June 30, 2016

One of those gray areas . . .

This morning I was thinking about something I want to do, but had some doubts about whether God wants me to do it. It is one of those gray areas, not sin in the action, but perhaps in my motivation. My prayer was that He would show me from Scripture. My feelings and my ‘I wants’ can block His voice and when that happens, I want to hear what He has to say in black and white, with no confusion.

These verses are for today’s reading, verses whose application has not always been clear. However, Chambers clarifies them for me, and God answers my prayer.

“Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:25–26)

Chambers says this instruction is based on a principle: Do what you know you must do, now, and do it quickly. It I don’t, there is a process that will eventually bring pain and distress. God’s laws are unalterable; there is no escape from them.

From this, I do not hear the Lord saying “Do what you want to do” but rather, “Do what I want you to do.” The same principle applies; if I don’t, there will be consequences. If I go my own way, I will regret it. If I obey the Lord, the results will please Him and be a blessing to me and others.

This passage is not about how others treat me, even though it refers to accusers. If the accuser is right and I insist on my rights, or having my way, or act in ways that displease the Lord Jesus Christ, I’m to bring myself to God’s judgment and let Him say yes or no to my situation. If I don’t, the problem will not go away.

Chamber’s lines that speak loudly are these: “God is determined to have His child as pure and clean and white as driven snow, and as long as there is disobedience in any point of His teaching, He will prevent none of the working of His spirit. Our insistence in proving that we are right is nearly always an indication that there has been some point of disobedience. No wonder the Spirit so strongly urges to keep steadfastly in the light!”

My issue is not about settling differences with an accuser, yet the Holy Spirit reminds me of the reality of my spiritual accuser, the enemy who accuses me before God day and night.

“ . . . . Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Revelation 12:10–11)

Satan accusations are designed to ruin my faith and turn me from trusting God. This gives clarity. Will the thing I want to do be a reflection of pure faith? Or does it have an insistence in it that indicates either lack of faith or a point of disobedience or both?

If God wants me to do something, He will nudge me until I pay attention. If Satan wants me to do something, he will accomplish his purpose by lies and accusations. The only way to overcome him is by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, by my declaration of faith in God, and by disregarding whatever I might want — even if it leads to my demise.

If I insist on my own way, my accuser will trip me up. If I do not love my own life or my own way then I will conquer this adversary, not by being reconciled to him, but because I have been reconciled to God by Jesus Christ, and enabled to obey Him by the power of the Holy Spirit.

June 29, 2016

Being pruned

A great variety of images have been used to describe the Christian experience. One of them relates to how God deals with sin by comparing it to pruning a tree.

At first, He uses an axe and lobs off the big and important sins, those that are totally interfering with the growth and fruitfulness of the tree. The tree responds with vigor and is quite happy to be rid of those branches.

Next, God uses a smaller tool, a pruning knife, to cut away the less obvious sins, still a hindrance to grown and productivity, yet not quite as easy to give up.

At last, He begins snipping away with a razor blade, taking away those sins that others may not notice and the tree wasn’t particularly aware of, but deeper in nature that could grow and become dangerous to the tree’s health. These are often the root of the more obvious problems.

This image or illustration helps me to better understand these words of Jesus from His sermon in Matthew . . .

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27–30)

Jesus is saying that the inner attitude of a person’s heart is just as sinful as the actual action because the action flows out of the attitude. It could be lust for a person, but it could also be greed for money, personal ambition, a deep desire for fame, and a host of other things that many Christians never do, but the desire to do them occupies their minds and shows up in one form or another. It is these attitudes that He will prune with a knife or a razor. In these verses He is warning those who face the choice of walking with Him what they must be willing to throw away such pollution. It is better to enter the Christian life maimed than resist His power to save us from our sin.

Chambers says that the followers of Jesus experience different things that are not necessarily sin, but He may cut some of those out of our lives too. That is, someone else might be able to write a novel, but I am not allowed that activity, not because it is sinful in itself, but the pruning has revealed a sinful motivation of some sort and the writing would mess up my walk with Jesus.

