Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Another Gospel

Jesus had nothing to hide. 

I just finished reading the gospel accounts of Jesus' crucifixion. I almost stopped. I didn't want to continue. It was painful and difficult to read. Then John wrote this, 

And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. (John 19:35)

God doesn't withhold the truth. His Word is full of good and bad--good outcomes and bad outcomes, God-honoring and dishonoring people. But our churches...

Too many of us have accepted and live out another gospel. We promote goodness and peace, but practice deceit, hypocrisy, and conflict to protect that facade. Somehow appearance has become our gospel. False teachers in pulpits, leaders seeking their own reputation, people covering, fixing, and blending the lines to manage the destruction.

If we lived like Jesus, if we lived like the weak, failing, needy people we are, we would be honest about ourselves. We would be honest about others. And people would see Jesus instead of us and our trappings.(see 2 Corinthians 4)

Everyone doesn't need to know everything all of the time, but our honesty, like every other part of life, is to be governed by love: God's love for us and our love for others. The One who knows and sees it all died for our sin, guilt, and shame. If I truly believe that, I, too, have nothing to hide.

For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, even penetrating as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him to whom we must answer.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let’s hold firmly to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need. (Hebrews 4:12-16)

Monday, November 30, 2020

Simplicity as Success

One of the benefits of being a stay-at-home mom so many years was access to resources and materials. My brain was ready to learn and grow even while my body was spent.

Book after book, page by page, with no particular destination or goal, I devoured thought-provoking, otherwise difficult reading. Hour after hour I listened to Christian radio and speakers. Thoughts, questions, and applications stirred in my mind as I scrubbed floors, folded laundry, tended to children and country chores.

J.I. Packer's, A Quest for Godliness, was one of the most impactful. Of the words and thoughts which escape me, the message I still carry is: keep it simple. The more common and everyday our speech, the more effective we are in communicating the truth of the gospel. This was Paul's example:

And when I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come as someone superior in speaking ability or wisdom, as I proclaimed to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I also was with you in weakness and fear, and in great trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of mankind, but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

Ironically, J.I. Packer is not known for his simple presentation; in today's society Puritans aren't either. But that was their focus and goal--to preach Christ simply, with purity and grace.

That was my goal as I wrote, Sanctuary: Hope and Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse. With a background in elementary education and a heart for individuals who struggle to learn and read, my goal is other's learning. Teaching is evidenced, not by one who teaches, but what is learned. As future educators, we were taught that the measure of our effectiveness was the success of our students.

When individuals use code words, acronyms, high vocabulary, or share a complex/confused presentation, it confuses the listener. That is when one must assess the goal--Is it to be thought of as important, intellectual, and knowledgeable? Or is the goal effective, accessible information? With God's help, our goal should be the simplicity of Jesus Christ and His finished work.

Our value, worth, and identity are not measured by our teaching, words, or following, but by Christ Himself. May He guide and bless the sincerity of our words and interactions with others for the sake of the gospel--and their very lives.

For though I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may gain more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might gain Jews; to those who are under the Law, I became as one under the Law, though not being under the Law myself, so that I might gain those who are under the Law; to those who are without the Law, I became as one without the Law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might gain those who are without the Law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak; I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. So they do it to obtain a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way as not to run aimlessly; I box in such a way, as to avoid hitting air; but I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:19-27)

Friday, October 30, 2020

Obedience and Worship--in Which Order?

How many times have we read and thought about the leper that returned to Jesus to say thank you when nine kept going? Many, many. 

But today, with prayers and thoughts in my head about ministry, opportunities, and the future, I saw this one leper differently. "And he was a Samaritan." (Luke 17:16). 

This one did not belong at the temple. It was not his custom. He did not follow Jewish temple etiquette. It was not his place of worship; his home; his people. The priest had little value. But Jesus...

"Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to him. And he was a Samaritan." (Luke 17:15-16)

How often am I distracted by the approval of others, by what I have been prevented from having or doing--and when the opportunity presents itself, Christ is forgotten? How often do I get caught up in the victory, forgetting the Victor? How often do I seek affirmation of cleansing without acknowledging the Cleanser? How often do I seek to go to the temple seeing only what is ahead and missing Jesus here; Jesus now?

Today this man reminded me to turn and thank Jesus before seeking the affirmation of others; to seek Jesus before heading into the crowds, before getting on with my life, before jumping into ministry, before moving forward. Others will benefit from my praise and healing, but Jesus deserves it first. Jesus should hear it most. Jesus is the only worthy recipient of the first fruits of praise and worship. 

But weren't they told to go? Isn't that what Jesus commanded? "When He saw them, He said to them, 'God and show yourselves to the priests.'" (Luke 11:14) Yes. They obeyed and as they went, they were cleansed. But this one turned back. 

