November 30, 2016

In the Potter’s hands

In our Monday Bible study, exalting a biblical person was a discouragement in a way. If I have to be well-educated, or raised by godly parents, or special in some way before God can use me, then He never will. On the other hand, I cannot say I am useless to God because God can do anything with even the most useless.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:27–29)

Paul understood this because he was a humble man who knew his own sinfulness. He was well-educated, respected as a Pharisee, and had many qualifications. If anyone could boast he could, yet he also said:

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh — though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith . . .  (Philippians 3:3–9)

Paul was not guilty of a false humility that tries to look humble before others. He knew that he was a sinner, but he also knew that in Christ he could do all things, not because of his credentials or background but because of the grace of God.

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 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 15:9–10)

Chambers says, “The way we continually talk about our own inability is an insult to the Creator. The deploring of our own incompetence is a slander against God for having overlooked us.” By this he refers to that false humility that is sometimes an excuse to not do great things for God, or a self-pitying reason why God has never asked us to do anything?

The Lord often asks me to do things that in my own self would be totally impossible, but He provides the grace to do it. Many times I’d prefer He ask me to do that which I feel capable of doing, yet that is not how He works. I’m never to boast that I am able, just as I’m never to boast that I am unable. Either of these is foolish because it is putting the attention on me when I should be giving God glory. No matter what I am, it is He who works in me.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:20–21)

Chambers says, “Never bother your head as to whether what you say sounds humble before men or not, but always be humble before God, and let Him be all in all.”

He adds, “One individual life may be of priceless value to God’s purpose, and yours may be that life.” With that, the image of a potter shaping clay comes to mind. The clay never tells the potter what to do or how to do it. It never insists what kind of shape it should be or cannot be. It just lets the potter do with it what he wants.


November 29, 2016

To God be the glory . . .

It often seems easier to glorify people rather than glorify God. For instance, we studied the New Testament story of the angel appearing to Mary telling her she would bear the Son of God. She responded with trust and a song of praise. Most of the group were praising her for being an exceptional young woman, even though we began the study by talking of how God asks us to do impossible things but always gives us what we need to do it. To God be the glory.

Since faith comes by hearing God’s Word, Mary believed because He was speaking to her. Since the Holy Spirit is the conveyor of truth, she knew that the words of the angel were true. Her story is not about her pious nature, her godliness, her anything; it is about the power of God to give His people what we need when we need it.

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 16:13–14)

These verses describe an important aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit. He says what the Father tells Him to say, and not only does He speak toward the future, He always glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. He does it by receiving from Jesus whatever He is supposed to say and declaring it.

The example of the Holy Spirit shows me that when God speaks, I must follow through, but in the follow through, I will glorify the Lord and not myself or anyone else. Set beside God, my life is nothing, my wisdom is foolishness, and my knowledge is flawed.

Chambers compares those who think that a pious attitude of prayer and devotion is all that is required from those who claim faith in Christ. He says this type of experience is not supernatural nor miraculous, or even stamped as the work of the Spirit. This makes me sad because when the work is obviously rooted in God Almighty but Mary gets the glory for her pious response, where is the Spirit in this? What business do any of us have in granting any person “hero” status when God is doing the work in their lives?

Personal, passionate devotion to the Person of Jesus Christ is a God-thing. Without regeneration, without being born again into His Kingdom, the best anyone can do is consider Jesus Christ as a good example, as Chambers says, “a pattern” for life. Yet we cannot follow His example unless He is first our Savior, first because of the Gospel, the One on whom I totally depend for life and breath and everything.

Jesus said—“When the Spirit of truth comes . . . He will glorify me.” When Jesus saved me from sin and drew me into His kingdom with His very life, He also gave me the Holy Spirit. This Spirit interprets what Jesus did and said. If I glorify people, I’m not only denying His work, I am denying His intention. God does not reveal truth to me that I might put anyone, including myself, on a pedestal.

November 28, 2016

His incredible gift . . .

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 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, (Romans 3:21–24)

This is the Gospel. It is not law whereby God justifies me; it is grace and a gift. It is the redemption that is in Christ. It is an amazing reality.

Chambers says it well. His words are repeated below, slightly changed to be personal . . .

The Gospel of the grace of God awakens an intense longing in human souls and an equally intense resentment — because the revelation which it brings is not palatable. There is a certain pride in me that will give, but to come and accept is another thing. I might be willing to spend my life, to give myself in consecration. I will do many things, but my sinful flesh resists the humiliation of being the same as the most hell-deserving sinner. Without the Holy Spirit, I would resist the Gospel that tells me that all I have to do is to accept the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

I once had to realize and now must always remember that I cannot earn or win anything from God. I must either receive it as a gift or do without it. The greatest blessing spiritually is the knowledge that I am destitute — and until I do, the Lord can do nothing for me. If I think I am sufficient of myself, I miss out. Instead, I must always enter into and walk in His Kingdom through the door of destitution with poverty of spirit.

