May 31, 2016

What comes first?

I’m reading Job and slightly identifying with him (God, why is my heart in A-Fib?) and reading Chambers who will not let me feel sorry for myself. My energy levels are low, which puts me opposite a life-long condition of enjoying busyness.

I’m also asking God if this is a test. Does He want something from me that I haven’t yet figured out? Endurance? Trust — no matter what? Today’s devotional reading from My Utmost for His Highest gives fodder for those questions using three points for what God wants from me.

Put God First in Trust.

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. (John 2:24–25)

This has been a difficult lesson because I’m one of those people who find it easier to trust people than to continually suspect them. That kind of thinking neglects the truth that all are sinners, all are liars, and eventually everyone will hurt or disappoint. The safe person to trust is Jesus. He is Lord over others and of what others might do to me. I agree wholeheartedly with Chambers: “Never trust anything but the grace of God in yourself or in anyone else.”

Put God’s Needs First. I may claim that I’ve passed that first test, but this one is still a challenge.

(Jesus) added, “Behold, I have come to do your will”  . . . . (Hebrews 10:9)

God is easier to obey when I can see the need, or His commands make sense. He is easier to obey when I do not have my own plans. He is easier to obey when I am feeling good, or people are treating me well. For some, He may be easier to obey when the sun is shining.

But what does God need? I cannot think of anything. He is complete, with or without my obedience. Yet when I think of my needs in terms of my children, there is an empty place in my heart when any of them is out of the will of God. Don’t I feel bereft when my children live in disobedience? If God the Father is like this with His children, then putting His needs first means doing His will first. I can set aside my plans most of the time, but any resentment that pops up shows that I am not really putting His needs first. I can do it externally, but is that the attitude of my heart?

Put God’s Trust First.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me . . . .” (Matthew 18:5)

This one is intriguing. Chambers says that God gave Himself as a babe and expects my personal life to be a Bethlehem, a place where the Christ child is born and grows up in me. His ultimate purpose is that His Son might be manifested in my mortal flesh.

I agree. But in what areas of my life am I not like Jesus? To ask God to show me is one of those questions that I’ve learned the best response after asking is to run for cover! He will show me and I will not like it. Even that is an admission that the ideal of putting Him first still needs some work.

This isn’t answering my questions, but it does give me a better place to focus.

May 30, 2016

Following Christ without saying ‘but . . . .’

Our pastor is doing a sermon series on hearing God speak. In the first one, he said that God is the only one who can speak directly into our thoughts. Yesterday, he made it clear that any ‘voices’ we hear must be measured against the Word of God. While Jesus said His sheep hear and know His voice, we are also to test the spirits and not be deceived.

During brunch after the service, a friend told me of a time when she clearly heard God telling her not to drive on a certain road. She was simply going to the post office, but the voice in her thoughts persisted. She couldn’t see why not, so went anyway. On her way, she had a head-on collision with a gravel truck and was nearly killed. She tearfully admitted the importance of listening and obeying.

Many do not realize the challenge of trusting God, particularly when His requests seem irrational. For those, rational is their “but God . . . .” For others, it could be something different. When Jesus was approached by several who said they would follow Him, He consistently responded by urging them to consider what that decision might mean. He knew that little word ‘but’ would creep in to every commitment. For instance . . . .

One person said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” (Luke 9:61)

“I will follow You, but . . . .” How would I finish that sentence? My friend said that her condition before that fateful accident was “but it must make sense.” As we talked, I realized each of us has a caveat, a point where we might shrink back, yet unless it is tested, we likely don’t know it.

However, God knows our weaknesses, those situations where our faith might flee and we will say no to Him. Thankfully, the Bible says . . .

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

 Even with this encouraging promise, there is no automatic obedience. God provides the way of escape, but I have to step in that direction, without saying “But . . . .”

Chambers talks about it in terms of habit. He says that if I determine to do what Jesus Christ wants, eventually a point will come where I am strongly tempted to turn back, usually because what He asks does not make sense, or it will not be comfortable, or my deepest needs will go unsatisfied. Whatever the reason, the question is: have I learned that taking a risk with Jesus is safe? Have I learned that because of who He is, I can trust Him even when He asks seemingly crazy and impossible things?

