August 31, 2017

God speaks to His readers

One of the cardinal rules of writing is to consider the readers. For example, If writing a child’s book, the author should use familiar words and simple language that a child would understand. If writing for divorced people, the author would consider the situation those people would be experiencing.

The author of this devotional I’m using does an odd thing. He is writing a Christian devotional where most readers would be Christians, yet he continually tells his readers how to become Christians. Perhaps his supposes his readers may only think they are saved? Or that the church is filled with religious people who do not know God in a personal relationship, that their faith is in their church-going rather than in Jesus Christ?

Whatever his reasoning, I realize even those whose faith is solid need to hear the gospel and be thankful that God has saved them. I also need to hear the gospel expressed for God expects me to share it with others. Today’s reading points to a passage where Jesus did just that with a religious man who perhaps had doubts about his standing with God because he came to Jesus secretly . . .

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1–8)

Those who want to be Christians but scoff at the idea of being ‘born again’ do not like this passage. One of them said to me, “You people divide Christians into two groups, elevating yourselves as the ‘born agains’ and putting the rest of us down.”

Nicodemus didn’t talk like that, nor do I know any ‘born again’ people who think there are two classifications of Christians. In this conversation, Jesus makes it clear that no one can “see” or “enter” the kingdom of God without the experience of being made new or reborn. It is by this new life that Christianity becomes understandable. Without it, Christian concepts are blurry and misunderstood.

This does not make ‘born again’ Christians an elite group that can put themselves above others, particularly others who claim to be Christian but have never had that experience. If we did that, it means we have become spiritually proud and forgotten how we were saved in the first place.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9)

Salvation is God’s doing. Not only that, my Christian life is also God’s doing. I’m to walk with Him in the same manner as He saved me — in total dependence upon Him, not on my own strength:

“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.” (Colossians 2:6–7)

I received Him by faith and through being transformed into a new way of life by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is how I must also live, not as I once did — by my own wits and motivated by self-serving desires — but by faith and by the power of that new life — His life in me.

Jesus, it is good to be reminded of the way of salvation for this is how You want me to live today. I have already been reborn, so that does not have to happen again. However, I am to live in the power of that new life. Habit and that old nature make it easy to slip into former worldly and sinful ways of thinking, trying to impress others, exalting myself instead of You, and concerned only with me, myself, and I. Thank You for reminding me that I have a new life — and today is a good day to live accordingly.

August 30, 2017

Boasting? Not a good idea!

In our insecurities, we tend to compensate. While some make much of their inabilities (almost as if they are glorying in their shame) others boast in their human strengths, hoping to draw attention to something good about themselves. I’ve tried both, and neither works very well because both are products of pride. Instead, I’m supposed to be humble and rely on the strength of the Holy Spirit.

My areas of pride show up the most when I fall short in them. For instance, when I make any kind of error, I say to myself, “I’m so stupid.” This reveals that I value intelligence. To this, the Lord says . . . 

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) 

God isn’t interested in my IQ, but He does care that I know Him and that I practice steadfast love, justice, and righteousness. To do that, I need to be filled with the Holy Spirit for He is the source of all those things. Besides, when anyone is operating in the love of God, they do not brag . . . “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant.” (1 Corinthians 13:4)  

Obviously, God’s love is never self-serving so if I become concerned about my insecurities, I’m not relying on God and have turned to my own interests. This I must confess and turn back to relying on the Lord to take care of whatever is worrying me.

Not only all that, boasting is often part of the slippery slope of all other sin. Thomas Manton said: “First we practice sin, then defend it, then boast of it. Sin is first our burden, then our custom, then our delight, then our excellency.” I don’t want to ever think that any sin is worth boasting about.
I cannot boast of my strengths either. God challenges me, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Corinthians 4:7) All that I have is from God.  

I cannot boast about my plans: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” (Proverbs 27:1)

And I certainly cannot boast that I am a Christian because I’ve not earned or deserved it: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9)

I also need to watch out that I don’t boast that my way of doing things is better than the way of others. In the New Testament church, a group decided that everyone who claimed to be a Christian should be circumcised. They were convinced their way was right and those who went along with it prove the rightness of it. Paul refuted this sort of thinking:

“It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 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 6:12–14)

As I think of applying this to my own life, God reminds me of the times I’ve tried to convince people to do things the way I do them, things regarding Christian living, but also ordinary things like the best way to remove stains, or the best vitamins to take. Behind this attitude is that “I am right” pride, not God’s genuine love that never boasts.

Is boasting ever okay? As Paul said, “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)

He also knew where his power for daily life came from and how it came — through weakness, for God convinced him that weakness was not only okay but necessary: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Paul’s conclusion? “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

My problem with this reality is that pride does not like being weak or even feeling weak. However, being weak and depending on Christ almost always means I feel the weakness, not the power. Others may see it, but I don’t, and I’d rather I did! That said, it makes sense that God lets me feel helpless because He knows it does not take much for me to start boasting and slide down that slippery slope.

Jesus, You are sinless and yet You do not brag about it. That alone ought to be enough to keep me from boasting. However, You speak often to humble me and put me on the right path. You also send trials and put me in circumstances that are far beyond any skill or ability that I might boast about, teaching me to rely on You, to appreciate weakness, even to be glad it is there. 

August 29, 2017

Faith tests

My husband had a bad day yesterday. His incisions were weeping continually, which is a good thing rather than an internal fluid building up, but it requires continual blotting or it runs down his face. He has a new bruise below the crease of his ‘laugh line’ that gets redder by the hour. His ear is protruding because of the pressure dressings, also puffy and sore.

I could go on with more gross details, but, both of us felt discouraged. Ideas of his termination kept running through my head. He has CLL which lowers his immune system and if he gets infection or picks up some germs or a virus, he would likely not make it. My faith is strong when I know the answers, but for this I don’t know what will happen and feel a bit wobbly.

Today, I read Fortner’s devotional without any sense of God speaking to me, so turned to another one and read this passage:

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:38–44)

Lazarus died and his sisters, Mary and Martha, did not understand why Jesus had not come sooner. They knew He could have healed him, but Jesus stayed away. Earlier, He explained to His disciples, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:14–15)

In their mind, and in the minds of the two women, death was the end. Did they really believe that God could resurrect His people from the dead? Did they realize their faith was being tested? After asking both of the women if they believed, Jesus gave them a literal demonstration.

While not in exactly the same situation, I know our faith is also being tested. We have been doing a Bible study on how Satan works. The first part covered how he tries to mess with our minds. The second part says if he cannot trip us up there, he will attack our bodies. The Bible study author points to Job as an example. He walked with God and Satan challenged God that if Job’s life was not protected, he would lose the faith God gave him. God allowed this enemy of ours to take everything from him, including his health. His test was enormous.

We know that God is sovereign and gives “a way of escape” to the trials and temptations of life. In all cases, the way of escape involves faith. Will we trust God with this? Or will we panic and lose heart? Job’s wife even told him to “curse God and die” but this man, in spite of being in the dark over why this happened to him, still knew that God is God.

Jesus, we know it too. You are totally sovereign and sometimes let Satan do his thing, because the trials of life can build our faith. Our enemy tries to destroy it but pushing us away from You, but You defeated him at the Cross. His schemes may make us stumble, but You always pick us up. The truth is that even if death is at the end of a trial, life does not stop there. Lazarus rose again to life here on earth, and later died again, rising to life eternal. Whatever this trial does to us, we know that in it all, Jesus wins — and so do we!

Family note: Hubby had a much better day. Numbness is going away and level temperament returned. He is always thankful — for which I am thankful!