My prayer today is that I am not so set on obedience that I miss Jesus. Not so determined to pursue opportunity and God's call on my life that I forget to express my gratitude; not to busy to set aside my "to do" list and worship.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Perhaps you, like me, have read the gospel accounts many times. If so, they are familiar--maybe even overlooked. I started a chronological read through the Bible a couple of years ago and am just now at the gospels-! There have been a couple of interruptions as I've come alongside others to get their own discipline of Bible reading off and running. I've stopped to catalog and organize books like Proverbs just to get a better grasp on knowing and remembering what God has to say. 

This time, in reading through the four gospel accounts, I was moved to study each author's intent; to highlight words and phrases that point to their reason for writing about Jesus.

It's always been there--that's the way Scripture is--but it was like new. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), read differently today as I look at Jesus, the LORD and sovereign--the King on earth--humbly speaking to and leaving His words behind for those of us who would never otherwise hear Him.

Jesus promises heavenly rewards and eternal consequences. Who does that? Who has that authority? Who even knows?

Who, but the Lord, can promise the kingdom of heaven? (v. 3, 10)

Who, but the Lord, can promise comfort? (v. 4)

Who, but God Himself, provides satisfaction? (v. 6)

Who, but God, extends mercy? (v. 7)

Who can promise an audience with God, face to face? (v. 8)

Who, but Jesus, guarantees me an identity with God--as His child? (v. 9, 16, 45, 48)

Who, but the Lord, can personally extend the riches of Heaven? (v. 12)

Who, but Jesus, determines one's entrance to Heaven? (v. 20)

Who, but God, determines my eternal, heavenly reputation? (v. 19)

And, who, but God, has the power of hell at His disposal? (v. 22, 29, 30)

It's no wonder that as Jesus spoke to the people, they sat in awe and wonder. This God, this Christ, came to them in human form and extended Himself--His riches, His kingdom, His very life--for their benefit. 

Oh, God, forgive us for taking you lightly, for not looking on you with the reverence and wonder you deserve. Forgive us for our blindness, arrogance, and earthly distraction. We are so lost, so unaware, so ignorant of Your greatness, power, and might.

May today be a day you see Jesus more clearly as the Lover of you soul, the Son of God, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end--and worship.

And they *sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and marvelous are Your works,
O Lord God, the Almighty;
Righteous and true are Your ways,
King of the nations!
“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy;
For all the nations will come and worship before You,
For Your righteous acts have been revealed.” Revelation 15:3-4

Friday, September 4, 2020

Prayer as Rest

 I was recently introduced to a computer program that replaced sticky notes. I used to have sticky notes all over the top of my desk for things I needed to do or remember--for family, self, projects--all those things to do and people to meet kind of lists. Maybe you have them, too.

It's been very freeing and has, in many ways, made me more productive. At the same time, I found the online app "coffitivity" which produces the sound of a coffeeshop in the background when it gets too quiet. My family laughs, but I enjoy feeling like there are people in my immediate surroundings.

All that to say, when I finished my daily Bible reading this morning and listened to myself pray (try it if it's not your normal routine), I asked if God could just look at my list and give me wisdom, success, all the good stuff. If you have given me the benefit of the doubt in the past, you may have just changed your mind.

And in that moment, the Holy Spirit convicted me that prayer is a sign and exercise of humility. In prayer, I am not exerting the effort, I am laying it before God to do what He will. I pause from effort. I stop striving; cry, "uncle;" refuse to work on the list and simply talk to Him about it. In the end, it is a sign of trust. 

Prayer recognizes that my efforts are dependent on God; not independent of Him. Prayer recognizes my lowly, ineffectual state. Prayer says, "I can't; I won't; I release the outcome." Prayer says, "I am at rest."

And, in resting, I exercise my true state of being. 

I cannot gain acceptance before God. There is nothing I can do to earn His favor. There is nothing I can do to procure eternity. I simply exist for His pleasure and glory. I bring nothing except what He has given.

Therefore, in Christ, I have acceptance from God. I have His favor. It cannot be lost. I have already procured eternity--it is mine. I am motivated and driven to live for His pleasure and glory because of all He has given. 

The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You support my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

 

I will bless the Lord who has counseled me;
Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.
I have set the Lord continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will dwell securely.
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. (Psalm 16:5-11)


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

A Shelter in the Time of Storm

If you missed the news, you might be surprised to hear that Iowa had hurricane-like winds last week. The storm descended without notice bringing destruction and a wide-spread loss of power. For days, hundreds of thousands of people struggled to complete everyday tasks in addition to regaining structure and routine.

Photo: Iowa Trollnadoes on Twitter

Our acreage sits on top of a hill with a range of buildings and trees. We watched the walnut tree topple, the apple tree split, and pieces of leaves, like confetti, fly vertically, attaching themselves to windows, siding, and doors. It was an awesome show of strength and power.