This is one reason to read His story. Noah made a boat even though it had never rained and everyone laughed at him. Abraham left his home and went out with no clue where God was taking him. Joseph kept his cool despite years of unfair treatment. David took on a giant with a slingshot. Job lost everything in one day, but refused to curse God.

If I were to write my own story, how would it read? What has God asked of me that made no sense at the time, but seems now like common sense?

I have noticed that faith changes nonsense into logic. The practice of obedience in the small things helps me be more apt to obey God when His words come out of left field and seem total nonsense. This kind of living by faith is not based on rationality or reasoning though. It is based on the character of God. Knowing who He is goes beyond a lifetime of discovery. It makes daily deepening that relationship one of the most important disciplines of life.

May 29, 2016

The most awesome relationship

The story of Esther does not mention God but it does tell of a relationship in which Queen Esther was highly regarded by her King Ahasuerus so that whatever she asked, he would give her. Cultivating that relationship through respect, obedience, and regard for his authority, Esther saved her people from annihilation.

Today’s devotional refers to my relationship with my King, a relationship of unity which He made possible and I am to enjoy by respect, obedience, and regard for His authority. It is a relationship that is important concerning prayer . . .

“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:26–27)

In this context Jesus tells how this relationship leads to answered prayer, but first things first. “In that day” refers to being in an undisturbed relationship with God. No unconfessed sin, no mistrust, no wandering off to do my own thing. It is in that day that I can “ask in His name.”

As Chambers says, this is no magical incantation, even though some people pray as if it is. When the Bible talks about the name of the Lord, it is referring to His character, His very nature. When I pray in His name, I am asking as He would ask, asking in the intimacy of knowing His will and knowing how He thinks about whatever is on my heart. I come to God as Jesus would come to His Father.

Jesus is not taking my prayers and asking for me. I have access to the Father through Him and do not need an interpreter.  Jesus is the reason that I can come to God. He redeemed me, gave me open access to God by forgiving my sin and replacing it with His righteousness. I come to the Father through the Son, yet I come; the way is open, another marvel of the gospel.

“The Father himself loves you” — which is just as staggering. Because I am made one with Christ and have been given His Spirit, I am lifted to heavenly places in Christ Jesus and allowed to see some of the workings of the mind of God. This is a complete union, a relationship where I can freely ask of God “whatsoever” and because I come in the name of Jesus, and He hears me.

Moreover, He will give to me whatever I ask. (Major DRUMROLL) Obviously this is not about selfish requests like winning the lottery or having perfect health or anything else for the benefit of me (although God cares about me). It is about a relationship of unity so that my requests match the perfect will of God. It is like Esther taking the time and effort to discover the mind of her king so that when she asked, he extended the golden scepter rather than ordering her death.

God wants me to know His mind. Should I ask apart from it, He will not strike me with lightning, but He will deal a death blow to my selfishness or any fleshy attitudes that ask for those things outside of His will. If I am selfish, unlike Esther’s king, He lovingly arranges to purge out that selfishness, conforming my heart to the heart of His Son and giving me the joy of knowing His large and everlasting love.

“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:23–24)
How awesome is that!

May 28, 2016

Praying in His will

After 44 years of marriage, I’m far better at anticipating what my husband wants, is going to do, what he will say. I better understand his ideas on most topics and issues. Even with the usual husband/wife misunderstandings, he has become better at communicating himself to me, perhaps because I’ve become a better listener. I’ve also learned something about timing rather than asking important questions when he is busy with something else.

Chambers didn’t use the marriage relationship as an illustration, but he parallels it by saying the more unity I have in my relationship with Jesus, the greater my understanding of His will and what He is doing. Certainly that involves being a better listener. It also involves timing.

“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:23–24)

“In that day” refers to the union of God’s people with Jesus Christ, made possible by His death, resurrection, and ascension. With His life in my life, I first had lots of questions, but the more I realize my union with Him, the less I ask and the more I simply trust. Chambers calls this “the place of entire reliance on the resurrection life of Jesus,” a reliance that brings me into a “perfect contact” with God’s purposes.

