March 31, 2017

Imperfect Parents

Today’s devotional makes me sad. The author points to Lot as a bad example of a parent, a man more interested in success in this life than eternal matters. He picked a wicked city to live in and raise his family. Finally, God told him to leave because He was going to judge Sodom . . .

So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up! Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting. (Genesis 19:14)

Lot lost his home and most of his family. Today’s devotional reading condemns him for poor choices and hints that things might be different had he concentrated on following the Lord. While all that may be true, some people do try to follow the Lord and their children choose to walk away rather than listen. Why is that?

Romans 3 says that there is no one righteous, and not one person seeks God. It takes the power of the Holy Spirit to awaken the human heart to their need. God might use the example of godly parents, or He might do it without any good example in a person’s life. I’ve seen rebellion in children who were raised by godly parents, and people surrender to Christ whose parents were set against Him.

That said, Lot was supposed to be a good example. So am I, not only to my children but to all those around me. Jesus said:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” (Matthew 5:13–15)

Clearly, I am responsible to be a light and let my light shine, but the Bible also says:

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)

It is partnership with God that makes a difference in raising a family, yet nothing is guaranteed. God, the perfect father, created Adam and Eve and put them in a perfect environment, yet they still made the wrong choice and sinned against Him. That was not God’s fault or His failure to be a good example.

Even good parents have regrets. I do. However, when our daughter was still a teen, she said to me, “Mom, don’t ever blame yourself for my bad choices. I made them and none of them are your fault.” More than thirty years later, I’m still blessing God for His incredible grace in giving her the wisdom and kindness to tell me this.

Jesus, when Your people err, You continue to show mercy. You took our sins and foolish mistakes upon Yourself and died for them. You live forever to intercede for us. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world, yet we have You, a perfect Savior, to guide and help us, and to forgive our sins as we stumble along trying to do our best. Without You, all would perish. Thank You for grace that encourages those who have made wrong choices and help to get back on the path. Encourage those whose children have rebelled against them and against You. Remind them that their story is not over and to keep praying because You hear the cries of our hearts.

March 30, 2017

How did Jesus do it?

Mark says there were four of them, four friends who believed that Jesus could do something for their paralyzed friend, so they brought him and laid him at the feet of Jesus.

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he said to the man who was paralyzed — “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” (Luke 5:17–26)

Luke says something not in the other gospels: “And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.” This statement grabbed my attention. Does it mean that sometimes that power was not with Him? Or does it mean that even though He was fully God and fully man, He served in total dependence upon the Holy Spirit to give Him what was needed? Since I am to be like Jesus, is this an example for me?

Other passages back up that idea. For instance, 1 Corinthians 2:16 says I have the mind of Christ, and Philippians 2 begins with:

“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:1–3)

It goes on to say that Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7–8)

Even though Jesus lived as a man with a sinless nature, He nonetheless lived as a man. This explains verses like: “Not my will but thine be done . . . .” and “He learned obedience by the things He suffered . . . .” and “He was tempted in all points just as we are . . . .”

I do not often focus on the humanity of Jesus, but recognize that He experienced hunger, fatigue, and many of the same emotions that I do. When I read that passage from Luke, it seems He also had to depend on the power of the Holy Spirit to do what He did, to heal, to drive out demons, to bless people, to go to the Cross, and certainly to rise from death to live forever, not that He was without power, but that He emptied Himself to live as we live, or ought to live.

The Bible calls Him a ‘pioneer’ who leads the way for the rest of us. That means many things, including His example of needing power from on high. I do too. I cannot forgive sins, but I can do whatever He asks me because the same power is available to me.

Christians often excuse lack of power with “but He was God and I am not” without thinking that perhaps the link to power is not about being only human, but by learning obedience and as much as possible, keeping my life free from sin. God uses those who are not otherwise occupied with doing their own thing.

Lord Jesus, this is one of those truths that gives me a sweet delight. You give me all that I need to follow You with all my heart. I have no power, yet that same power that was available to You is also available to me. You grant it when I think with Your mind, consider others more important than myself, and ask You to forgive my sin and fill me with Your Spirit. You may not ask me to heal or drive out demons or other dramatic things, but whatever You ask, “I can do all things through You who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

March 29, 2017

God changes hearts . . .

I often wonder how others use their time and money compared to many Christians. Sundays are obviously different, as should be schedules and to-do lists during the week. Being a Christian is about having our lives changed. Today’s Scriptures describe the changes in people who were first saved in the new church formed after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:41–47)

God changes hearts and attitudes, and that change actions. That passage describes some of them:

Baptism. This is a public confession that I have been buried with Christ and raised to new life in Him. I now do not live for me, or the world, or the devil, but for Him. (see Romans 6:3–4)

Discipleship. No one person learns and knows all that God have for us. We learn from one another as we share God’s Word through preaching, teaching, and studying together.

Fellowship. Discipleship includes sharing our lives. Fellowship can mean chatting over coffee, but it is mostly about much deeper interaction as our lives intertwine.

Communion is also a symbolic activity like baptism, and an ordinance to remember the death of Christ for our sin. Neither this or baptism are for those without faith, but for Christians only. God calls for self-examination rather than participating in an unworthy manner. (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-30)

Prayer is an individual and a community thing. We pray for ourselves, the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and the needs of the world. We do this because our relationship with God has become personal and intimate. He invites us to come to Him about everything, and we know He hears and answers our prayers.

Incredible bonding in community. God also puts His people in His family. No matter where I go, when I meet a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, there is that instant family bond. We can be different in race, culture, background, but the sense of family is always present.

Generosity. Christians are characterized by knowing God is our source. We learn that no matter what we give away, if we need it, God will fill our need. We help other Christians and God extends our generosity to widows, orphans, strangers, those in bondage, and suffering people of all descriptions.

Praise. We know we are blessed by God so praise is very natural. Oh, I get caught in a funk now and then, griping about some inconvenience, complaining over something or other, but being thankful and full of praise for God is a wonderful gift from Him to His people.

Attractiveness to others. History tells how faith in Christ changed people from living for self to being a blessing to others. They gave their lives to make a difference in their world. This still happens. The sad thing is that our efforts sometimes go unseen, or we take the glory instead of giving it to God, or we are misunderstood, or the people around us are so resistant to God and the things of God that they hate what we stand for and reward our good deeds with persecution.

Nevertheless, I like this list. It reminds me of the things I have in common with the body of Christ. It also deepens my sense of ‘family’ and our unity. Jesus changes us, brings us together, uses us for His redemptive purposes. Our lives matter, not only to God but to one another and to a world that needs to know about God and to see Jesus in action. We are that link. The better we respond to the attitudes God gives us, the more we can be as He intends in a needy world and to people without hope.

Jesus, You changed the world when You changed that handful of people and made them the church. You are still changing the world, despite the many times Your church falls short. Thank You. Please keep us standing firm on the foundations that You gave us, not divided over minor issues but strong in faith and agreeing in the most important reasons why You came, why You died and rose again, and what You want us to do while we live here in this world.