December 31, 2016

The past, the future, and right now . . . .

The last day of a year prompts evaluation of the past, hope for the New Year, and thoughtful consideration of both in the light of today. Chambers selected a small bit of a larger passage that is also about the past, the future, and decisions to be made in the present.

The scene points to the people of God who had been exiled into Babylon due to their disobedience. They now detested the idols they once served and were ready to recommit their lives to faithfully follow the Lord. Isaiah the prophet speaks to their situation with these words:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the Lord. For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard. (Isaiah 52:7–12)

The good news was that they were now redeemed from captivity. It was so exciting that even the feet of the messenger appeared beautiful! Now they could return to Zion and those who had waited for this news were singing for joy. God’s people were both comforted and excited.

I can relate to this. It seems that my Christian life is a series of lessons in which I fail, God lets me try my own way — which puts me into a captivity to my own foolishness — then as I realize my folly, He sets me free to return to the joy of serving Him. Some of these lessons are very short, but a few of them cover weeks and even months where I’ve spun my wheels before lamenting and discovering that God still waits for me to wake up and repent. He will set me free when I’m ready to acknowledge that He reigns — and I no longer am the boss of my own life.

As the Jewish people celebrated their release and freedom, God wanted them to know that what was happening to them would be a message to the world about His power to save. He told them to go out of that place using similar words of the time when He told them to leave the bondage of Egypt. Only this time, there were not to take any plunder, or flee in a hurry. Their victory was certain so they did not need to rush, but they must purify themselves and take only those things which belonged to God.

One writer says, “There is more to be left behind than Babylon; there is the whole ambience of worldliness and estrangement from God that it represents.” Their physical leaving points to a pilgrimage away from sin and selfishness, from falling into immoral behavior and depending on their own ideas. This release marked a new beginning, not unlike their release from Egypt, but deeper and with greater impact.

I can relate to this too. When I was first saved, my deliverance was similar to their flight from Egypt. For me it is an image or depiction of being redeemed from the bondage of sin. God allowed me to bring something of that old life into the new, but only that I might realize how it would trip me up. He wanted me to learn how to rely only on Him and He did it by letting me find out that only He is reliable and worthy of my dependence.

He also taught these deeper things through my wanderings in the wilderness, and used my stubborn resistance to Him to take me places I did not want to be. This is His way of testing and affirming whether or not I would leave my own ways and be fully yielded to Him.

Finally, the Jews were also told that God would go before them and behind them. He would cover the past and take care of whatever happened then, but also be ahead of them to guide them in their renewed life.

Of course this is always the way of God. He never leaves or forsakes His people. He covers my past sin and guides me through the mazes of life. This is also good news.

There is a difference between God’s people of Isaiah’s time and my experience with Him today; the difference is Jesus. They looked forward in faith, which may have been more difficult than looking back and seeing the life, death and resurrection of my Lord and Savior. Yet all must learn the very same truth: faith in Him covers past mistakes, future uncertainties, and today’s desires. I can both celebrate the past and look forward to the future. I can also plan for this day knowing that without Him, I can do nothing, but with Christ I can do all things.

December 30, 2016

Living Water and New Life

Today, my thoughts from God’s Word coincide with Chambers’ last lines in his devotional reading. He says, “God does not build up our natural virtues and transfigure them, because our natural virtues can never come anywhere near what Jesus Christ wants. No natural love, no natural patience, no natural purity can ever come up to His demands. But as we bring every bit of our bodily life into harmony with the new life which God has put in us, He will exhibit in us the virtues that are characteristic of the Lord Jesus.”

The Bible refers to this new life in many ways. One of them is ‘living water’ or ‘springs of water’ and this water is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ . . .

Singers and dancers alike say, “All my springs are in you.” (Psalm 87:7)
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.” (Isaiah 12:3–4)
And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Revelation 21:6)

That some of my family members plus millions of other people do not have or even seem to thirst for this incredible living water makes me sad. I’m also downcast because the news is filled with the most horrid stories. A father shoots his two teen sons then himself. A mother stabs her adult daughter to death. War is destroying entire cites and leaving millions dead or homeless. Children are sold as sex slaves. Families die in fires. Seldom do we hear good news. Most of it is about death and tragedy. Chambers speaks of natural love and other virtues, yet these seem to be sliding into oblivion.

