July 31, 2016

Trained to change

A well-known singer croons a song with the words, “I did it my way.” Those words remind me of a small child who insists “me do it” when trying to do something impossible with his tiny fingers, or a teenager when confronted about her behavior and declares, “It’s my life . . . .”

Me, myself, and I is my worst problem. God wants me to do His will and that goes contrary to natural inclination. To be clear, the desire to do things the way I want to (in contrast to God’s way) is not as simple as mere preference. God does not concern Himself with whether my walls are green or purple, or I like chocolate better than vanilla. He is looking for a heart that is yielded to His will. We don’t start out that way. Isaiah says . . .

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

Doing it my way can be innocent and about preferences, but when it comes to the will of God, my way is sinful to the core. His will is that I love and obey Him, but sin puts commands like loving Him with all my heart and my neighbor as myself in reverse priority. Sin twists the Golden Rule to expect others to do for me as I want done. Sin is a habit from childhood that is only overcome by the power of God in a regenerated life.

Because of how I understand sin, I don’t understand these words from today’s devotional reading, “Many of us are all right in the main, but there are some domains in which we are slovenly. It is not a question of sin, but of the remnants of the carnal life which are apt to make us slovenly. Slovenliness is an insult to the Holy Ghost. There should be nothing slovenly, whether it be in the way we eat and drink, or in the way we worship God.”

Slovenliness is the failure to do things that I should do. One example: evil exists when "good" people fail to act. This failure is closely related to sloth or laziness, considered one of the seven deadly sins by the early Catholic church. Proverbs 6:6-19 has a different list of the seven worst sins, but the failure to live up to the will of God is always considered a sin in Scripture.

In my understanding, slovenly is about laziness in any area of life. I don’t beat myself up over a messy desk or watching television when I should be weeding the garden, but I have noticed that this attitude carries over into spiritual responsibilities. If insulting the Holy Spirit is not sin, I would not know any other way to describe it.

That said, God is at work to produce steadfastness in me rather than letting me be slovenly. The Greek word for steadfast is: “the power to withstand hardship or stress; especially the inward fortitude necessary.” Like most virtues, God uses the ordinary things of life to teach us fortitude . . .

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4)

Some things are not a big test of faith. For instance, I make quilts. Usually there are no deadlines, but because of my easily distracted mind, there should be. I can start one, get bored, start another, and pile up a host of unfinished projects. Is this slovenly? It must be since God is impressing on me that I should finish what I start, be diligent. Most of us know that if diligent in one area, that same attitude transfers to others. That is, if I can keep my desk clean, I will also be able to do the same with my kitchen, car, and mind.

Jesus also said that he who is faithful in little will be faithful in much. (Luke 16:10-12) If I can be diligent in a little thing, I will be able to grow in diligence for bigger things.

For this growth, God uses trials. They bring out the ability to withstand greater trials. This is so important that James tells us to joyfully face our trials. I know that each trial is a test of faith, so will I trust God in this or will I abandon faith and do it my way? The more I trust God in the little things, the more apt I am to trust Him in the bigger trials.

The point of today’s devotional reading is that God allows no escape in this training. He keeps bringing me back to whatever issue in life that needs change. “It may be a question of impulse . . . mental wool-gathering, or independent individuality” whatever is “not entirely right.”

This doesn’t mean I’m failing as a Christian. It does mean that I need to grow in my faith and never assume any slide into ‘doing it my way’ is a good thing. God will persist until I trust Him totally, so much so that I can say with Jesus, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

July 30, 2016

Who can be trusted?

Seeing a miracle can produce faith, but perhaps only a ‘faith’ of sorts, one that is temporary. As soon as the miracles stop, those who claimed they believed are no longer interested.

“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:23–25)

These few verses are sad because this is the way humans often respond to an act of God that pleases them. However, Jesus knows that when the signs cease coming, most people wander off looking for something else that will make them happy.

On the other hand, these verses are an encouragement. They tell me that it is wise to leave the discernment of hearts to God. He alone knows what people are thinking. If I make assumptions and those assumptions are in error, I will be disappointed when I discover my error.

For a long time, my na├»ve self found trust easier than try to figure out if a person was being deceptive. In a Pollyanna sort of way, I was setting myself up for heartbreak, but didn’t realize it. My parents and siblings were trustworthy, so why not everyone else? I didn’t want to think the worst of anyone, but it wasn’t long before the disappointments started coming.

Chambers affirms that my refusal to be disillusioned is a cause of much suffering in life. Eventually it begins to demand perfection which obviously cannot be given. If I believed God, I’d be more on track for His Word exposes the heart condition of everyone: we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. God alone is perfect. Not only can I trust Him totally, He alone “can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart.”

Chambers also considers God severe regarding human relationships “because He knows that every relationship not based on loyalty to Himself will end in disaster.” He trusted no man in the sense of being oblivious to our great flaw; we are selfish, even when we are ‘religious’ and trying to be godly. At the same time, He was not bitter about our failure . . . 

