Sunday, February 26, 2017

The bottom line

In many instances, I am a bottom line person. I want to know the why of everything. If someone does something odd, I try to learn why they did it to help me understand. Rarely can I dismiss weird or unusual situations without looking for the back story.

The same is true going the other way. If anyone tells me to do something, I want to know the reason for it and what it will accomplish. In mathematics, equations make sense. In life, do this and that will happen must also make sense. Otherwise, why do it?

Principles from the Word of God that offer a bottom line are often prefaced with ‘therefore’ or use ‘since’ followed by ‘then’ or ‘because’ as a heads up. The promises of God might use ‘if’ followed by ‘then’ when they are conditional, but not always. This one has trigger words with a definite bottom line.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10–11)

God says that His Word will do what He wants it to do. For instance, because “the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” it will expose the thoughts and intentions of the heart by dividing soul and spirit. (Hebrews 4:12)

The Word of God is the way that God saves people from sin in the first place. It gets inside the heart and reveals both sin and the Savior. It also acts as a mirror, showing me what I am really like . . .

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:19–25)

By His Word, God shows me what I am like and as I persist in reading it, He shows me what I need to do. The actions prescribed will vary, but they do have a commonality, a bottom line . . .

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:13–16)

While this one is a bit harder to grasp, it is saying that God’s Word is powerful to expose both my ‘former ignorance’ and show me what holiness looks like. It also hints at a bottom line for what happens if I am ‘preparing my mind for action’ and not being ‘conformed to my former ignorance’ . . .

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God . . . .” (1 Peter 1:22–23)

The bottom line throughout the Bible story is God’s love and that we love God and love others as ourselves. This is actually only one command since I show my love for God by doing what He tells me to do, and He tells me over and over and in many ways that I am to love others from a pure heart. That pure heart is developed by letting the Word of God have its way in my life.

Jesus, I feel Your smile and hear You say, “Keep reading, Elsie. Keep studying, and doing what I tell you to do.”

There is such a vibrant connection between the written Word of God and the Living Word of God. Without You, Jesus, I am unable to do anything You say, but You live in my heart. You have made decisions easier as You encourage me to keep my focus on You and Your commands. Thank You for giving me a desire to continually seek the bottom line for all issues and problems, even all gifts and delights— because in all of what challenges, puzzles, or blesses me, the bottom line is always You.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

True or false?

Being misunderstood despite all efforts to be clear is particularly frustrating. Sometimes I blame myself for not being a good communicator, and that is even more frustrating. What is worse is when the truth is told and someone accuses you of lying.

Recently, this happened to me. As I read the Bible passages for today, I realized the power of lies in the human mind. No explanation, however clear it might be, can change the mind of someone who rejects truth and lucid reasoning. While it hurts when someone does it to me, I also feel upset when biblical truth is dismissed or even said to be a lie.

Lately I notice how many young people use social media and news channels on the Internet for their sources of information. These are not always reliable nor tested for their dependability. Also, God tells me to be on the alert and discern what I hear. It is dangerous to believe just anything.  

While it hurts when someone says I am telling a lie, it seems to me that when God is spoken of as not being true or relevant, He is more concerned for the one who has misunderstood  or dismissed Him. They have fallen into a trap . . .

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” (1 John 4:1–3)

Christians talk about the Antichrist as a person who will show up and mesmerize millions of people. The author of my devotional book points out several verses that indicate this antichrist is not a single person but a system or way of thinking that opposes Christ, and that it has been here for a couple thousand years. One of the verses he quotes says . . .

“Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18)

Other passages say things like . . .

“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming . . . .”

Regardless of whether Antichrist is a system of thought or a single person, the one behind the associated lies is the actual enemy. I need to discern His lies because they are terribly dangerous. He is in the business of deluding people so as to change their eternal destiny. Worse yet, those who believe his lies are in danger from God who can eventually give them over to such horrible delusion.   

“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

Today, after being attacked by someone who believes a lie about me, I have to remember truth about God, but also truth about myself. I am not telling lies, nor have I done things that this person accuses me of doing. This part of God’s Word is easily personalized to help me understand this attack . . .