People close to me who once seemed to believe in Jesus now mock Him. Unless their faith is made new, they are living apart from God and separated from those of us who “wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:10)

Even as a Christian, I know what it is to anger God. He cares far more about my purity than my comfort and does whatever is necessary to rid my life from sin.

How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:29–31)

Those ‘springs of living water’ gave me this burden for those who turn away from Jesus. If it were not for Him, I would not care about the eternal destiny of others. Instead, I would be like them — and not care about it for myself either.

Thank You Jesus for good news. You grant forgiveness and new life to those who seek You, not just a change in our innermost being which is wonderful, but also the gift of the life that lasts forever with You in Your perfect eternal home.

December 29, 2016

When Jesus offends . . .

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:63–66)

When Jesus talked in metaphor and other figures of speech, those who literally interpreted Him were upset, and it is no wonder. Just before those words above, He said, 
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:53–56)
I understand what it means to draw my very life from Jesus. However on that day many did not get it because they did not believe in Him. They might have been “disciples” in the sense of followers who hung around Jesus to listen to Him and hopefully get fed or healed — the world today has many of those — but they did not have the life of Christ in them; they were not born anew or filled with faith from God, nor did they have the Holy Spirit in their hearts.

Jesus knew who fit into what category. His twelve disciples had trouble with what He said too, but when He asked if they were going away too, Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68–69)

This exchange tells me that faith is not about understanding everything God says, but about understanding who Jesus is and that He gives eternal life to those who come to Him because the Father has granted them to do so. Because of this, everyone from a child to a PhD can believe in Jesus Christ.

It also tells me that people will follow Jesus, listen to Him, even appear to be genuine disciples, but when confronted with what Jesus actually teaches, or what He doesn’t give them what they expected, they will run the other direction.

Someone put a poster on Facebook this week of a supposed comparison of world religions. Christianity was first with the Golden Rule of “Do unto others what you would have them do to you.” Then the writings of eight others followed with variations of the same idea. Those who posted and responded remarked that they did not understand why people of various ‘faiths’ could not get along because they essentially believe the same thing.

This shows a misunderstanding of the basics of Jesus’ teaching. He did teach that ‘rule’ but not as a foundation for faith. Instead, it is a result of faith. Believing in Him is about drawing our very life from Him, about eating and drinking Jesus — and I cannot do that unless the Father draws me to Him. Being nice to people is not offensive, but people are offended when told they cannot be nice (as God measures it) unless they trust the Son of God with all their hearts.

I know that any clarification of that poster would be offensive to those who promoted it. They have already expressed that they are not interested in becoming a new creation or having Jesus living and ruling in their hearts. They just want everyone to agree and get along and be nice to each other, even if that means avoiding the rest of what Jesus teaches.

December 28, 2016

Humility like a child

When my children were small and wanted to help, I learned two things. One was never to say “you are too little” — to them, that sounded demeaning. The second was to let them try. If they were too little, they soon realized and often said so. After thinking about this, it seems this ability to admit that ‘I can’t’ is what Jesus was talking about in these verses . . .

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1–4)

To enter the kingdom of heaven, I must realize and admit that I cannot do it; I need Jesus Christ. Salvation and conversion are the work of God, not anything that I can do . . .

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)

After that initial salvation where God saved me from the penalty of sin, the process of being delivered from its power continues. However, this process is not what many Christians think it is, nor is it like the church at Galatia thought . . .

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1–3)

Several times I’ve said ‘I can’t’ to others and been told to ‘try harder’ or given encouragement like, ‘Sure you can; you are smart and can do anything you put your mind to.’ The diagram in yesterday’s post illustrates a truth that eludes many people, even Christians. We are saved by grace through faith, but we are also perfected or made mature by grace through faith . . .

