June 30, 2014

The Good Shepherd’s transforming and never-ending care

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake . . . . Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:1-3, 6)

Before and after photos intrigue me. They might depict anything from old/new hairdos to old/new landscaping, kitchen renovations, repairs to a car or a face lift.
My ‘before’ picture is this: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way . . .

The line / between it and the ‘after’ picture is cross-shaped with these words: “ . . . but the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6)

The ‘after’ picture is this: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27–28).

In brief, this is it: “sinner |Jesus | saved sinner.” In the wonder of all that Jesus has done for me, I still often feel as if my ‘after’ picture looks too much like the ‘before’ picture. My heart longs for greater renewal, more and more to be like Jesus, yet I stumble and fall and see that I am not there yet.

However, God assures me that He is my Shepherd and I belong to Him. He is taking care of me. This morning I read three passages and noticed the beginning and ending of both. The first was the 23rd Psalm as written above. It begins with the Shepherd’s care and ends with living forever in His eternal home. I thought about those cows that I wrote about a few weeks ago. Their caregiver is not providing green pastures. They are dirty and unkempt. Jesus would never do that to His sheep. His goodness and mercy are our daily portion. We may not be without sin here, but all will be gone when we enter the perfection we long for and are in glory with Him.

The next beginning/ending is from Psalm 84 . . .

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. (Psalm 84:1–2)

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! (Psalm 84:10–12)

The longing in my heart is often so strong that it becomes painful. Unless I can be all that God wants me to be, I feel as if I will perish, but God’s goodness and mercy is never withheld. He bestows good things on those who trust Him. Life has its ups and downs, but the Lord blesses His sheep and takes us through it all, giving us His light and His protection. How lovely.

The third beginning/end came from Hebrews . . .

 . . . Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:4–6)

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21)

How can I be content with what I have, money or otherwise? By remembering that God is with me, that He is my Shepherd and that He will equip me with everything good so I can do His will. It isn’t my work for Him that pleases God, but His work in me. This is the / between the ‘before’ and the ‘after.’

In the ‘before’ life, I lived my way and for me. In the ‘after,’ my life is lived for Christ, and is not for my glory but for His.

This is a long post, partly because what God says to me is rich and has more significance than I can give words to or fit into this space. The other reason is this is the last in a devotional series on the 23rd Psalm and I have been so blessed in this study. Tomorrow, I begin another two-month booklet on a different topic, but I want to linger here and think about all that the Lord, my Good Shepherd has done and is doing in my life.

June 29, 2014

Eternal life is certain because . . .

“. . . and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)

When I shared my faith with a Jewish friend, he told me that thinking I had eternal life was presumptuous and no one can know that for sure. At that time, I didn’t think to say, “If eternal life is based on whether I live a good enough life or not, then my assurance is presumption, but if eternal life is based on the promises of God, then it is about whether I believe Him or not.”

Jesus promised, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out . . . . For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37–40)

Jesus also promised, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day . . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” (John 6:44–50)

Paul believed Jesus and suffered for his faith. He said, “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.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

John believed Jesus and knew that the life of Christ is eternal. He said, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1–3)

He also said, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:9–13)

The testimony of men is that we must earn the favor of God. The testimony of God is that He gives His favor to us in the Person of His Son. Whoever has the Son has life.

Presumption is not about knowing and believing God’s promises, but in presuming that my ideas about eternal life are greater than His. Who am I to presume that Jesus Christ is in error and I know better? Pride says I can please God, but God says all fall short.

The more I know of God, the more I realize there is nothing in me than can come anywhere near measuring up to the glory of Jesus Christ. I fall short, totally. Without His life, my life is nothing. With His life, I have eternal life. This is based on what He says, not how I perform, and I know it is true because God says so.

June 28, 2014

Salvation is God’s doing, not mine

“ . . . I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)

The only reason David had this certainty of being with the Lord forever was because of God’s goodness and mercy. Like the rest of us, he did not deserve or earn eternal life. He was a good king, but he was also an adulterer and a murderer. His salvation and assurance of eternal life was not based on what he did or didn’t do but on what Christ would do for him and for all who put their faith in the promises of God.

When grace and faith happen, God changes lives. He puts His Spirit in those who believe, and because of that new life, we begin again. There is a battle with the old life (called the flesh), but the new life is more powerful. It grows up through the deadness of the old, asking for our cooperation but not depending on anything in us for its growth and power.

God gave me new life that I might live by it. However, I cannot forget that I am both 100% saint and 100% sinner. That is why the Bible says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 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, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:13–17)

Some interpret this to mean that their obedience becomes their salvation. Yes, Christ died for them, but if they don’t life for Christ, then they will lose their eternal life out of neglect. But this is not what Jesus says . . .

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:37–40)

Because my confidence is in God and not in what I do, that confidence changes what I do. It helps me relax, listen to Him, and follow His direction. This does not negate the battle nor lessen the 100% sinner, but I know that I am forgiven. I want to encourage those whose battle distracts them from the promises of God and throws them into a mode where they begin basing their salvation on their performance. This will never produce assurance.

