Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Influence vs. Dependence

There is great danger in creating, or fueling, dependence, but it's oh, so much part of who we are and what we do. Part of that is because others tend to blame-shift. "It's my mom's husband's fault... my environment, etc. etc." Just because it's what people do and I feel the weight of their choices not does make it so.

As a parent, I have a sense of responsibility for my children's choices, well-being, and future. As a teacher, I create a sense of dependence and take responsibility for student learning. This happens in so many different relationships and situations.

But the truth is that we are simply called to "influence" others, not become the source of their life, peace, happiness, hopes and dreams. That's God's job--and He is quite capable.

This week, as I have had opportunity to interact with others--children, women, teens, adults--I am reminded of Jesus' description of the Vine and branches. The branches are not self-sufficient, they are Vine sufficient. The life source does not originate in them, it simply flows through them to others. They are a conduit, nothing more.

So I have spent time evaluating my life as a structure for the gospel. What are my likes and dislikes? What resources are at my disposal? What are my spiritual gifts and natural abilities? All of those things define and describe ways in which the gospel of Jesus Christ flows into, through, and out of my life to others.

Taking the burden of providing and producing the fruit of God in others leads to great frustration, discouragement, despair, impatience, anger, and bitterness. That was never God's intention. The to-do's of the Bible are not independent of the have-done's by Christ. He has, therefore we can. If there is no sense of dependence on what Jesus has done through His death and resurrection, the conduit runs on empty and offers only itself. These are the shriveled, ineffective branches.

Instead, each and every part of the branch is intended to direct others back to God, through Christ. The fullness, life, joy, and peace is not due to the branch's effort, but the Life-source of the Vine. Others dependence should not rest on my influence, abilities, resources, or availability. I will fail. I will not hold up because that's not how I was designed. I am frail, broken, sinful, limited. My calling is to point others to the true Source of life, light, goodness, love, peace, joy, and comfort.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." (John 15:1-11)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Between the Words

Life happens between the words. I receive a text, but the reality of what's happening, of where help is required, or how to pray is between the words.We know it. It's the way we live and communicate. But sometimes, especially when it comes to God's Word, we expect a magic-wand result.

There's the sense that if I read God's Word and pray, I will experience hakuna matata. Life will change and my troubles will disappear. But life happens. Between the words. Between the lines. There is nothing in Scripture that promotes ease, circumstantial relief, or escape. Not here. Not now.

I've been reading and studying the life of Samuel, Saul, David.... and a lot happens between the words: conflict, jealousy, anger, promises, failure, success. I can read and understand that they weren't perfect. Life wasn't perfect. And yet, there are times I think I should be able to hear a sermon or read a passage from the New Testament, and Voila! I will magically understand, obey, and experience God's blessing. My life will be instantly transformed!

The older I get, the more I see the disparity between what the Word of God says and how I think, act, and live. It used to seem so simple; so easy. "Be kind. Be tenderhearted. Forgive. Do to others as you would have them do to you." As children, it was cut and dry--and we had a lot of help, boundaries, consequences that prompted obedience.

Now, as an adult, the offenses seem greater, the weight of the past heavier, the grief deeper. Life. is. hard. Obedience is hard. I see what God's Word says, but I struggle to do exactly what it says. I justify disobedience; wiggle, squirm, and compare myself to others. Sometimes I try. And fail. There are days I want to give up.

But God has not changed. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). He is forgiving, kind, gentle, patient, generous. And if I belong to Him through faith in Jesus Christ alone, I have access to His forgiveness, His kindness, His gentleness, His patience, His generosity. I do not have to rely on my meager store of limited, distorted human resources (for, "there is none righteous, no, not one").

Through the Spirit of God, I am able to forgive as He forgives--between the words, between the lines of life--to extend kindness and grace, to offer freedom and acceptance--between the words and lines of life.

Because, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20). The life of faith does not happen instantaneously. It happens moment by moment, decision by decision, in hundreds of thousands of moments of conviction and surrender, hour by hour, day after day. The life of faith is comprised of time, effort, prayer and trust...between the words.

