Saturday, December 23, 2017


With faith comes expectation... and patience. A friend once described life as picking one's way through a bog in heavy weather conditions. We may not know where to put the next foot, but as we look at God's faithfulness in the steps leading up to this point, He gives confidence that His Word is true. We can step into the unknown, confident He will continue to lead and provide.

God was historically silent for 400 years. Then He came in the flesh. Regardless of today's hardship, pain, confusion, or chaos, I can be confident in God's provision and work. And the more I get to know Him, the easier it is to wait.

Take Christmas as an example. The number of days of December hasn't changed since I was young, but my perspective has. And it's a lot easier to wait today than it was forty years ago.

Take heart. He is at work. It may take a year. Or five. Or twenty. Or a lifetime. But He who called you is faithful, who also will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:18-39 ESV)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Giving Too Much

In preparing for Christmas and giving gifts to those we love, is it possible to give too much? Not according to marketers, vendors, and children!

In my Bible reading this morning, people were giving too much. They were so excited they didn't stop until they were told. No, it wasn't Christmas that got them wound up, it was the new tabernacle.

And all the skillful men who were performing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work which he was performing, and they said to Moses,“The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the Lord commanded us to perform.” So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, “Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.” Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more. For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it. (Exodus 36:4-7)

When is the last time your church told everyone to stop giving? "That's enough, you can stop giving now." Wouldn't that be something? The Bible tells us that God moved the people and they responded.

That led me to think about Christmas. Is it possible to give too much? Here are some truths about Christmas gifts:

- I can never give more than God has given me; therefore, what I give is His to begin with. "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7) Am I using God's good gifts the way He would?

- It's easy to focus on the wrong person. I may say my focus is the receiver, but it's easy for my thoughts to focus on what I give, how much I give, or how thoughtful I am, making it more about me than anyone else. Instead, it should be about God, the greatest Giver of all. "By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him." (1 John 4:9) What is my focus in giving?

-Giving, like every other part of my life, should make much of God. "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) In what ways does my giving point others to Christ?

- Giving with God in mind puts practical boundaries on my giving:
      I spend within my means. "...the borrower becomes the lender’s slave." (Proverbs 22:7).
      I meet my daily responsibilities and obligations. "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and 
          especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."
          (1 Timothy 5:8) "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might..." (Ecclesiastes
      I do what is right and trust God with the rest."Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil;
          cling to what is good.... Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath  
          of God..." (Romans 12:19).

Somehow, in this Christmas season, we get overwhelmed with emotion and a desire for the elusive "Spirit of Christmas." In all of our giving, wouldn't it be wonderful if God was seen more clearly? If Jesus was made evident in our responses (online and in person)? If Christ was magnified in our sleeping, eating, and loving?

The reminder to myself is that, yes, I can give too much, I can give for the wrong reasons, and I need to rearrange my thoughts and attitude (confess and repent). It is a reminder to be Jesus to those around me regardless of the giving, the greed, discontent, disappointment, and despair that surrounds the season because being like Jesus is so much better than simply remembering Him.

Those who walk with God reach their destination.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21 NASB)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

If... Then and the Trouble of Sin

Our world runs by a predictable set of natural laws in regard to gravity, energy, matter, even sowing and reaping. The world of science pivots on "if..then" statements and principles.

In our own lives, we count on positive "if..then's" to come true and beg negative ones to go away. At least I do. I think I should be able to eat whatever I want whenever I want without consequences. I want to binge on Netflix and have a clean house, folded laundry and a beautiful meal at the end of the day. Sometimes I just want a nap--but I don't want it to interfere with the rest of my life.

This morning as I read Exodus 22-24, I was struck by the "if...then" statements. "If a man lets a field or vineyard be grazed bare and lets his animal loose so that it grazes in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard." (Ex. 22:5). There are a lot of examples--and restitution is expected when a person is at fault for another's loss. It's common sense. It's right. It's God's way.

But a passage in the next chapter made me stop and think about how we deal with sin in our own lives. Not just the "oopsies" of life--sins that catch us off guard and happen sporadically--but deep, settled, entrenched sin that is firmly established. There is a connection between the Old and New Testaments and in this case I am going to draw a parallel between the Canaanites (people who lived in the Promised Land before Israel's occupation) and sin.

In Exodus 23:29, God said, "I will not drive them [Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites] out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you."

Often, I want the sin gone. Now. All of it. I want freedom. I want the spiritual fight to be over. I just. want. relief. But God says that's not best. He knows the outcome of "all at once." If we receive total freedom from an entrenched enemy, we will not be able to maintain and establish it for good. The land will go to waste and the beasts of the field will multiply before we're ready. We need to move as He allows, thankful for the success God provides over time.

