January 31, 2017

Trusting me . . . ?

There are dangers in being a wealthy person, or a strong person, or a worldly wise person. One of the worst is that our strengths are so easily trusted in the place of trusting the Lord . . .

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23–24)  

The Apostle Paul knew this was true. He had many strengths he could have trusted and even boasted about, but he choose otherwise . . .

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord . . .  for we 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.”

This list may not impress us, but it was impressive to the people who read his letter and the Jews who were attacking Christianity because they were not living as ‘good’ Jews. Paul knew that all his credentials meant nothing toward his salvation or toward his walk with God. He went on . . .

“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— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 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 3:1–14)

Paul wrote these verses late in his ministry, yet was still pressing on, and still growing in Christ. This is a comfort to me as I wonder if I will ever ‘grow up’ and become mature. As indicated, that desire is not obtained without pressing on, without strain, and it is a lifetime pursuit.
How easily I trust in the strengths that I have. This is sin. I know that my flesh is not an ally but an enemy that I must be wary about . . .

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:16–17)

This passage goes on to list the works of the flesh and says they are “evident” — but they are not at first. The enemy of our souls can make at least some of them seem to be good ideas, even good actions. He did that to Eve in Eden and is still duping people, even God’s people, into thinking that God really didn’t say that, or he makes sin look good. For example, “fits of anger” (verse 20) can appear to be ‘righteous indignation’ and “envy” can start out as ‘I’m following a good example.’

Ephesians 6:14 tells me to fasten on the belt of truth. Pages could be written on the implications for doing this. One important reason is that truth is necessary to battle the lies, and in this constant war against evil, one of those lies is that I can trust my own ideas. Not.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” (Proverbs 3:5–7)

Lord Jesus, perhaps some find it easier to trust You for everything than I do. Raised and educated the way I have been, the pattern was set early to trust my understanding. Trusting You instead has been a target for the enemy. I am thankful that You are truth, that truth sets free, and that You live forever to pray for me and lift me out of danger. Fill me with Your Spirit continually so I will not trust my flesh or be lured away by the enemy’s constant lies.

January 30, 2017

. . . a saved sinner

Someone said to me, “Being a Christian must get easier as you get older.” I laughed.

As I get older, I realize the important advice of: “Preach the gospel to yourself every day.” Those who get older and retain their determination to walk closely to God will struggle with increasing attacks from Satan and increasing battles against sin.

Walking closer to God does not make sin go away. David was called a “man after God’s own heart” but he was very aware of his sin . . . 

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 51:3)

Being someone wholly dedicated to God does not mean becoming sinless. It means being aware of sin yet also knowing what God has done with it. David sinned greatly, but he also confessed his sin. He wrote this too . . .

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah . . . .”

God also inspired him to say this . . .

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:1–11)

I need to realize my tendency to sin yet counter that with God’s full salvation. When I was a new Christian, my mentor challenged me to study everything in the Bible I could find about sin. it was devastating to read about the moral depravity of humanity and how everyone falls short of the righteousness God requires. The Old Testament says . . .
“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)
The New Testament agrees . . .
“As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one . . . .’ (Romans 3:10–12) “There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22–23)
Rising up to God’s standard is impossible. I need Jesus Christ because without Him I fall short and am polluted by sin. This is not only about what I do, but about what I am.
David says this is true, but he also knows that God is merciful. Forgiveness and cleansing is for those who confess sin, agreeing with Him and from the heart. It is for those who can acknowledge guilt and depravity, the falling short of anything we consider righteous. It is standing with God against myself. It is saying with David . . .
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (Psalm 51:1–2)
It is also declaring and believing that through the merits of Christ’s righteousness and shed blood God is faithful and just to forgive iniquity, transgression and sin. This is the good news, the gospel.

Jesus, I do need to hear the gospel every day. It keeps me aware of at least two things: I am a sinner — and I am saved by grace. I often fail, but I am also forgiven and cleansed, renewed and adopted into the family of God — because Your blood was shed to set me free and give me new life.

January 29, 2017

Judging and judgment

There is an aspect of the Gospel that bothers even Christians; not everyone will be saved. We don’t understand the ways of God in that He chooses some and not others. We know salvation is by grace through faith and not based on our deeds, but His determination. That does not make sense.

Yet there is another aspect of Christian living that does not make sense either. We know God saves by grace, but some of us have the terrible tendency to judge other Christians by their behavior, as if that is the criteria for salvation. God reminds me . . .
“Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10).
If my sin was put on Christ, judged and punished at the Cross, why then will I appear before His judgment seat? This is a good question, yet resolved by a lesson in the Greek language. There are two terms concerning God’s judgment. They refer to two different events. One is that final judgment of unrepentant sinners at “a great white throne” spoken of in Revelation 20 where the dead are judged according to what they have done. This is not a judgment for those who are “written in the book of life.”

The other is called the “bema” seat of Christ and this is where the deeds of Christians are evaluated. Some will have been done in the power of the Holy Spirit and others in our own strength which will mean some will be acceptable and others like “wood, hay and stubble” and will be burned up. (1 Corinthians 3)

In other words, Christians will stand before the bema seat, not to have themselves judged for worthiness of eternal life, but their work judged to determine its eternal value . . .
If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:15)

Because of this bema judgment, I must walk by faith and in obedience, making it my aim to please God. I will “receive what is due for what (I have) done in the body, whether good or evil. (See 2 Corinthians 5)

That settles the final judgment issue, but also confusing is that Jesus says we are not to judge one another yet He also says we must judge righteously and use discernment. How can that make sense? If I’m to judge, but not to judge, what does He mean?