As long as I am rich, possessed of anything in the way of pride or independence, I am blocking God’s blessings. It is only when I am spiritually starving that I want and will receive the Holy Spirit. God’s gift of His very Self is made effective in me by the Holy Spirit; He imparts the quickening life of Jesus. This grace puts ‘the beyond’ within, and immediately rises up to ‘the above’ — lifting me into the domain where Jesus lives.
God says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) and . . . 

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1–4) and . . .

“Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:8–11)

Praise God for His incredible gift!

November 27, 2016

Heavenly minded AND earthly valuable

While I’ve not heard anyone say this for a long time, it is still thought-provoking . . . “He is so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good.” Today’s Scripture could be about that:

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:14–16)

Chambers tells me to brood on the reality that I am crucified to the world and the world to me, and to realize that whatever actions I might take to make me look like a Christian ought to look are not important. What is important is that God has made me a new person and all else flows from that.

Chambers says in today’s reading that such brooding is not to turn me into a subjective pietist that is only interested in my own purity and cares little for others. Jesus was not a recluse or an ascetic aloof and not in contact with the world He lived. Yet He was inwardly in another world, disconnected and not allowing anything to interfere with His consecration to do the will of God.

It seems a confusing thing this being consecrated and at the same time living in such a way that there is the risk of being called names . . . The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:34) Yet Jesus lived in such a way. Not only that, He prayed that I would do the same . . .

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:14–16)

Being in the world still means glorifying God in ordinary life — “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) — just as yielding to God and resisting sin also glorify God. He wants total consecration and obedience from the heart, not recluses who tries to store up spiritual power in case we need it later.

We laughed at the roadside sign in California advertising a Christian college with “We are located twenty-five miles from the nearest sin” because they missed the point that sin is what comes out of the heart. Not only that, they failed to realize that putting themselves away from the world would not make them more useful to God.

Jesus never lived that way. He ate and drank and risked being called a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of sinners. Does my life in this world look like that? Yet He also was totally consecrated to His Father’s will and did not sin. Does my life look like that?

God wants me to live as a child of His family in His kingdom, but do it in this world, not a world of my mind where I’m ‘off someplace’ rather than in the reality of where He has placed me. This is why Jesus prayed that I would not be taken out of this world, but that I would be kept from the evil one.

This is so challenging that I realize why Jesus prayed it rather than commanded it —only God can accomplish such a feat.

November 26, 2016

Brooding on the truth

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

Chambers starts off today’s devotional reading based on this verse with these words: “If you want to know the energy of God (i.e., the resurrection life of Jesus) in your mortal flesh, you must brood on the tragedy of God.”

“Brood” is an interesting word. In context, here it means to think or ponder something, but the main dictionary definition is how a hen or other bird sits on their eggs, keeping them warm until they hatch and new life comes forth.

This image describes how God wants me to ponder what Jesus did on the Cross. He died for me and in Him the world was made dead to me and I died to the world. Do I live that way? Do I boast about that reality? If not, it is because I do not brood about it.

Another image comes to mind. A person just won a great deal of money in a lottery. The first reaction is utter astonishment, yet it the thing seems like a dream; it didn’t really happen. Unless the winner thinks about it and adjusts his mindset to it, he does not feel like a millionaire, talk like a millionaire, or act like a winner.

The world was crucified to me. This is a reality. By the death of Christ, the world has been made dead to me, separated from me. In this context, ‘world’ means the system of sinful living, every person for himself, driven by what I want and by the pride of life. People in the world would never think to boast about the Cross where that world died, but I am to think that way, brood on it, ponder it until I realize this is reality.

I was crucified to the world. That is, God changed my life and my ‘I wants’ so that I’m no longer drawn into worldly things . . .

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17)

Is this true? God says it is. Do I ponder it, brood about it enough that I begin to act like a person who is dead to the world, separated from fleshy desires, from wanting what I can see, and from being proud about a zillion things? Or do I let the lies of life tell me that I belong here and this world is my home?

God wants me to brood. He wants me to stay with this until the warmth of its truth brings forth His life in me. If I walk away, the eggs or seeds of reality will begin to fade. They will not hatch. I will not perish because God has mercifully saved me, but I could easily miss out on experiencing the great power of God by choosing to run around the coop instead of brooding on the truth.