April 30, 2016

Love is . . .

This passage is read at weddings, taught in basic Bible studies, and offered as a test of genuine love. However, Chambers says that we cannot use it to prove anything . . .

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:4–8)

Those who love others do not plan what they are going to do to show it; they just show it. In that way, love is not a premeditated action. It is spontaneous. It reveals itself without thinking of ways to do it.

The love that this passage talks about is unnatural too —it comes from God, not the human heart. When Christians live in the power of the Holy Spirit and under His management, love for others is so natural that we don’t think about it or even discern it until after it is expressed.

“ . . . God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

Without the Holy Spirit, I know my inability to love. I am selfish and concerned only about myself. The love of God is expressed when the Holy Spirit pours it into my heart, and that love, poured into the hearts of God’s people, has changed the world.

Early Christians were known for their love: “ . . . you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” (1 Thessalonians 4:9) This love showed up in their care for widows and orphans. They rescued thrown-away children, tended the sick, and nurtured the poor. Christians started schools, hospitals, and orphanages. Our best legal systems are based on biblical principles. Without this sacrificial and spontaneous love, the world is full of hate and violence.

Yet this love is individual as well as corporate. People say they will not believe our message unless they know we care and such caring is not a planned action. It must be spontaneous, the driving-force of our lives.

Not only that, I cannot love as God wants me to love without knowing how deeply He loves me. I must live in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit too. If I try to run my own life, even run it by trying not to be rude or selfish, irritable or resentful, I will not have the power and grace to be patient and kind. In my human kind of love, I will still want my own way, envy others, and boast, even secretly, about how good I am. None of that describes the love of God.

Finally, as Chambers says, if I try to prove to God how much I love Him, then I do not. The evidence is spontaneity — it comes naturally and flows from His gift to me of His own Spirit of love!

April 29, 2016

What or who is 100% dependable?

What is certain? The bettors at the racetrack might say a certain horse is a “sure thing” and some say “nothing is certain but death and taxes.” As a child of God, I have to say that the promises of God are certain, yet at times I’m not so sure. Nevertheless, my wavering does not change God’s plans. He is who He is, whether I’m relying on Him or not. For that, I am grateful and often excited.

One promise is what will happen to me after I die. The Bible says on that day I will see Jesus face-to-face, and when I do, I will be like Him:

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. (1 John 3:2)

The uncertainty comes when I try to imagine exactly what it means to be like Jesus. I get glimpses of what He is like, but long ago realized that knowing my Lord is far more than facts and my emotional reaction to those facts. Every day I learn more about Him yet it seems His nature and holy character are far beyond my understanding.

Most of us don’t like being uncertain. As Chambers says, some level of certainty is the mark of commonsense. Yet the nature of spiritual life is about faith and with that comes a certain amount of uncertainty. For one thing, I’ve never been able to second-guess God. Christians learn to accept that uncertainty is a sure thing.

God tells us we don’t know what each day will bring. That is so true.  I also cannot imagine myself in any condition I’ve have never been in — like living eternally in a new body, or being face-to-face with Jesus, or not ever sinning again, never mind being fully like Him.

Even with that promise from God, I’m supposed to live here as a little child. I know what that means. A child seldom thinks about or dreads the uncertainties of life. Children usually look forward to each day with “breathless expectation.” In the same way, my life with Christ is an adventure. When I abandon all concerns to God and just do the next thing He asks, He fills my days with all sorts of surprises.

Chambers affirms that while I can be certain about God’s promises, I will always be uncertain of what He is going to do next. Some people continually claim otherwise, as if they have a link to His personal calendar. I have no such link and feel compassion for those who do when they discover they have the wrong calendar.

Being certain about God involves a personal relationship. We learn of Him through His Word, but must remember that Jesus said, “Believe also in Me,” not ‘Believe certain things about Me.’ When I put my hand in His hand and yield to the path He chooses, I’m never certain where He will lead, only that He will take me the best way for the journey. I also know that the surprises along that path will fill life with both uncertainty and joyful expectancy.