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

God also knows His own heart. He does not give up on sinners because He knows He can transform those He loves into the image of Jesus Christ. His heart and His power can change lives.

My mistake was thinking I can do the same thing, but when I tried it, it became the second most frustrating discovery. The first was finding out that no one measures up, not anyone, especially not me — and none of us can hide that reality from our all-seeing, all-knowing God.

July 29, 2016

God in the Clouds

Our city experienced several incredible thunder storms last week. One of them brought so much rain in a short time that a major freeway flooded in a few underpasses. People stranded in cars were rescued with boats! Yesterday, severe lightning held up a CFL game for a long time. A suburb received so much rain and hail that people had to shovel nearly a food of the white stuff off their driveways as if it were snow. The clouds were spectacular.

This morning, Chambers points to the ways the Bible connects God with clouds. I have noticed how often it says God controls the weather, but Chambers believes that clouds are “the dust of our Father’s feet” and a sign of His presence. He refers to these verses describing the return of Jesus Christ in the clouds . . .

“John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (Revelation 1:4–8)

Jesus will come with literal clouds, yet clouds can also be metaphorical. We often connect them with sorrow, suffering, or events that seem to contradict the sovereignty of God. Yet as I walk with Him, I realize that those tough clouds in life teach me to walk by faith. Not only that, the saying that every cloud has a silver lining is true. God is there in those difficult clouds, using them for His good purpose, so much so that I’m beginning to see even the tough stuff as a gift from God.

God does teach me in trials. As Chambers says, often He wants me to unlearn something, to simplify my faith so my relationship to Him is like a child and everything else fades to the background. He alone is the light of my life, and by Him I begin to see all of life differently. Chambers says, “Unless we can look the darkest, blackest fact full in the face without damaging God’s character, we do not yet know Him.”

In other words, the purpose of those dark clouds is to bring me to the place where I can enter them without fear, realizing that Jesus is with me in that place. He will not leave or forsake me, and He will use the cloud to bring me into a deeper blessedness and a closer relationship with Him.

July 28, 2016

God’s goal for my life

At the beginning of studying for a master’s degree in theology, one of my professors said, “We do not study to be prepared for a future career; we study to experience God changing our lives.”

Today’s devotional reading says something similar. Chambers says God is not leading him to a particular end. Instead, His purpose is that he depends on Him and His power right now. “It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God.”

Chambers draws this from an incident in the New Testament just after Jesus fed 5000 men (plus women and children) with five loaves and two fish . . .

“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:45–52)

Using this passage, Chambers wants to disarm the idea that life lessons are some sort of preparation for future successes, much like my professor was giving a head’s up regarding the purpose of grad school.

However, God actually does have an end result in mind for His people. Romans 8:28-29 and 1 John 3:2 are clear; His goal is that I am transformed into the image of His Son. While it will not be complete until I see Jesus face-to-face, each event, trial, even daily monotony and all of life’s experiences are used by God toward that transformation. During all those experiences, He is giving me opportunity to live up to that purpose, to be what He has recreated me to be. Nothing is unimportant to His plan.

Further, I cannot excuse myself from Spirit-filled obedience by assuming God has no reason for what He allows to happen. He is using everything for His purposes. Nor can I assume that because He will finish the job in the end, I can merely coast until I get to heaven.

Chambers points out that I cannot assume that my obedience will produce great success, at least not immediately. The disciples did what Jesus told them to do and they wound up in a storm and terrified. When Jesus walked on the wind-tossed waves, got into the boat with them, and the storm stopped, they were astonished, but their hearts were not changed to greater faith. Instead, they became hard-hearted. This incident no doubt affected their faith later, but at the time, it added to their cluelessness.

I can relate to that. As I try to figure out the purpose of some things, I realize that I’ve no clue what is going on much of the time. I only know God’s goal – that I be like Jesus, clueless or not – in the middle of the muddle. Jesus always knew what was going on, but I am not there yet.

Life is often a mystery, but the promise and plan of God is certain; He is changing my life to be like that of His Son. The best I can do is live up to what I know and allow Him to govern my actions and responses. This fulfills His will for me, at least for that spot in time and space.

And if the muddle continues, either in life or in my mind, I am comforted to know that He knows what He is doing and His purposes cannot be thwarted by my inability to grasp and hold on. He will continue to ‘dust and polish’ until this mirror more perfectly reflects His image, even though it will take a lifetime and then some.

July 27, 2016

Beware of the Liar . . .

This morning, my husband had an appointment in the hospital for an angiogram. He had to be there at 6:30 so before we left, I read today’s devotional from “My Utmost for His Highest” without reading the entire verse or its context.

Chambers quoted Jesus from John 7:17 exactly this way: “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine . . .” Then he went on to say that if a person wants insight into what Jesus Christ teaches, he can only get it by obedience and if a person is in the dark, it is because of deliberate disobedience.