I don’t think I am totally there yet, but I do know that I ask fewer questions, and when I ask in the name of Jesus, I have greater confidence in God’s answers. Part of this is because He helps me understand what is going on and how I can pray to fit in with what is going on. Even if I don’t know and all seems dark, I am far better able to trust Him anyway because I am certain that He is good, He is involved, and His will is going to happen.

Chambers’ challenge involves listening and timing. If anything is a mystery and it comes between me and God, then it isn’t because I’m stupid or ignorant. I need to pay attention and consider the reasons I’m not able to grasp His will or at least trust Him even if I cannot figure out what He is doing.

As Chambers says, the solution is looking for the areas of my life that are not submitted to the Lord Jesus Christ. If I’ve not come to a place of total trust, how then can I ask anything in His name? Jesus makes it clear that when I sense a distance, it is not God who moved away. He also made clear that when there is no distance between the Father and His child (because we are made one), then in that day I will ask Him no questions and trust will come easily.

My issue is recognizing when I am out of harmony and getting that taken care of before praying and expecting to receive from Him.

May 27, 2016

Interpreting biblical events

When reading the Bible, how does a person know if events describe something we are supposed to do, or if they are just a description of what happened? Confusion is humorous if not dangerous. Consider this one: “Judas went out and hanged himself.”

Interpretation of historical events uses theological terms of “prescriptive” and “descriptive.”  For instance, the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are descriptive. This means they happened in time and are historical events that will not happen again, nor can we copy or imitate them.

A prescriptive event is one that Christians can repeat in their current situation. One example is Paul giving his conversion story to others. All Christians are supposed to do that; it is not a one-time event for one person, but an example and even a command for every believer.

Some events are not as easy to put in one box or the other. One of them is the reception of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said about the Spirit . . .

“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

As Chambers says, the disciples waited until Pentecost, not just for the Holy Spirit to come on them. They looked first for another event in which the Lord was glorified. As soon as that happened, “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” (Acts 2:33)

In other words, the disciples could not be clothed with the Spirit until Jesus had was glorified as He ascended into heaven. He hinted at this earlier when saying that those who believed would be a source of ‘living water’ . . . 

“Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:39)

Here, Jesus is talking about historical events. He was and is glorified, and then the Holy Spirit was given. While the Spirit influenced God’s people before that, He was not with us in the way God promised. However, immediately after Jesus was glorified in Ascension, the Holy Spirit came into this world, and He has been here ever since.

Herein lies some confusion. Some think the Spirit is received when a person believes and is born again. The key verse for this is:

“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)

Others look at the event of Pentecost and think that Christians must also have a second experience where they are baptized by the Holy Spirit, and they insist that this does not happen to everyone.

After studying this topic, I’ve concluded that the Holy Spirit comes into a believer’s life when they are regenerated or born anew. This event is prescriptive in that it happens to all who truly believe in Jesus Christ.

However, that Pentecostal baptism is descriptive. It was a very visible event to show that the body of Christ was now filled with power from on high, a power that changes us and puts us into the family of God. Since that descriptive event, “we were all baptized into one body . . . and made to drink of one Spirit.” As Chambers says, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not an experience apart from Jesus Christ: it is the evidence of the ascended Christ.

How is this practical? I know several people who moan that they are ineffective because they have never had the Spirit’s baptism, or they insist that others must have this in order to be useful to God. They have made a descriptive event (Pentecost) into a prescriptive event and in doing so, robbed themselves and others of the joy of knowing they already have the Holy Spirit and His power.

I can move ahead in faith. My need (prescriptive) is to keep short accounts with God and believe that the Holy Spirit is in me, giving me whatever I need to do whatever God asks. If I wait for some kind of dramatic sign that He is with me, my responses to the Lord will border on disobedience. “Oh God, I’d love to serve you but I cannot until You pour out Your Spirit on me.”

When I talk to God like that, my problem is not that the Spirit is absent, but that I am making excuses for my lack of faith and my desire to instead live by sight.