Thursday, August 24, 2017

Ah-hah's of the Creation Account

There is more than one way to use the Bible. It can be read, studied, memorized, listened to, and meditated on. That sounds self-evident, but the purpose of each will make a difference in one's spiritual walk.

Many of us study the Bible to teach a class or make a presentation. Studying the Bible is a great way to learn because we know who gets the most out of it--the teacher. Another way to use the Bible is to read, think about and pray it in fellowship with God with a desire to enjoy time in His presence, get to know Him, and ourselves, better.

My daily fellowship time has varied over the years--I've kept journals, made spreadsheets, hand-written Scripture, looked for patterns, and gone on rabbit trails. Yesterday I started on a chronological tour from the very beginning.

Here is an "ah-hah" from the first chapter of the Bible. (Since it's an ah-hah for me, that means it's  obvious and may make you say, "duh." I apologize for needless enthusiasm.)

Each part of creation follows the same pattern:
1) God said
2) "Let there be _____" for _____
3) and there was
4) God called ______, ______
5) God saw
6) it was good.

This is the basic pattern for light, waters above and below, land, sky, plants, stars/moon/sun, fish, birds, animals, man (with variation for man, but the same basic concepts).

In a world gone made with identity and self-fulfillment, these stood out with clarity. This entry is not intended to be a response to people or culture, it is a response to the Word of God. Take it personally or not; that's not my motivation.

1) God is the source of every good thing
2) God created specifically, completely, and with purpose (earth to sprout vegetation; plants to give seed and fruit, lights to separate night from day, etc.)
3) It happened the way God said it would (and nothing has changed)
4) God determined creation's name and identity
5) God was not absent from His creation, but present
6) God makes things well.

How does this affect my life today? Malachi 3:6 tells us that God does not change, so the truths of who God is and how He works carry over. Here are some implications for today:

1) God is the Giver of every good gift (James 1:17). When we accept Jesus' payment for sin in our place, God begins the transforming work of recreating us in righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:24).

2) God made man to image, or reflect, the Godhead. He determined creation's purpose--all of it, each part.

3) Everything happens according to God's will and plan. "Truly I have spoken, truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it." (Isaiah 46:11)

4) God is the source of identity. He was then, He is now.

5) God continues to be present. It may not be evident in our circumstances or emotions, but it is a fact. "The Lord is near." (Philippians 4:5)

6) God does all things well (Mark 7:37).  We may struggle and suffer and sin, but we can trust that God who originally designed and created all things continues to work out His plan and purpose with wisdom, patience and goodness.

And above all, as we endure suffering and sin, we know Jesus has suffered for us. He took our final judgement and we are free from condemnation through faith in Him (Romans 8:1-2). He is our advocate and has given us His Spirit as a guarantee and Helper. For that reason, it is well (1 John 2:1-2).

O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth,
Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!
From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength
Because of Your adversaries,
To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth!
(Psalm 8)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Knowing God's Will

Last weekend our church teamed up to provide free furniture and household goods for international students at the University of Iowa. As I rode in the back seat of a pickup with Brother John, we  talked about what we've been learning lately. When I told him I've been thinking about God's will as singular, finished, and complete from eternity past to eternity future instead of a progression of events or series of circumstances, he said something like this:

"You know, I've given that some thought.... Our Savior prayed, 'Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,' and on the night He was betrayed He prayed for God's will to be done, not His. That's God's will--that what it comes down to, God's will, not ours. It's what Jesus did. He emptied Himself--the kenosis--that Paul talks about in Philippians 2. John the Baptist said the same thing, 'I must decrease, He must increase.' And we're vessels, earthen pots in 2 Corinthians 4. Now if we were really empty of ourselves and what we want, and full of what He wants and who He is, that would really be somethin'....Then we'd know God's will, wouldn't we?"

All that in about 2 blocks' time. And I'm still thinking about it. Maybe you will, too.

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)
And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  (Mark 13:35-36)
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7)
‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 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. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28-30)
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)



Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Sword of Change

As I read my Bible this morning and thought through the ideas of justification (initial salvation) and sanctification (the working out of salvation), the word, "yield" came to mind.

The Bible word, "yield," is "to present: to place an another's disposal." In other words, it's to make one's self available, ready, useful. When I yield to my own desires, I do what I want to do. I use my resources--my body, time, money, energy--to reach a task or goal. It might be exercise, strawberry milk, time on Facebook, or lying on the couch. When I yield to God's desires, I give myself to do what He would have me do: help others, read His Word, take a difficult step of obedience.

The fabulous thing about God is that He doesn't leave us to ourselves. He has given us grace to obey, grace to yield, grace to walk in righteousness. That grace is primarily available in the Holy Spirit: "If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness." (Romans 8:10). The Holy Spirit gives me the want to and the to do (Philippians 2:13), but I must yield. I choose whom I will serve, what I will give myself to, where I will spend my resources, what I deem important.

And this is where the word, "wield," comes to bear. Wield is the opposite of yield. When we had small children, a voice came from under the bed one night, "My name is Gladys. My sword shall wield for me." We still laugh when we tell the story and remember our spinster friend, Gladys, who never wielded a sword in her life. But God's Word wields great power--it commands, takes charge, works on the offensive.

As we yield to God's Word and way in our lives, we will find He wields more and more influence over our hearts, desires, choices and character. Little by little, we will become like Him, "being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. (Romans 6:8-19 NASB)

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Stopped in My Tracks

This blog serves two purposes--one greater than the other. It allows me to share God's work in my heart and life. More than that, I pray it encourages you. Although our circumstances, personality and geography are different, based on 1 Corinthians 10:13, I believe we share similar struggles and victories.

Today I am tired of being me. Knowing my personal struggles, I have been asking God to help me grow in identifying and addressing it. That itself was my prayer: Lord, please humble me and make me aware of my sin, teach me how to confess to others, and give me the willingness to walk in repentance. There was no glaring, hidden sin, no specific hole, but because I'm still in this process called, "life," sin is part of every day. He has answered my prayer. And I don't want to be me anymore.

Jerry Bridge's book, Transforming Grace, has been a textbook guide through Scripture. My conscience was pricked in numerous ways as I studied Marriage and Family Counseling this last semester. And, now, after attending Family Camp under sound biblical teaching, I have been brought to my knees. These last months accountability partners have walked with me in whether I'm addressing sin or pride and whether or not I've followed through, our local church has ministered regularly, and God has faithfully provided opportunities to practice.

And as I contemplated where to go from here, tired of being me, I wondered if doing nothing at all would be best. If I stopped doing I would be more aware of Jesus' finished work instead of my efforts. If I stopped serving I could avoid comments that feed sinful pride. If I stopped altogether....

But giving would still be self-dependent. It would be my idea instead of God's. It wouldn't require His enabling and empowering to endure. But. it. might. be. easier.

Instead, He calls me to receive His forgiveness and cleansing by faith (1 John 1:9). He chooses to restore and use me with a greater awareness of my failure and sin than before (like Peter after his betrayal in John 21:15-19). We all have faults--hidden and overt--and that's the glory of God. We can't do, won't do, life for His glory apart from Christ. And that's exactly the way it should be.

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will be converted to You.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation;
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise.
16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
18 By Your favor do good to Zion;
Build the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices,
In burnt offering and whole burnt offering;
Then young bulls will be offered on Your altar. Psalm 51 NASB