I am thankful for those who are beloved by the Lord, because He chose us to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. It was this to which He called us through the Gospel, so that we have obtained the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. We can stand firm and hold to the teaching of God’s Word, either through the Bible or sound preaching. The Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father loves us and gives eternal comfort and good hope through grace. He comforts our hearts and establishes us in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:1–17)

Jesus, I cannot change the hearts of those determined to go against You, Your people, and against me personally. But I can trust You to give me grace to deal with it, and perhaps to show mercy to those who are in the grip of a false understanding.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sharing good news

If ten people were asked the purpose of the church, there could be ten different answers, yet many will agree that the Body of Christ is to share the good news. My hubby like this quote: “At all times, preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words.”

Today’s devotional reading says that “the singular method of biblical evangelism is gospel preaching. When our Lord told us to go into all the world, he did not tell us to entertain the world, to change the world, to provide counseling for the world, to educate the world or to get control of political offices so that we could rule the world.”

Instead, Jesus said . . .

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15–16)

(Just to confirm, the rest of the New Testament is clear that baptism saves no one, but it is first step of obedience to the Lord and therefore a declaration that the person being baptized has been saved.)

Most people begin a letter with Dear . . . but Paul was so intent on preaching the Gospel that he began many of his letters/epistles by declaring or including elements of this grand truth. For example . . .

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:1–7)

Paul commended the church at Rome because they were fulfilling their purpose. He said, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” (Romans 1:8) Very soon into his letter, he explained his own reason for proclaiming his faith . . .

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16–17)

Living by faith means talking about the One that I trust, yet also living in such a way that faith is demonstrated. That is, if troubles and trials come, faith keeps me from falling apart. How could I claim to believe in a sovereign God who has good purpose for my life if all may actions failed to affirm it?

Yet the Gospel message is not about me and the way I live. It is about the amazing life and death and resurrection of the Lord, of Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:30–2:5).

I love the quote in the devotional from Rowland Hill. He said, “Any message which does not contain the three ‘R’s’ [Ruin by the Fall, Redemption by the blood, and Regeneration by the Holy Spirit] ought never to have been preached.”

Jesus, You have given me a task to declare the good news, the Gospel, in a simple, clear way. I like those three ‘R’s’ that underscore the fact that God saves sinners through the merits of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. You are blessed. Grant me grace and wisdom as I share with others all that You have done!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fear of not making the grade . . .

Two of my friends have a firm knowledge of ‘salvation by faith’ yet occasionally admit to a fear: “But what if I don’t do it right?” They admit knowing that ‘doing it right’ is not the Gospel, yet this fear creeps in and turns their joy into anxiety.

Fear is mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible, most often with an admonition to have courage, or trust God. When a Jewish leader came to Jesus requesting He come home with him and heal his daughter, some came from his house saying his daughter is dead, and not to trouble Jesus any longer. However, Jesus ignored them and said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” (Mark 5:36)

Believe what? That the girl would be raised? That this bad news was in error? That she wasn’t really dead?

When I get in a dither about something, I want to believe the problem will go away, or be solved, or that I can handle this, but that is not the believing Jesus looked for. It isn’t believing that what I want to happen will happen, but believing in God and what He has done and will do. Such faith begins with believing in Him for salvation . . .

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16–18)

The problem is human thinking and the perversity of our pride. Salvation without earning it goes against our nature and our nurture. In life, there are no rewards that are undeserved. We have to work to get paid, be nice to have friends, put our best foot forward to get a job, and so it goes. Even when we ‘know’ that salvation is by grace alone there is that nagging voice whispering, “But you have to earn it.”

It is not what I do, but what Christ has done that saves me, yet the idea creeps into my mind that before I can truly trust Christ, I must be deeply convicted of sin, weep and mourn over it, desire holiness, repent, long for Christ, and earnestly seek Him.

This sounds right, but it is merely the voice of salvation by works. This happens to people both before that initial yielding to Christ, and after trusting Him and becoming a Christian. Yet Jesus said, “Do not fear, only believe.” ONLY means ONLY — nothing more. Believing Jesus means no prerequisites or qualifications. Trusting Christ alone is how I entered into a saving relationship with Him, and it is how I am to live out my Christian life . . . 

“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)

If I am saved by faith, so also I must live in faith, trusting ONLY Christ, not myself, my own wits, or anything else. Yet even knowing this is the way it is, my pride and my sin nature often sticks thoughts into my head of what I must do to solve the issues  of life.

