of life and the truism that we can take none of it with us.

On one occasion, Jesus was speaking when someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” He answered, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?  . . . Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:13–15)

I often think about that story and Jesus’ response. The man wanted fairness or so it seemed, but Jesus looked deeper. He knew that this man was jealous of those who had more and thought that having more would somehow make him a better person or put him in a better position.

This man and the crowd around him had priorities like those of most people today. Bigger, better, more describes the normal value system, yet God turns that upside-down. Jesus described what is far more important in a parable . . .

The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:16–21)

Buying, buying and more buying is not necessarily wrong, but doing it with right motives is not only a challenge – it is practically impossible.

May 27, 2014

Kept on the right path

. . . He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3)

I’m still thinking about those sheep (see yesterday). They were almost mindless, easy to turn and guide, but also quick to go wherever whim led them. I am so like those creatures.

Today’s devotional reading moves to the next phrase of Psalm 23. It describes the path of righteousness as a clearly defined and correct trail. The Bible says it “is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” (Proverbs 4:18)

I want to walk that path, and because my Shepherd guides me, it happens . . . even when I don’t listen to Him. The psalmist felt the same longing, only whoever wrote this seems far more determined to cooperate than I am, less of a mindless sheep and more experienced – because of one thing . . .

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules. (Psalm 119:97–106)

That one thing is obedience. This psalmist kept the command of God, thinking about what God says and doing it. He had learned to hate the false ways and was determined to walk the way of righteousness.

For those who struggle, the Old Testament promises points toward a Savior, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. This one called Jesus said of Himself, “I am the way . . . no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Notice how this prophecy says much the same thing, and more . . .

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:8–10)

The sheep who stray become unhappy. Ask me how I know. No matter how appealing any temptation might be, the fruit of going for it is always guilt and pain. But God has provided a way of holiness, and this way is the Shepherd who guides His sheep on His path. Jesus puts us there, even the fools including me, and keeps us there, even the fools including me, until that day when our struggles turn into everlasting joy and all our sorrows flee away.