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)

Growing in grace is the same as being saved by grace. It is also the opposite of taking the bull by the horns and trying to conquer sin by bringing that old nature into subjection. This can only be done by the same process by which I received Christ. In my conversion, He came to me, He spoke to me, He changed my life. My part was to confess my sin and need, trusting Him to do the rest. I soon realized that even the faith to believe is a gift from God, not my own doing.

I’ve often claimed that 1 John 1:9 is the most important verse in the Bible for Christian growth and life. It says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Jesus might have said the same thing this way: “Whoever humbles himself like a child, confessing ‘I cannot do it’ will be the one who can do it, who can overcome sin — because that person is trusting Me to do it for them!”

December 27, 2016

Spirit, Soul, and Body

Every time that Chambers talks about the human will I’ve thought of this diagram. It explains how God changes lives.

The drawing on the left depicts the person who does not know God. This person’s spirit is dead to (or separated from) God because of sin. Such a person has a soul which consists of intellect, emotions, and will. However, those faculties are governed by the desires of their flesh, the pressures of the world, and the lies of Satan, which they may or may not be aware of. Those who observe this person will see a life governed by the soul. It can range from tightly self-controlled (emphasis on ‘self’) morality to deeply evil behavior.

The circles on the right depict a Spirit-filled Christian. This person is alive to God because his spirit has been reborn through the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Yielded to the Lord, he no longer listens to the dictates of the world, the flesh, or the devil, even though they still bombard him with temptation. Instead, his soul and body function according to the leading and desires of the Spirit who lives within. If this person is transparent, people will see Jesus in him.

Note: if a Christian is not yielded to the Holy Spirit, he will live much like an unsaved person except that there is a battle between the inner spirit and the flesh. The New Testament describes this battle:

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. (Galatians 5:16–17)

When Chambers talks about the need to exercise our will in the battle against sin, the ‘will’ he is talking about is depicted on the right. It is the power of volition that is yielded to Christ through redemption.

Even though this is the ideal, I know from sad experience that those arrows can switch direction. If I have some strong “I wants” then my will can become reversed, more like an “I won’t.” Without the Holy Spirit, my will power is useless in battling sin. In order for the arrows to flow outward again, I need to confess my sin and rely on God to get me back on track.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! (Psalm 31:2)

Again, should I try to overcome temptation by the power of my human will alone, it will not work. Nor will intellectual reasoning help me; I can realize something is sin, but cannot mentally gain victory over it. Emotions like anger at my sinfulness will not work either. The flesh is useless and apart from Christ, I can do nothing. I need to be filled with His Spirit so His life is flowing outward from the core, from the One who lives in my heart.

Today, Chambers uses part of this passage to talk about the need of settling issues with God in the “secret places of my soul.”

“If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.” (Jeremiah 4:1–2)

Prompted by Jeremiah’s words, I’d say most Christians know what it means to have the Lord God rule their lives and be blessed. In Him we will glory. We also know that we cannot “remove the detestable things” from His presence in the power of the flesh. We might want to, but we find ourselves unable. All must be yielded to the Lord, not just Sunday morning, not just when trials come, not just when I feel like it or feel needy.

In light of these diagrams, Chamber’s words make sense only if “external world” is the diagram on the left and “secret places” is the one on the right . . .

“The battle is lost or won in the secret places of the will before God, never first in the external world. The Spirit of God apprehends me and I am obliged to get alone with God and fight the battle out before Him . . . . If I say—‘I will wait till I get into the circumstances and then put God to the test,’ I shall find I cannot. I must get the thing settled between myself and God in the secret places of my soul . . . . Lose it there, and calamity and disaster and upset are as sure as God’s decree. The reason the battle is not won is because I try to win it in the external world first. Get alone with God, fight it out before Him, settle the matter there once and for all.”

That secret place is right at the core where God lives and from where I must draw my life and all that I think, feel, decide, and do. Unless I run to Him, my soul will rule and play havoc in my walk with God.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)