April 28, 2016

Fearing abandonment?

I’ve only one recurring nightmare and seldom experience it, but early this morning I woke shaking with emotion. This vivid dream is about being abandoned and mocked because of my dismay.

Again, I asked God to show me what this is about and He surprised me with Chambers’ devotional. It is about being abandoned to God. The verse is the same as yesterday, but the focus is on the last part, the promise made along with the warning not to selfishly seek great things.

And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.” (Jeremiah 45:5)

A previous verse says the same thing, adding a reason for that gift: “’For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 39:18)

The psalmist also declares the same prescription for those who fear evil: “The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.” (Psalm 37:40)

Chambers says this is the Lord’s unshakable secret for those who trust Him. In the context in Jeremiah, this was a literal promise to protect the listener from dying in a war, but the key is trusting Him.

For me, I take it as a personal promise — God will enable me to be a survivor in my war against the world, the flesh, and that old liar — the devil. Again, the key to surviving any battle and even the fear of loss is trusting God. It is giving all that I am and all that I do into His hands, but also trusting Him with all that comes against me.

Romans 8:28-29 makes a promise that goes with these other verses: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28–29)

Some Christians say we need to: “Let go and let God.” This way of life has been put down as abdicating personal responsibility to obey, but in many cases that response is a misunderstanding. Letting go isn’t about abdicating obedience; it is letting go of control. 

I’ve tried to control life in many ways with manipulation being the worst. Equally serious is telling God what to do all the time, as if I know more than He does about my concerns.

However, abandoning myself to God also means letting go of the ‘great things’ that my ambition may claw after and letting go of the things that I fear. He is sovereign over both. He will not allow anything into my life that He cannot use to transform it, nor will He give me any ‘great thing’ if I will use it to rob Him of His glory. He is sovereign.

Regardless of what I might face or struggle with, God promises to give me my life as a prize of war. That life is not ‘my’ life in the sense of the old flesh, but in the sense of the life I have hidden with Christ in God. It is true life, eternal life, abundant life. It is the freedom of recognizing that Jesus Christ is Lord of all without badgering Him with questions and suggestions or any demands at all. It is accepting with the simplicity of a child who totally trusts her father. It is also discovering that the abandoned life isn’t a nightmare but a glorious journey that may include trials, but also includes a deep and often playful joy.

April 27, 2016

Matching my ‘great things’ with God’s ‘great things’

Once full of ambition, I’m slowing down. It could be too many birthdays, but God has redefined my priorities.

Jeremiah says to his companion “And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord . . . .” (Jeremiah 45:5)

Many other passages speak of personal ambition. Here are a few of them:

Contentment: O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Psalm 131:1–2)

Humility: 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, (Philippians 2:3–5)

Checking the source: But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:14–18)

After reading these and then Chambers’ conclusions (based on the one from Jeremiah), it seems important to clarify what kind of ‘great things’ am I supposed to not seek. It seems there are some things God wants me to go for, so what are they? And what is the difference between them and the selfish ambitions described above?

Jesus talked to His disciples about seeking food and clothing, the daily necessities of life: “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:32–33) This means I’m not to be ambitiously preoccupied with my own daily needs. God will provide.

Matthew 7:7 tells me to seek and I will find, linking this to “good things” that God will give me. Romans 2:7 also says that I’m to “do well as I seek for glory, honor, and immortality” putting my focus on eternal matters, not caught up in the temporary stuff of this life.

1 Corinthians 10:24 tells me to seek the good of others and Philippians 4:17 adds that I’m to seek out in others spiritual fruit produced through the power of the Holy Spirit. Colossians 3:1 is explicit that I seek what is ‘above’ where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Again, this is having an eternal focus.

However, 1 Peter 3:11 tells me to seek peace, not just for myself but for a very needy world.