I’ve been asking God to show me what to do in a few areas of life, and as yet have no answers. He is silent, but I’ve not been concerned because He will show me in His time. However, when I read Chambers’ interpretation of this verse, I began to feel accused. Am I in the dark because I am disobedient? What did I do? Where am I being disobedient? My mind began to fog up. I felt arrows aimed at me and a settling sense of oppression and uncertainty.

Later, I read the rest of the verse and the verses around it. This is what it says . . .
“About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, ‘How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?’ So Jesus answered them, ‘My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.’” (John 7:14–18)
In this passage, Jesus defends His authority. He is not telling me that I will learn God’s will by obedience. Instead, He is saying those who obey Him will know that His teaching is from God. He is talking to a religious establishment who questions why He can say what He says. The rest of John’s gospel says that the obedience Jesus looks for is the obedience of faith, of trusting Him for their salvation. If they do that, they will be convinced that His teaching is from God.

As for how this passage applies to me, I know obedience is important and that I must walk by the light that God has given me, but I also know not every instance of uncertainty is related to disobedience. For instance, I might not be ready for the light that He can give.

In addition, obedience does not earn God’s light. He gives it because I need it, not because I deserve it. Obedience is God at work in me, not me working to gain a pat on the head from Him.

I began wondering why many of Chambers' readings are spot on, but there are times, like today, where they sound more like I am wrong, wrong, wrong, not doing enough, etc. and he is accusing his readers, hinting at salvation by works, and producing a confusing sense of vague guilt.

When the Holy Spirit convicts me of sin, He is clear in what needs confessing and clear about what I must do. If the accusations are foggy and unclear, they are always from the Liar who was cast down and now accuses God’s people day and night before God (see Revelation 12:10).

Satan is busy trying to cast me down with him, but “Jesus lives forever to intercede for me.” I have conquered that Liar by Jesus’ shed blood, by declaring my testimony of salvation, and by not being concerned about my life (verse 11).  

I know that sin messes up understanding, but Jesus died for that sin that He might give everlasting life, and along with it His wisdom and everything I need to live a godly life. I also know that God is not the author of confusion. Instead, Satan loves to throw lies at me to get me confused, to offset the power of faith and the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Today, my prayer to God is this: If Your silence is due to my sin, show me what I need to confess. Forgive and cleanse me. Grant grace and show me what to do. If Your silence is merely “Please wait” then please protect me from the enemy who wants me to feel guilty all the time, even over sin that You have already covered in the blood of the Lamb. Also, grant me a gracious heart toward Chambers and others who shake their fingers rather than point them in the direction of Jesus Christ.

Later: As soon as I prayed, the oppression lifted. I am not to be ignorant of Satan’s devices. As for my hubby, he had three stents put in near his heart, one that was seriously large. They are keeping him in recovery for at least tonight and maybe two days to make certain everything is okay. He feels great and has the most amazing attitude. Thank You, Lord.

July 26, 2016

Rituals or Redemption . . .

The religious people of Jesus’ day had rituals that they assumed would please God. One of them was a ceremonial hand washing that they thought represented their innocence and purity. When Jesus’ disciples ate without performing this ritual, these Pharisees and scribes were not pleased. However, Jesus said to them . . .

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:18–20)

As Chambers says, most people will deny feeling these awful things in their hearts. They claim ignorance and innocence, yet actually they simply do not believe what Jesus says. He adds, “either Jesus Christ is the supreme Authority on the human heart, or He is not worth paying any attention to.”

Obviously, Jesus cannot be telling the truth if He is lying. The Bible cannot be true if words like this are not true . . . 

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10–18)

I can read this and believe it is true about others, like the people who go into a mall and shoot children, or the people who make their living selling heroin, or the people who beat their wives — but what about me?

In trying to find out something about the ritual of hand washing, I happened on a book whose author said we are not sinners because of what we do because of our circumstances, or past mistreatments; we are sinners because of what we are: selfish, prideful, and only interested in having what we want when we want it.

It is easy to blame all sorts of things for having evil thoughts, but I realize that such things cannot be eradicated by rituals, by saying verses to counter them, by doing all the right things as if not following through on those thoughts gives me the right to declare my innocence. As Chambers says, it is a fool’s paradise to think that such ‘innocence’ is a safe refuge.

I’ve made excuses for sinful thinking. Chambers goes farther; he names the motives for those excuses and says anyone who does not carry out their evil thoughts is more likely a coward. We live in a civilized world and are afraid of what people will think. Any abstinence is more about loss in stature rather than obedience to God.

Chambers says, and I agree, that “When I am undressed before God, I find that Jesus Christ is right in His diagnosis.” He is also right in saying that the only safeguard is the Redemption of Jesus Christ. By giving myself to Him, “I need never experience the terrible possibilities that are in my heart.”

Of course godliness and purity is too deep down for me to get to naturally or by any of my own strategies. I need the Holy Spirit. He brings into the center of my life the very life of Jesus Christ. As 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, He becomes to me “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

He can do that only because He died to take my sin and lives to replace it with Himself.