June 30, 2017

Starting a new habit?

An e-mail newsletter has a section on time management with tips to help writers with their work. A couple months ago, the author shared that he formed a new habit every month and if he repeats it for 30 days, it usually sticks. I took his advice and started June 1 with a few physical exercises first thing in the morning. This routine effectively fixed some aches — and firmed up some flab.

This morning I’m thinking about July. My nature tends toward gloomy, but with Jesus, I have joy. Joy seems a good habit to cultivate. But how? I can practice spiritual disciplines, but they do not ensure God will pour joy or anything else into my life; they just put me in a receptive mode. Thinking about my need and God’s disciplines, two thoughts come to mind. One is presence and the other is praise.

PRESENCE. The word of God connects joy with the presence of God, particularly in the psalms . . .

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)
“For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.” (Psalm 21:6)
“Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.’” Selah (Psalm 66:1–4)

Because the Psalms are the song book of Israel, joy is also connected to music and singing. Both have a powerful way to influence attitudes, but even music is not as powerful as the Holy Spirit. At least two verses in the New Testament connects singing with being filled with His Spirit, along with a few other things . . .

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18–21)
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

PRAISE. Praise is also connected to both music and joy. Praise includes singing to the Lord with my heart and being thankful. The above verses say being filled with the Spirit is connected to having the Word of Christ dwelling in me richly. It also is a ‘one another’ activity that includes sharing those songs and singing with others, worshiping together with them. Two other delightful verses connect joy and singing, with one of them declaring the results:

“And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!” (Psalm 107:22)
 “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:3)

Even though I am a lover of silence, bringing worship songs to my prayer time usually stirs joy in my heart. With access to Christian music on the radio and i-tunes radio, even more music promises more blessing. So also will the discipline of sharing the goodness of God in praise and thanksgiving, making a point of doing this often.

So far, this points to several ways to form a habit of joy. First, focus on the presence of God, singing praises to Him, and sharing that experience with others. Since joy is a fruit of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22), then I need to be filled with the Spirit. I’ve long ago learned that being filled with the Word is vital to being Spirit-filled, but so also is keeping short accounts with God. The only blockade to a Spirit-filled life is trying to do things apart from God and holding unconfessed sin in my heart. When I add thankfulness to this mix, joy just happens!

But there is more. The reading for today from Kenneth W. Osbeck’s book: Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, ends with this thought: “Determine to allow the warmth of God’s love to be reflected in all your activities. Carry this musical testimony with you as you seek to be a witness for Christ . . . .”

God produces joy, not for my happiness and well-being, but so I will be a strong witness to the power and love of Jesus Christ. JOY is first about Jesus, then about others, then for yourself.

Dearest Lord Jesus, not matter what I do, whether ordinary chores or tougher assignments, may I do it with joy. Help me avoid a false Pollyanna gaiety that merely puts a smile on my face. I want my joy to be Your joy, that joy that does not depend on circumstances or anything else but You. I want my light to shine so others can see Your goodness and glory. I cannot make this happen, but with Your grace I can practice the spiritual discipline of abiding in Your presence. It is up to You to fill me with joy.

June 29, 2017

What happened?

(This post is late! I have devotions in the morning and post at night, However, our grandson's graduation kept us up late last night. Good to see him reaching this milestone in life.)

When I became a Christian, another Christian told me, “Salvation takes an instant, but you will spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what happened!”

That was nearly fifty years ago, and I still chuckle at the truth of his statement. Part of the process of trying to understand how salvation happens is because the Bible presents it in different ways, and people experience it varying ways.

Jesus encountered Paul on the road to Damascus. There was no New Testament then, no gospel preaching or churches, but Jesus confronted this man about his sin, sent him to another man who laid hands on him and he received the Holy Spirit and was saved.

An Ethiopian man had come to Jerusalem to worship. On his way home, he was reading a passage in Isaiah when a Christian explained to him that it was about Jesus. He believed and was baptized.

My conversion was a bit like Paul’s. I wasn’t persecuting Christians, but was reading a book on reincarnation when the Lord walked into my home and into my heart. My husband believed as he heard a sermon about Old Testament law that ended with a question, “If you died tonight, do you know if you would go to heaven?” He didn’t have that assurance and became a Christian.