Instead, Christians need to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ. It is He who saved us and not we ourselves. “Therefore, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:19–25)

That old nature has no confidence at all, and for good reason — we cannot save ourselves. The new me, born into the family of God by the power of the living Christ, is filled with confidence. Even when I fail to live by it, that same power that gave it to me keeps tugging me back, to turn from sin and self and live for Him.

June 27, 2014

Why would anyone reject eternal life?

“ . . .  I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)

Before my husband became a Christian, he thought eternal life would be boring. He has since changed his mind. Both of us realize that getting to know God is an endless delight, and as Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

But Jesus also said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39–40)

Why would His listeners refuse to come to Him for eternal life? Did they think eternity would be boring? I doubt that was their reason. While excuses abound for rejecting Jesus, it seems the main one goes far deeper than the prospect of forever having nothing to do.
Something happened to me this week that sheds light on why Jesus said this to those religious people. He knew the reason behind their reluctance and showed it to me with an unexpected reluctance in me. I have a Christ-like friend that is a delight to talk to, but this seldom happens. I was talking to the Lord about having more opportunities for such a blessing when His Spirit suggested to me, “What if you could have a meaningful conversation with ____ every week for the rest of your life?”

At first, I thought I was hearing things, or that this thought was my idea. However, His sheep hear His voice and I knew this was from the Lord. As I thought about it, I was first delighted. More time with someone who is like Jesus would be wonderful. Then my delight slowly turned to reluctance. If this happened continually, I know that God would expect me to participate unselfishly too. Instead of taking and receiving, I must also be unselfishly giving and being a blessing as well. For that, I must rely on Christ because I cannot be unselfish apart from total dependence on His Spirit.

These verses from John reveal to me how much I am like all other sinners. The Jews did not want to come to Christ because they didn’t want to be totally dependent on anyone. For that reason, they refused Him and the life He offered. This came out quite clearly a bit later when Jesus told them He was the living bread that came down from heaven. If they ate this bread, they would live forever, and “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

They were upset. Some took it literally and grumbled. When many of His disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” Jesus knew His disciples were grumbling too so He challenged them . . .

Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.

The Scripture says that after this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. They did not want to be totally dependent on Jesus. They wanted eternal life, but for them, their way of salvation (though Law-keeping) was more appealing than relying on Jesus for it.

At that, Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:49–69)

Peter was right. Anyone who wants eternal life must be utterly depending on Jesus Christ for that life. It comes no other way. Yet eternal life is not merely future life; it is also the life that I live now. Being a Christian means relying on Him all the time and for everything.

The bottom line is that if I want to enjoy the company of Christ through transparent fellowship with my friend or anyone else, then I must also be willing to draw my sustenance from Christ, not depend on that friend to do all the giving. Following Jesus is never about selfishly getting everything I want.

One day, “We who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) but even now, my relationship with God and His people is about drawing nourishment from Christ, totally relying on Him, not on my friends, that I might be a blessing even as they are a blessing to me.

June 26, 2014

This life is okay, but in the next one I will be at home . . .

“ . . . and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6) 

In this last line of the 23rd Psalm, David is still speaking as a sheep and not as a shepherd. While those who believe in the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, could say this as a declaration of His promise to take us there, that is not David’s focus. Rather, David is saying this as the determination of his own heart. He declares, “I will remain in the presence of God forever. Nothing can make me leave.”

Another psalmist says a similar thing in 84:1-2: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” He longed for the presence of God. He is homesick for eternity and joyful that God is alive and real to him.

Some days are like that for me. I might even say aloud, “I want to go home” meaning my eternal home. It isn’t that life here is so terrible that I yearn to escape it. Rather, this longing in my heart is about the delight of His presence. I want to be wherever He is. I know He is with me and experience the sense of it, but I want to see His face and experience His touch. I want to be there in eternity — with Him forever.

A young woman in ancient Israel married a Jewish man in her country of Moab. After his father, he, and his brother died, Naomi, the mother-in-law, decided to return to her homeland. The daughters-in-law loved her, but one stayed. However, Ruth clung to Naomi and declared, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:13–18)

Ruth’s longing to go with her mother-in-law illustrates the longing of Christians to be with Christ. He is with us in Spirit, yet has returned to heaven to “prepare a place” for us that we might be with Him. It is this place where David longs to dwell, and so do I.

Paul explained this desire as part of our new life in Christ. With it comes a new citizenship. I no longer belong in this world; even now I am a citizen of heaven.
The enemies of the cross and of Christ think differently. They are focused on this life and on personal gain. Paul says, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:17–21)

The power of God is appealing and a transformed body sounds good, but even better is the prospect of that first glimpse of Jesus, and then being with Him forever and ever. Surely my soul longs to be with Him in the place He has prepared for me — where I shall dwell with Him forever.