Chambers says we are to seek God only, not merely the gifts God gives. I understand that. If I make peace, honor, etc. my sole reason for living, I am in error. However, if my relationship with God is first and foremost in my heart and mind, it is not evil to seek for the good things that He gives. It only becomes a problem if He withholds them and I begin to resent God because of it.

His goal for me is that I am like Jesus in my attitude. He said, “Not my will but thine be done.” If I can say and mean that, then I am seeking a great thing. But if I am thinking, “God, this is what I want from You” and have even the tiniest suggestion of ultimatum in that request, then I am not seeking God at all, only His ‘good’ things.

Chambers sometimes makes it sound like I must have all the right attitudes and motives before God will give me anything. However, I’ve learned that even the right attitudes and motives are gifts from God. If I am asking for these, even as I ask for other things, God hears me and begins to change all selfishness and personal ambition into a deeper desire to know Him and to ask with the mind of Jesus Christ. He wants me to drop that ‘me first’ ambition because it isn’t among His list of great things.

April 26, 2016

Traditions, convictions, and truth

Today’s devotional reading pushes me to ask: what convictions or traditions do I hold that could interfere with my relationship with God? Chambers uses Abraham as an example of a person who obeyed God even when it seemed God was going against His own commands.

He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2)

Pagans sacrificed their children, but God forbid such a thing. Yet God asked Abraham to do what He Himself said was evil. If Abraham held to his own convictions, he would have said this was the devil and God was not in this at all.

But Abraham knew God. He was not listening to Satan or following pagan practices. By doing in faith what God asked, Abraham came into a deeper knowledge of God. Of this, Chambers says, “Character determines how a man interprets God’s will. Abraham interpreted God’s command to mean that he had to kill his son, and he could only leave his tradition behind by the pain of a tremendous ordeal. God could purify his faith in no other way. If we obey what God says according to our sincere belief, God will break us from those traditions that misrepresent Him.”

At this point, I’m not getting it. What was Abraham’s ‘tradition’ that misrepresented God? Chambers says that this man was prepared to obey God, no matter what. That was a good thing. Was his ‘tradition’ the idea that God would never ask him to give up something he dearly loved? Did he think that God was harsh and demanding and that he must do what he was told so as to please Him, no matter what it was?

Isaac, the son to be sacrificed, asked his father about the sacrificial lamb. Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8) so did he have an idea that this was a test and that he would not need to kill his son?

Just as the knife was about to fall, God said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22:12)

The New Testament says this was an act of faith. Abraham knew God’s promises about the world being blessed through his seed, and he believed those promises would be fulfilled. He could obey this command because he trusted the word of God.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17–19)

Perhaps Chambers is reading into the actions of Abraham those thoughts that would be common to most of us in such a situation. If God asked me to dishonor my parents, or murder someone, or divorce my husband and take up with another man, I would suspect that this was not God at all, but Satan’s false and evil ideas making an appeal to my sinful flesh. If it were actually God asking these things, it would challenge all my convictions about Him.

The Bible gives no indication that Abraham had this sort of wrestling match. It says that he figured God would work this out to be okay. He could raise Isaac from the dead, a faith that echoes what God would do with His own Son when He put Jesus to death on the cross.

Again, I ask myself about my own convictions, and conclude these must be convictions that hold me to faith in God, not convictions that I must drop. Abraham obeyed God because he knew that no matter the road he was asked to walk, God would get him to the promised destination. This ‘test’ was not about dropping a traditional belief or a misplaced conviction, but about hanging on to what he knew was true. The God who asked him to do this strange thing was the same God who made a covenant with him, and who never failed to keep His word.

Abraham knew his God. While he didn’t understand why God asked him to do this, he believed God was faithful to Himself. Even though the outcome was not obvious and seemed dire, his God would bring good out of it. Just as God would eventually bless the world through His Son, He would keep His promise to bless the world through Abraham’s son.