Reading those commands in their context is helpful. Matthew 7 forbids judging that is based on seeing my own problems in others and pointing fingers at their error instead of dealing with my own. If my life is clear of those problems, then I “can see clearly” to help others who have them.

In the very next verse, Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is holy . . . .” How can I know who are “dogs” and what is “holy” without making some sort of judgment call? I cannot do that if my own eyes are blinded by sin’s deception, nor can I do it if I think I am forbidden to judge anyone or anything. God does not intend that we be deceived and unable to evaluate such things as false teachers, sin that requires rebuke, etc.

I’ve wondered if I’ve ever used “Do not judge” as an excuse to avoid cleaning up my own life? Probably. If I cannot judge others, then they cannot judge me. This serves to make me accountable to no one. That is foolish too.

The other kind of judgment is about who IS saved and who isn’t. Jesus did say that we would know them (unsaved people) by their fruit (see Matthew 7). At the same time, we have no idea who WILL be saved. The salvation of the Apostle Paul was a surprise to the new church. Also, my sister became a Christian in an African country and came home thinking I would be the last one in the family to be saved; but I was the first. We cannot judge or decide someone is beyond the reach of God’s grace. The Word of God does not allow anyone to judge regarding that!

I’m not sure what that great white throne judgment will be like, only I know I will not be there because my name is already written in God’s book of life . . . .
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done . . . and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done . . . . And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11–15)
Jesus, what can I say that adequately expresses the wonder of being included in Your family, Your kingdom? You took God’s wrath on my sin and purchased for me eternal life without condemnation. Some of my actions have been worthless, yet because of grace some are gold according to Your estimation. I can only bow my head in gratitude that You have blessed me by mercy instead of dismissing me by judgment.

January 28, 2017

God’s Grace chooses His people

Every now and then God reminds me that He choose me, a most humbling thought that strikes a blow to my pride, but also a most edifying thought that swipes at those feelings of inferiority. Salvation and life as a Christian is not about me, but about the amazing grace of God.

I’m particularly drawn to Jeremiah, partly because I can relate to his attitude, but also love his story because of this . . .

“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.” (Jeremiah 1:4–5)

God selected Jeremiah for his role in history before he was conceived! My role in God’s kingdom is less extensive, but what a delight to realize that God also knew me before I was born and had a plan for my life. Like every Christian, I am chosen and I live to serve Him.

Of course the question comes up, “Why doesn’t God choose everyone?” This question was in the minds of those early Christians too. Romans 9:11-26 answers it with several reasons. One of them is that God is God. He can show mercy on whomever He wishes, and compassion on whomever He decides.

He said to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

We might argue the other side and ask why then wrath on some and not others. Romans 9 retorts, “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory . . . ?”

Paul later discussed the reason for God’s choices. He knew that he was without merit, but also realized God had a plan for selecting him for salvation. He said . . .

“He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles . . . . (Galatians 1:15–16) “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)

Instead of questioning God’s wisdom in His choices, I need to pay attention to a better option . . .

“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13)

Salvation is the will of God. He does what He does because it pleases Him. He separates His people from the rest of the world and chooses us before we were even born. This affirms the reality that being chosen has nothing to do with our will or our worth. He calls us by grace and through the irresistible call of the Holy Spirit, a call that reveals to our hearts the Lord Jesus Christ — and that is what makes it irresistible. When Jesus walked in, there was no other answer but yes!

The rest of the story is also yes — because God’s purpose for my salvation is that I do His will. Since there is nothing in me that wanted that, He put it in. Any so-called ‘goodness’ in me never caused God to be gracious; but God’s grace gives me great desire to walk willingly in goodness.

Jesus, I want to celebrate Your amazing grace today, singing and shouting it, and hopefully sharing it with others. Thank You!

January 27, 2017

Pessimism and Boasting

An optimist tends to look on the more favorable side things and expect the most favorable outcome. I’m not an optimist. I tend to see, anticipate, even emphasize undesirable outcomes and look on the negative side of things. I identify with the Old Testament prophets who railed against sinners, including themselves, and focused only on the worst that was happening.

Yet God tells me to be thankful in all things and praise Him. While I easily see His wrath on sin, I also need to remember His love for sinners and His grace in our lives. For me, praise and thanksgiving is often a sacrifice and always an obedience — and obedience is an important benchmark of being a Christian . . .

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) . . . “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” (1 John 2:3)

Not only does my pessimistic outlook interfere with praising God, but so also does my pride. I like to put myself on a pedestal, but the Bible says to stop doing that. He says things like the following as a command to those who boast in the wrong things . . .

“Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23–24)

Counting the “I” and other personal pronouns in this devotion shows me that my focus (negative or positive) is not in the right place.
Another theme comes through from these verses; saving faith means knowing Christ. This is not merely knowing about Him, but knowing Him personally. This happens by means of faith.

Faith knows and trusts Christ. Faith receives salvation from Christ. Faith does not in any way accomplish salvation; only the work of Jesus Christ does that. Faith simply receives what He has done as my Substitute. Faith also receives His righteousness, receives redemption and the forgiveness of sins He offers. Even though salvation is not earned by faith or by my obedience, believing what God says and does is obedience of a sort. Without faith, I certainly will not do what He says.

True faith is simply knowing Christ and resting in what He has promised. I have to watch out for the pessimist in me — because that attitude so easily “what-ifs” my way into doubt. If I look in the mirror and see failures rather than the grace of God, if I remember the bad stuff instead of the good, then I’m one step away from not trusting God, or there already.

Jesus, forgive my pride and my tendency to focus on my failures and folly instead of on Your blessings. I want to do well, to grow in faith, to be like Jesus, but how often I forget that even if I never made any mistakes, I cannot boast in that or any other thing — only in that I know You and the wonderful things You have done.