The rub is that God also gives directions by speaking directly into my mind. So how do I know the difference? Those thoughts must be verified by God’s Word.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

And the Holy Spirit says, “Keep reading it, Elsie, keep reading it!”

Jesus, You are the Living Word and by believing You, I know You as Savior and Lord. And for the nitty-gritty of life and how to address what happens, including my fears, You have blessed me with the written Word. I am so thankful for many reasons, and at the top of the list is this wonderful fact: through Your Word You reveal to me what I need to know for all decisions and in all situations. Because of Your grace, I do not need to fear, only believe.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Relativism and absolutes

Last night I listened to an educated doctor say that drinking coffee was good for people. I chuckled, because drinking coffee would throw my heart into A-fib, and while that might not kill me, it certainly would not be good for me. That said, the idea that things can be true for one person and not another often needs qualification.

Coffee being good for some people but not for others supports this idea, but many other examples do not. For instance, breathing is necessary for everyone. So is drinking water, but not trying to walk on it. All people benefit from food also, and from protection from the elements.

Beyond these universals, personal preference makes things fuzzy. I like chocolate; my husband does not. I would say it was good for me and he would not agree that it was good for him. This is a minor thing, but human preference can go to astonishing extremes.

For instance, last night on the news, one lead story was about an obese woman whose doctor told her that losing weight would solve her three major health problems. She interpreted his wisdom and authority as “discrimination” and was crying for laws to protect her from such treatment. In her mind, a preference for too much food gave her the right to eat the way she wanted and the doctor could not infringe upon that. She just wanted him to fix her medical issues or in other words, treat the symptoms and not the cause.

This is where I struggle with those who reject absolute truth and any kind of authority, particularly that of our Creator. Even if they acknowledge that God actually exists, they insist what He says is not about them, and what He demands is only for those who accept it. When God says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” His words are taken as somebody’s opinion. Personal preference says this can be ignored because “it does not apply to me.”

I’m more black and white concerning truth. Besides believing that if God says it, it must be true, I try to base most of my ideas on the source of information rather than my own reasoning about it. That is, if the town’s biggest liar told me my car was stolen, I’d check the garage first. If a website tells me I should not eat popcorn, I will seek other sources. However, if God tells me that my life needs a fix, I try to find my mirror so I could see what He is talking about and fix it.

All that said, faith is not only believing what God says, but ‘acting as if God is telling the truth.’ With all belief systems, anyone who ignores their own ideas of truth really doesn’t believe them at all.

Faith that acts includes the negatives, like ‘all have sinned’ but it also covers the good news . . . “Christ redeemed . . . .” (Galatians 3:13)

The Word of God would be a horror and a total candidate for relativity if all that it said was that I am a lost and hopeless sinner. Who wants to hear that? Instead of saying stuff like “this might be true for you but not for me” is not balanced unless they read all of what God says, not just the bad stuff.

God provides a way out for our sin. We fall short, but He loves us too much to leave us with just that. The Old Testament sacrifices were a “shadow of the good things to come” and even though those sacrifices were continually offered every year” they could “not make perfect those who draw near.” Instead, they were a “reminder of sins” and their seriousness.

Those offerings also demonstrated the faith of those who offered them. Clearly, God was looking for faith, not for the “blood of bulls and goats” that could not take away sins.
While these were important for after the fact of sin, what God really wants is obedience. The Bible says, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.”

In speaking of Christ, this is the good news; Jesus came to do what all of humanity fails to do. He “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins . . . sat down at the right hand of God . . . . and by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:1–14)

By Jesus becoming sin for us, God offers good news. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37) All who believe and receive Jesus will experience forgiveness of sin and eternal life!

Those who reject the “all are sinners” part also miss out on the “all who believe” part and the experience of redemption. All who say, “That is fine for you but not for me” miss out because of two little words that offend them: all and sin. Instead, they figuratively sue God for discrimination and miss out on the total well-being that He offers.

Jesus, I feel like weeping. Accepting the reality of what I am and what I have done is no fun, but knowing You and knowing that I have eternal life because of You goes beyond fun into a deep joy — a joy that I know will only intensify and eventually turn into eternal bliss that cannot ever be lost or destroyed. Thank You for helping me see how much I need You rather than dismissing You.