Saturday, March 25, 2017

A subtle desire for glory

Months ago, I presented an idea for ministry to our church leadership. They were all for it. However, I’ve been wondering if the idea was God’s or mine. Others think it is a great idea, but participation isn’t happening. I suspect I’ve goofed up somewhere, and asked the Lord to show me.

One answer came from today’s reading in My Utmost for His Highest. It is about ‘who gets the glory’ and even though I know this truth, knowing it is not the same as putting it into practice. Chambers uses this verse as his basis for what he says:

“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” (John 3:29)

Jesus is the groom and His friend who stands near and hears Him is like any best man, he is not there to grandstand, but to rejoice in the Groom and hearing His voice. Everything he does is about Jesus.

I’m not always doing that. Chambers says my goodness is not to attract attention to me, but be a magnet to draw others to Jesus. Otherwise, I can be a hindrance because people will glorify me instead of Him. The hard part is liking that attention.

Chambers goes on to say that obedience is occasional while abiding in Christ is a constant. If I’m not called to “do” any good things, I am still called to “be” in right relationship to my Savior. The ‘being’ part forms the greater portion of life. If my ‘being’ is intent on maintaining a close relationship and loyalty to the Lord, then when called upon to act, that focus will come to the forefront. If my ‘being’ is intent on fitting in, doing a great work, being a good prayer warrior, or any other thing, no matter how good that is, then that will be the focus, not Jesus.

I get it. I know it. I’m not there yet.

God shows me how my regular devotional reading is related to what Chambers says. It points out that ‘doing good’ is about the ‘rules’ of Christian life, and in trying to be a good Christian and do good things, my focus too easily slides to that instead of to glorifying Jesus Christ. He is “the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4)

Romans 7:1-13 speaks of the need to be dead to the law so that I can bear fruit for God. It adds, “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”

This passage points out that the law is not sin, but it serves to show that whatever we do in an attempt to obey it, we fall short. “Sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.”

What then is the point? From this passage and from others, I realize that trying to do ‘all the right things’ is futile because my efforts are my efforts. If this ministry idea is from God (and I’m not sure about that either), then He will work out the kinks and give me whatever I need to do my part. If not, then no amount of human effort will make it work.

Jesus, my efforts at self-glory are subtle, but they show up and, at best, are fruitless. My idea sounds good but its roots are in the wrong place. Instead of grace making it happen, I’ve been relying on my efforts. I’m aware that ‘relying on grace’ can also be a subtle selfish effort to get You to bless this plan. Instead, You have said that I am dead to sin and alive to God. Please turn my focus on the amazing goodness of You and teach me what I need to be so that You receive all glory. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

A self-check

Two Bible passages speak about doing a self-check regarding faith, but they are not exactly the same. One calls readers to make certain they are saved in the first place. The other calls Christians to verify their faith by their actions.

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

This first test for salvation asks readers to be certain that Jesus Christ lives in them. Behind this test is this truth:

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9–11)

This is a test for salvation: no one can be saved if Christ is not in them. His indwelling presence, regardless of whatever else is happening, makes salvation a certainty. “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)

The second test is about proving it. This proof comes from the effort taken to overcome sin and become more like the One who lives in me and gives me His nature:

“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:1–11)

True faith is based on the Word of God: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom. 10:17). This is not so much about knowing what the Bible says (that comes by study) but hearing God speak. It is His Word that convicts of sin and our inability to save ourselves. It is His Word that then convinces human hearts that Jesus is the Savior.
True faith turns me from ‘going my own way’ to instead seek the will of God. While this process takes time to develop and is often fraught with stumbling and pitfalls, yet because Christ lives in me I will persevere. The goal is to trust Christ alone and true faith knows it.

True faith also fills believers with a love for Jesus Christ and His people. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7–8) This also is progressive in that when I was first saved, I noticed the difference in my attitude toward God and people, but it takes a while to learn how to express it.

Today’s devotional reading offers more ways to make certain that our faith is certain, yet points out that the Bible does not tell us to examine others, only ourselves! Good advice. At the same time, another Christian warned me that too much ‘navel-gazing’ is not helpful either, and to keep my eyes on Jesus. It is in openly “beholding the glory of the Lord” that we are “transformed into the same image” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

O Jesus, I’ve learned the hard way that looking at myself too much so easily turns into evaluating my salvation by my performance and not by Your marvelous saving work. The best of this is that You are so easy to look at, so wonderful to see. Thank You for revealing Yourself and for saving me.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

From everlasting . . .

Lately I’ve been looking at pictures taken by the Hubble telescope. Besides these being mind-boggling, they convince me that “everlasting” is a reality. If the universe has a perimeter, what lies outside of it? If time has an ending, what comes after it? If God is not eternal, try to fathom a beginning and ending for Him?

Today’s devotional verses and reading are about God’s eternal covenant. These also use the word forever and link them to the life of His servant. While the words say “David” both Jews and Christians know that the passage from the Psalms is dropping big hints about the Messiah, the eternal Savior . . .

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20–21)

You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’” Selah (Psalm 89:3–4)

Of old you spoke in a vision to your godly one, and said: “I have granted help to one who is mighty; I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him, so that my hand shall be established with him; my arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not outwit him; the wicked shall not humble him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted. I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’ And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens. If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my rules, if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.” Selah (Psalm 89:19–37)

All of this and more give assurance that God’s covenant and salvation are everlasting; they are based on the everlasting love of God. All this was planned before the world began as God said:

“They shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” (Jeremiah 32:38–40)

Lord Jesus, You did this. Your Spirit changed the course and destination of my life. Instead of spending eternity banished from Your presence, I will be with You forever. I cannot grasp the enormity of You or Your creation, but I can grasp the fact and importance of Your love for me. Such amazing grace. Deepen my understanding of who You are and the greatness of Your everlasting truth.