Exodus 23:30 continues, "I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land." God's desire that we would bear fruit (see John 15:2,4,5,8). He's not concerned with relief, effort, or ease. He is making Himself known through our stewardship. How am I stewarding the most recent area of life He's given? Until I am faithful with the new work He's doing in my life, He will not add more.

Here's another principle of overtaking sin: God delivers us, He will provide the boundaries, but we must do the work.

Exodus 23:31 says, "I will fix your boundary from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you." Ridding ourselves of sin is not effortless. It's not magical mumbo-jumbo. It requires step by step, one foot after the other taking ground. We must stop to fight, collect our whits, and press into the fray. It will take days, weeks, months. We will experience spiritual thirst, need, hunger, dust up our nose and in our eyes, fatigue, and temporary setbacks, but God gives deliverance. It's His will for us to overcome sin through Jesus' death and resurrection. It's God's way of making us more and more like His precious Son, Jesus (Romans 8:28-29).

As we fight and press forward, we cannot give in to treaties with the enemy: " You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods." (Exodus 23:32). Statements like, "Just this once," "No one will know," "I deserve...." have no place in overtaking sinful habits. We cannot move forward spiritually and maintain friendship with the enemy. It's all or nothing.

God completes this portion with these words, " They shall not live in your land, because they will make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”" (Exodus 23:33). In other words, it's Nada. Zilch. Outta here. Gotta go. No trinkets, reminders, or souvenirs of our sin. Making provision for the flesh, for that sin we love, will continue to needle us, make it's way into our thoughts and keep us from serving God wholeheartedly.

In other words, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." (Galatians 6:7-8)

What are you fighting today? Don't give up. Don't lose hope. "Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass." (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

PS--If your struggle is too big, or too hard, or too great, that's because God doesn't expect you to do it on your own. He's giving you an opportunity to humble yourself, cry out to Him, ask for help, and include others. God to Jesus--"for apart from Me you can do nothing." Take Him up on His offer. He's good for it.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Playing the Fool

Maybe you, like me, say and do things you later regret. Lately I've been reminded of times I was simply a jerk. I said or did things for shock value or to draw attention to myself, only to be marginalized or looked at dumbly. Now what?

After reading helpful books on pride and humility* it has become apparent that the culprit is pride (surprise! Not.). And, thanks to one of my biblical counseling friends, I can ask the question, "Where's the sin?" There are times I have legitimately sinned in word and/or deed by being unkind, impatient, selfish, inconsiderate. At other times I am simply me, my sinful self, without a specific sin against another. Either they just don't like me or a public setting is inappropriate for an apology (which would draw more attention to myself, not less). That's when I am learning to "let it go."

This is where the unseen flow chart comes in. Sin or no sin? If sin, acknowledge my wrong and Jesus' complete forgiveness, confess the sin to myself and others, walk in repentance by God's grace. No specific sin against another? (This is harder because I still burn from shame.) Admit my pride and desire to be like or admired. Confess it as sin to God and ask for His grace to change. Acknowledge that some people simply won't like me--because it's not about me (surprise! Not.)--and move on, looking for opportunities to practice humility by loving and serving others.

As I studied humility, these phrases consternated me, "humble yourself," "humble your souls." According to Scripture either we humble ourselves or God does it for us. So how? How do I humble myself?

Here are some things I learned--

  • Read the Bible, praying for a greater awareness of my personal limits and God's immense greatness. “Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.(Isaiah 41:14)
  • Grow in awareness of my personal responsibility and stop. Full. stop. when I've done my part.Stop seeking control of people and situations; wait to see what God will do. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:24-26)
  • Grow in awareness of those around me--what are they feeling, seeing, hearing in this moment? Do they have specific needs? How can I express love and concern (within my personal bubble of responsibility)? Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus... (Philippians 2:3-5)
  • Accept the fact that I am no better, greater, more important than anyone else and vice versa. I am simply me with the gifts, resources, and abilities God has given. They are themselves, wholly and totally, with the gifts, resources and abilities God has given them. For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7)

The key is knowing God, knowing me. That is the central theme of Job chapters 38-41. Who am I? Really? And who is God? Is that evident in the way I speak, conduct myself, in my attitudes and actions. If others determine the greatness of God by what they see and hear in my life, what kind of God do I serve?

If I do not humble myself, God in His sovereign love and grace will reach down and do it for me. He's just that good. And it's one more way He's making me more like His precious Son, Jesus Christ.

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:1-13 NASB)

* From Pride to Humility by Stuart Scott, Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller to name a few