Many Christians testify to believe in Jesus because He revealed His love for them through His people. (see 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10). Paul also wrote these words to the church in Rome:

“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

He added to this the necessity of preaching . . .

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.’”

This passage cites Psalm 19 to say that everyone has heard the voice of God: “But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for ‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’” (Romans 10:9–18)

God calls His people to tell others, adding a human voice to that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. This is a major reason why I am to be filled with the Spirit — so I am saying what He is saying in the hearts of those who do not yet believe. Hearing with ears and hearing with the spirit produces results!

Hearing God is serious stuff, for God will not always whisper to people:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.” (Amos 8:11–12)

Have those days arrived? It happened during the 400 years between the testaments. Maybe it will happen again. These days, many people ignore the Word of God and even mock it. The need for Christians to live like and talk about Jesus is increasingly important. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.” Recent history can say it this way, ‘Remove the Bible from schools and public life and do not be surprised at the results.’

Jesus, Your Word brings new life and changes the lives of those who listen to it and do what it says. I am trusting You to speak also to the hearts of those around me. Help me to be faithful to listen, read, study, and wholeheartedly obey what You say, so that my words and actions match what Your Spirit is revealing to them. Enable me to focus on You and not let anything side-track me from Your will for my life.

June 28, 2017

Jesus died for all

By now, anyone who reads Fortner’s devotionals along with my devotional posts will know that I cannot accept some of what he says. I agree that salvation is by grace through faith and that everyone who believes is drawn to that faith by God. I believe we cannot save ourselves because we will not. Sin ruined our ability to say yes to Him and that is why He must save us.

I agree also that God is sovereign, and in sovereignty gave the first people the ability to choose. They did not yield to what He said, bringing sin into the world and with it, the loss of choice. All humanity is born sinful (resisting God) and without the ability to save ourselves or even call out to Him for mercy. Sin keeps us from God, so God reaches out to us. However, He will not force salvation on anyone who says no to His existence, or refuses to acknowledge their sinfulness.

I also believe that when God reveals truth to us, we must respond. He reveals that He exists. Saying yes brings more revelation from Him, gradually leading people to the Cross and to faith in Christ. I also believe that no one can take any step toward God without God’s grace enabling them. Without Him, people cannot save themselves. The good news from the Bible is that Jesus died for the sins of the world, and whosoever will may come to Him.

However, Fortner says Jesus died only for those who believe. He uses many verses to verify this, yet omits those verses that do not. This seems like attempts to align opposing ideas (God’s sovereignty vs. the will of man) by picking sides. We have no ability to save ourselves, but Fortner also says if Jesus died for all, then all would be saved and since that does not happen, then Jesus did not die for all, but only those who believe.
Today’s devotional adds another thought that surprises me. I’ve never heard this before . . . 
“If Christ died only for a specific people, how can I know that he bore my sin and died for me? I know that Christ died for sinners and I know that I am a sinner. I know that he died for every sinner who believes on him and that all who believe on him will be saved, because God said so. Now as a guilty sinner I do with all my heart trust the Lord Jesus Christ as my only and all-sufficient Savior. Since I trust him, I know that he died for me. Will you trust him too? If you can, then he died for you.”

Is this reasoning backwards? ‘Since I trust him, I know that he died for me . . . . If I can trust Him, then He died for me.’ Isn’t it biblical to say that “Since He died for me, therefore I trust Him”?

Faith is not about itself, but its object. It is about trusting Jesus; who He is and what He has done. He died for my sin — my ability to believe it does not make it true for me and not for others. This illogical reasoning puts salvation in my court. It says that whether or not Jesus died for me a matter of my choice. But I don’t make Him Lord by my faith; He IS Lord, whether I believe it or not!

King David expresses well what God does — and how he and others respond to Him.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie! You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told. In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation. As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me! For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me. Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me! Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether who seek to snatch away my life; let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who delight in my hurt! Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, “Aha, Aha!” But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God! (Psalm 40:1–17)

Jesus, You are my Lord and Savior who delivers me from sin. I know this is true, not because my faith makes it true, but because Your death on the Cross for the sin of the world is a fact. Your grace and mercy are available to me and to everyone. Our response is vital, yet without Your unconditional love there would be no revelation of Your grace, no great mercy made available, and nothing to respond to.