Friday, July 21, 2017

God reveals — How do I respond?

Yesterday I put a picture of outer space on my Internet browser. It reminds me of the verses that say, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Wow! If the universe is like this, what is God like?

My next thought is a question: Why does this awesome God care about me? I’m a mere speck in His vast creation. Yet He does care and when He reached out His hand to me, I grabbed hold of it, trusting Him to take care of my needs and guide me in the best way.

God takes the initiative, knowing what I will do because He enables me to do it. What if I looked at that photo and only saw the colors and shapes, didn’t think of God at all — just used it to design a quilt? What if I went outside and looked at creation, only to dig out a microscope or telescope and a notebook, trying to figure out where it came from? What if I did consider God exists, but relegated Him to ‘out there’ somewhere, no hand reaching out, not a person who cares about me, not someone I can trust?

And I did those things. I look back now and see how God persisted. He used the sun and stars to set my mind in motion regarding His existence. He used the mistakes I made to bring me to a sense of need for guidance. He used Jesus to show me that He reached out, and He answered prayer to show He cares about me and every detail of my life.

God’s love is always there. It never ceased when I was indifferent or when I said NO. It never increased when I responded nor does it decrease when I ignore Him. He selected me to believe and worked on me until I was ready for the gift of new life and faith. Salvation is God’s doing in those who gladly take His hand and in those who reluctantly admit we need Him. For that, I am truly thankful.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.” (Psalm 92:1–4)

I’m thankful too for my brothers and sisters in Christ. God persisted with them too, bringing them into His family so that we could experience the fullness of His glory together. Some kick and pull back, but He hangs on to us because His love never fails.

“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. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13–15)

Dear Lord Jesus Christ, for some reason beyond my comprehension, You choose to show mercy and forgive when it seems the more deserving response to my resistance is for You to walk away. You desire that Your people see Your glory, both in creation and in the more explicit and profound revelation of You becoming a man and walking among us, even holding my hand and walking with me.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Clarity and focus

This morning’s devotional threatened to side-track me from listening to God because I struggled with the author using a verse out of context to illustrate another passage about a completely different subject, and doing this to describe the importance of speaking clearly. Sigh.

I wanted to yell WHY, but instead asked God what He is trying to say to me with all this. The verse used to illustrate is from a longer passage about speaking in tongues that essentially says this should not be done without an interpreter. The purpose of tongues is to build up believers, but if they cannot understand what is being said, then this is a useless activity. The verse: “And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves. . .” (1 Corinthians 14:8)

The author makes a defense for speaking the gospel clearly. He says, “if it to be . . . understood by men . . .” it must include a certain three points. While speaking clearly is important and while those three points are important, I am totally convinced that the Lord does not depend on human oratory to make His truth clear.

For example, I once made a totally messed up gospel presentation. It was confusing and I was certain it did not make sense at all, but the listener became a Christian. How amazing! I realized that God’s Holy Spirit made the truth of the gospel clear to her spirit. It was certainly not my skill that did it, nor any one of those three points.

This is not an excuse for my bungling, but it illustrates that no one can take credit for the marvel of God’s power to speak through His people. Nor can I boast; the Lord once used a donkey to speak to a man, so I have no business thinking my speaking will do His job.

The devotional uses another passage to add credence to his convictions. It comes from the beginning of Paul’s rebuke to the church in Galatia. They had been saved by faith and were trying to live for Christ by keeping the Law. He told them they had fallen from grace and their efforts indicated they were duped by a distorted gospel:  

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed . . . For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:6–12)

Interesting. They had been fed a distortion of the gospel, yet this was not an unclear presentation, but a deliberate twisting of the truth. They might have even been great orators! The problem was not lack of clarity but lack of faithfulness to the Word of God.

The other thing in this passage is that Paul says no one preached to him at all. He heard the gospel directly from the Lord through a revelation, not a three-point message. He used this to tell them that the message they received was contrary to what God’s Word teaches. Instead, it was a false notion of what salvation means and how it works. Rather than preaching what God says salvation means, and what to believe, and how to walk in faith, this contrary gospel was man’s idea. The true gospel is not about law-keeping, but about God’s grace. This passage is not about clarity but about the contrast between true and false teaching.

Years ago, I was taught how to give a gospel message. Now I recognize that this step-by-step presentation is a model not an outline, much like the ‘Lord’s prayer’ is a model for praying, not words to repeat. Jesus showed his disciples about attitude, what to cover, how to think, etc. when they pray.

In the same way, learning that gospel presentation gave me a foundation and showed me important points, but it is not a “rule” for what “must be said” because God’s Spirit knows what the listener needs to hear. I need to listen to Him, not follow a check-list of points given in the proper order.

All that said, I agree with the main idea of clarity. Telling someone God loves them is not the gospel. It is only a part. Yet at the time, it might be the part that the listener needs to hear at that moment. Telling someone they are a sinner is not the whole gospel either, and may or may not be the right thing to say to fit in where a listener is on their spiritual journey. This is the reason God’s servants need to pay attention to God’s leading.

On the other hand, if I was a preacher speaking to a congregation, the whole gospel is important. Some of the people need to hear that God loves them. Some need to hear that all of us are bound in sin. Some need to hear what Jesus did at Calvary, or that He has risen from the dead. Some merely need to hear an invitation and instruction on how to receive the One who redeemed them. A pastor cannot leave out anything, not because each person needs to hear each point clearly, but because each person is at a different place in their spiritual journey. In fact, some of us have already come to faith in Christ and simply need to hear about His faithfulness to take care of our needs.

Jesus, today I need the fullness of Your Spirit so I can listen well and hear what You want from me while I interact with people who do not know You. Are they having problems with believing there is a God? Or are they worried about unanswered prayer? The gospel is good news, yet it comes in many facets. Reveal to me where You want my focus and give me words to make that facet shine.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Freedom of choice

The good news of Jesus Christ means that I am accepted before God in Christ. This is absolute acceptance, unconditional, a matter of pure sovereign grace. It never changes and does not depend on what I do. Pleasing God is not about my goodness but depends entirely on what Jesus has done.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3–6)

As today’s devotional says, to this a legalistic person might say, ‘That’s antinomianism; it will give men a license to sin!’ But they do not understand; being in Christ means being a different person, a person who does not want to sin, but to live a godly life. While I do have the freedom to follow my sin nature, being in Christ is powerful. As Paul said:

“I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:21–25)

Just as salvation from the penalty of sin is found in Christ, so also is the solution to this inner battle against the power of sin. The only way to win it is to remain in Christ, abiding in Him:

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:6–15)

This tells me to walk in Christ in the same way as I received Him — by faith, trusting Him alone for my salvation AND for the ability to say no to sin and live as God teaches me to live. He restored my freedom of choice. Once my only choice was sin, but now I have another options — the ability to say yes to Jesus, a wonderful gift from Him. To the legalists of his day (who suggested that we could live in sin because grace covered it, Romans 6:1ff) Paul wrote similar words:

“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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:16–18)

As I read this, I’m thinking that if a Christian gets caught up in rules and rituals and forgets grace alone saves us, how then could an unsaved person make any sense of it? How can sin be conquered by having it totally forgiven? How can I live a godly life by trusting Jesus rather than doing all I can to keep God’s commands? All I can say is that the ways of God are beyond our ways!

My precious Lord Jesus Christ, I am blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places and here on earth as well because this is Your choice for me. Because of You, I am holy and blameless, loved, Your child. My life is on the course You have planned for me, not to glorify me, but to bring praise to You and to Your glorious grace. In You, I’m free to choose, and because of You I deeply desire to walk according to Your will.