Also, if I am going to walk with Jesus, I cannot start my day with my agenda. The desire to rule my own time has been pruned more than once because it tends to pop up like sucker root. Watching some television shows interfere with my Christian life. Reading some books does the same. They must be lopped off and discarded.

My Christian life began with being maimed. As Chamber says, I started my walk with Christ sensing the many things that I dare not do, even though my friends thought God is a killjoy and His restrictions are “no fun at all.” They didn’t realize it is “better to enter into life maimed” and be lovely in God’s sight than to be lovely in man’s sight and crippled in God’s view.

I realize that after many years of His pruning, this tree is not at all the same as in those early days. I’ve certainly lost some of that ‘freshly pruned’ look of a tree that has been radically chopped up. The healthy branches have sprouted and flourished. Others don’t see the sin that is so obvious to me.

I also realize that my life is changed because of His wisdom in knowing what to cut and curb and what to leave and nourish. This is the “abundant life” that He promised, and that He has a plan for me that still takes faith to believe will eventually happen:

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Most of the pruning is painful and yet I’ve learned to welcome it, even realize that it is exciting. God’s promises and skill plus the faith He gives makes it reasonable to let Him whack away, even at the branches that I once thought should be allowed to remain. 

June 28, 2016

Pressing On

This morning, as soon as my eyes opened, I was thinking that I don’t want to do Tuesday. No reason, just one of those moods of feeling tired of routine, tired of daily chores, even tired of being exhorted by God. I had no enthusiasm for anything. I’d had eight hours of sleep, and am finally feeling well physically, but this was what some people call a funk.

However, God has an uncanny way of putting what I need to hear in the devotional material for the day when I need to hear it. This is what He said to me through the Apostle Paul:

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12–14)

The “this” that Paul had not already attained was related to becoming mature Christian who could count all things as loss in order that he might be found in Christ, and that he would experience Him, the power of His resurrection, the sharing in His suffering, and be like Him in His death.

These verses have always puzzled me, but I’m beginning to understand from something Jesus said right before He died: “Not my will but Thine be done.” Jesus yielded all to His Father. That level of submission took Him to Calvary where He died.

Paul wanted that same submission to God. This was his goal. He knew that no one reached the uttermost call of God without that same submission, whether it led to physical death or not. He wanted to be totally willing to do whatever God wanted. This is the meaning of dying to myself.

Now I feel foolish. My daily routine asks the smallest of sacrifices. God likely will not be sending me to a cross or even into stormy weather. Yielding my will today is far from what this is like for a missionary in a country that hates Christians, or even a pastor in this country whose church is demanding his resignation for petty reasons. I’m only looking at chores that are not as much fun as leisure — and I’m grousing?

The other side of my attitude is about personal ambition. Once I had lots of it. Now God calls me to intercessory prayer. It is a largely hidden ministry. I’m mostly alone and often misunderstood in a world more interested in personal comfort than person holiness. People seldom want answers to the kinds of prayers that I pray.

Yet I realize I am no different. Rather than exert myself to serve God even in prayer, this morning I didn’t want to do anything. Surely this reveals that sometimes I need someone interceding for me!

Chambers says I’m not to choose what Christian work I do, only that I listen to God and obey what He says. No excuses. No complaining. If I feel the grip of God, I cannot back off and do what I feel like doing. I also must remember that I’m not special, just a sinner saved by grace. Like Paul, I have been given one thing to do.

For all of this, I’m to be like Jesus in His death, and I’m not there yet.

June 27, 2016

No excuses for lack of faith

How many times have I used the excuse of inexperience to get out of doing something? It reminds me of an artist who said, “If I let the weather keep me from going outdoors to paint, soon I would never go at all.”

Inexperience is relative. No matter how many times I’ve done anything, I can always find someone more experienced. At least one quilter who uses a longarm machine has said to me that they practiced 10,000 hours before they felt experienced enough to advertise their services. According to that standard I will never be experienced enough to advertise mine.