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly 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 also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Romans 8:15-25)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Please, Sir, I Want More

Maybe you don't struggle with or think about sin, but I do. And I've come to the realization that most of the time, when I fail to see victory, it's because I've wrongly identified the problem. The real issue isn't lying, pleasing others, indulging myself, or being lazy. The real issue is a sense of discontent and unbelief. I am dissatisfied with what God has provided. What He has given is not what I want, is not good enough, fast enough, extravagant enough.

"Please, sir, I want more."

I want more. I want it now. And I want it my way. And that leads to covetousness, adultery, lying, cheating, stealing, anger, arguments, bitterness, and the list goes on. To address these areas of ungodliness in my life, I need to look below the surface and ask, "What do I want that I'm not getting?" I may even ask, "Where do I expect it to come from?" And, in the end, I must admit that God is the ultimate Giver of every good gift (James 1:17). Someone has said, "If God doesn't meet it, I don't need it."

So if I don't have what I want and think I need, the biblical answer is that there must be something else I need more. What could I possibly need more than _______? In God's way of thinking, I need to be more like Jesus: I need more humility, more childlike dependence, and a greater desire for God Himself. John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30).

As I struggle with sin, it's a matter of being honest--what do I want that I don't have? And, am I willing to trust God even if I don't get it?

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.  Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.  Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.  In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. (James 1:12-18)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Where the Lie Begins: Did God Really Say?

I recently heard someone say, "But that can't be what God meant..." in reference to a convicting Bible passage. If you haven't noticed (but who hasn't), the Bible is counter-intuitive. Living by faith is not living by sight. Obedience itself is an act of belief in the unbelievable.

Try these on for size:

  • Don't worry about ________ (fill in the blank). (Matthew 6:25)  Really? You've got to be kidding.
  • Make God your top priority--above __________ (fill in the blank). (Matthew 6:33) But what about _____? 
  • It's a blessing to be persecuted and insulted for Jesus' sake. (Matthew 5:11) Thanks, but no thanks.
  • Anger is equal to murder. (Matthew 5:21-22) Then lock me up and throw away the key!
  • Lust is equal to adultery. (Matthew 5:28) Pin on the "A" and get it over with....
  • Be kind to those who hate you; bless them (i.e. say good things to them), do good things in response to their evil words and actions against you. Pray for them. (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:28, Romans 12:14, 21; 1 Peter 3:9) Umm... No. Not in my lifetime

Here's the rub. If you can't do these things the way God said, you're basically human. Surprise! You actually can't. You're not qualified. You don't have what it takes. Adam and Eve shouldn't have given in to temptation, but on their own, they were limited in their ability to withstand Satan's deception and their own sinful desires. But they tried. And failed.

Each of should read the Bible and, instead of saying (like the boastful Israelites), "“All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” (Exodus 19:8), we should cry with the tax collector, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!" (Luke 18:13) Somehow, many of us have come to the conclusion that we can't ask God for help until we take care of the problem ourselves--or deserve His help. That's not what the Bible says, but it's what our society and our hearts often tell us. "God helps those who help themselves" is one of the greatest anti-biblical sayings ever. It has led many to the gates of hell.

Apart from the saving work of Jesus, by faith, we can never obey the Word of God, experience His forgiveness, power or enabling work of His Spirit. If I do not acknowledge my spiritual poverty and desperate need at the feet of His sovereign provision in Christ, I have no ability to live a life that pleases Him. I do not have the righteousness of Christ. I will flounder and fail, falling into despair as I look at my inadequacy and pale effort.

Try these:

  • Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst." (John 6:35)
  • "...the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out." (John 6:37)
  • “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29)
  • “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved..." (Acts 16:31)

Believe, yes. Do? On your own? No.

Yes, God has really said ________ (fill in the blank, from the Bible--not someone's twisted interpretation). He is waiting for my cry, for your cry, ready to cleanse, restore, and transform us into the wonderful image of His Son.

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ (Isaiah 41:10)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:7-11)