Moses and Jeremiah both had a problem with excuses. Moses fudged with the excuse that he could not speak. So did Jeremiah . . .

“Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
“Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’
“But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a youth”; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.’” (Jeremiah 1:4–8)

In this dialog, Jeremiah was using the term “youth” not in the sense of his age, but that he was inexperienced. He didn’t feel qualified. However, God wasn’t interested whether or not he felt as if he could do it. Like every saint of God, He wants us to come to Him in weakness and inadequacy for if we are confident, we rely on ourselves and our abilities and not on Him.

Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4) A proud or confident person who feels a sense of being up for the task is cannot abide in Christ because they are abiding in their own self. The work done will not be fruitful, but not only that, who will get the glory?

God promised Jeremiah that He would equip and deliver him. He promises me the same thing. He will guard my life should I be in a dangerous situation, but also give me words to say, and the abilities I need for obedience. Whatever I feel is not an issue, nor is what I fear.

Jeremiah was afraid no one would listen and he would be persecuted. Those things happened. God did not promise to take away the peril, only that He would deliver this fearful excuse-maker — he would survive whatever others tried to do to him.
The words of Jesus in Matthew 5 indicate that I am not to be bothered by the reaction of others. Some will treat me badly. But as Chambers says, to look for justice is a sign of deflection from devotion to the Lord. He adds, “Never look for justice in this world, but never cease to give it.”

When I try to protect myself, I am removing myself from the promises of God and will wind up angry at anyone who steps on my toes. When I trust the Lord Jesus Christ to protect me, He does.

Chambers says that even “the most devout among us become atheistic” when our personal safety or personal reputation is threatened because we do not believe God and are trusting self and common sense. If I lean on my own understanding, whether I tack God’s name in there or not, I cannot be trusting the Lord with all my heart.

June 26, 2016

What’s in your closet . . . ?

My closet holds a couple of items that I’ve never worn. They fit. They look good on me. I have no reason except perhaps that the right occasion has not presented itself. In a practical sense, I might as well not have these articles of clothing.

My spiritual life, even my physical life, is by the grace of God. It fits too, and when living by grace, it makes me a far better person. But there are times that I act as if I don’t have “grace in my closet” for I leave it hanging there and instead wear the old garment of the old me, as if grace is not mine at all.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” (2 Corinthians 5:21–6:1)

Jesus took my sin (that old garment) that I might wear His righteousness. To leave it in the closet is tantamount to having received grace in vain. How senseless is that?
Not only must I ask that question, I must consider it in light of what Chambers says. He declares that the grace I had yesterday, or even an hour ago, will not do for today, or for right now. Grace is that amazing overflow of God’s blessing, undeserved yet always available for His people.

First, grace is why I am saved. Romans 3:23–24 says, “ . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . . .”

This salvation is received by faith, yet grace offers it to all who believe . . .

“So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” (Romans 11:5–6)

Because of grace, I’ve no reason to be proud of myself . . .

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3)

Paul knew he was blessed, yet he did not leave grace hanging in his closet. He said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

The grace of God is a beautiful robe, but it is also whatever it needs to be. I cannot say that this wonderful blessing is only for special occasions. It is also for ordinary occasions, for those days when no one sees me and I work alone.

Chambers says that too, but also points out that praying and asking God to help is not about preparation for work. Instead, I am to pray and ask for grace, drawing on God’s grace for every moment, for all situations, for struggles, and for those days when all goes well.

Paul talked about being “In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors,” and the grace of God made him a great leader. God’s grace is His divine work that makes me what He wants me to be in every conceivable situation or condition I am in.

So why leave it or ignore it? Paul spoke of his many situations and included these words, “as having nothing yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:10). The only other garments in his closet were filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and the same is true for me. However, to wear grace, I must admit to and willingly confess that I have nothing. I am poor and needy, and must rely totally on what God does for me.

Chambers calls it “poverty triumphant.” I call it chucking my pride and being overjoyed that in Christ I do not have to wear rags.