By God's grace, the tallest, oldest, strongest trees were untouched. Our oaks trees--one shielding the house, one hosting a tree swing--remained unscathed. You may think of the deep, wide root structure as the reason for their preservation and yes, they are well-established. But that is not the answer. Instead, a hundred yards to the west, a treeline of younger, wispier trees stood guard. Violence hit the strategically-planted front guard and spared what lay on the other side.

In the same way, God calls us to watch over, or guard, our heart with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23). If I do not value my heart, if I do not see it as vulnerable and weak, I will not guard it. Our oak trees and 1911-vintage home have a degree of strength--but they are not able to withstand seasonal storms on their own. Knowing that, we have spent time, money and effort to maintain a physical buffer. Likewise, our hearts, central to life, family, ministry, dreams, plans, and future, require care and protection. 

How do we guard our hearts? In reality, we are incapable of doing it ourselves. Worries, insecurity, obligations and responsibilities weigh us down, creating dangerous openings for doubt, despair, and fear. We fail to guard our hearts because our trust is in our own efforts--or the failed efforts of others and capricious nature of circumstances. God calls us to trust Him. To call out to and depend on Him. He alone can effectively guard our hearts and minds from the storms of life. Are they destructive? Yes. Damaging and difficult? Yes. But only to the extent that God is using them to reveal Himself and our need for Him.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Ministry--How Did I Get Here?!

"That was dumb!"
"I don't know what I'm doing. How did I get here?"

Those were yesterday's questions--not from someone else; from inside my own head. When we come alongside others or serve in ministry, God is good to put us in deep water from time to time. My feelings of inadequacy weren't just the result of comparing myself to those who know more--although that is a reality. They weren't just a close-up of my own personal sins and flaws--although that, too, is a reality. As I viewed circumstances and potential consequences I sensed failure. Criticism. Pain. Complications. Confusion. 

Not only did I feel inadequate, I saw the reality of my limitations and heard that voice, "Who do you think you are? How can you help others when you can't even help yourself?"

That's why we need the gospel. We cannot change--we cannot help ourselves, or others--apart from the transforming Word and work of God through Jesus Christ and His Spirit.

Last week we cleared brush as part of a mission trip. Branch after branch, tree after tree, we cut, carried, and discarded wagon loads of brush. Applying God's Word is like that. (Thanks, Allison, for the illustration.) Our thoughts take the path of least resistance. If you're into the science of the brain, here's some background info. Left to themselves, they carry us down a path of worry, regret, disappointment, failure, bitterness, despair. When we remain unaware of our thoughts, they take us to dark, lonely, despondent places.

There is another option. We can replace weak, lazy, often sinful, thoughts with God's Word, by creating new paths through our brain. We do this by intentionally choosing God's Word over ours. The more frequently and intensely we pursue a thought pattern, the more quickly and easily our thoughts will choose it. The Holy Spirit wants to take us down God-honoring, true paths, but He can't if they don't exist. This is why memorization and meditation of God's Word is so vital to our Christian walk.

Little by little, thought by thought, circumstance by circumstance, we can renew our minds (literally, physically) to think God's thoughts instead of our own (1 Corinthians 2:16). We can see the world through God's eyes instead of our limited, human ones. We can see ourselves and others from a spiritual point of view. 

In Jesus Christ, I am not just myself, I am a new creature. I have access to His Spirit. His Spirit is in me. With me. Abiding. Through the Spirit of Christ, I can read, understand, and apply the Word of God. It becomes my reality and, though I am aware of my sinful limitations and the world around me, I am not bound by them. I can choose to submit to God, put to death the thoughts and works of the flesh, allow Him to work through me, and love others. With the help of the Holy Spirit and reminders of His Word, I can trust God with past, present, and future circumstances, believing He is already using them to do a good work in my life and the lives of others. 

Because of Jesus' Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, my sin is not a detriment, but a tool. God is greater than my failure and limitations. Jesus Christ gave up His right to remain in Heaven for me. He took on a human form and likeness for me. Limitations, pain, loss, hunger, weariness--for me. Physical and spiritual death, torturous death, in exchange for my sin. He knows and understands my weakness. He died to pay my punishment. Because of Jesus, I walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). 

When fear of failure, difficult circumstances, or overwhelming odds come my way, I can continue down a path of fear, false bravado, and resignation...or I can create and choose the path of God's design.

...we confidently say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?"

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace...(Hebrews 13:6-9)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8)


Sunday, June 7, 2020

Time of Storm

America, COVID-19 is here. Riots are here. Our weaknesses are exposed, exploited, and change is not only required, but needed. The storm rises and we are, as individuals, communities, as a nation, divided in our fear and responses.

photo by Corabie din carton


The night the disciples crossed Galilee without Jesus, a storm arose. Although the worked together, straining against the wind, they gained nothing. They had no control over the situation. Their efforts, though great, profited little.

Jesus, praying at the end of a long day, having just learned of his cousin John's unjust beheading, saw their distress. Mark 6:48 says that during the fourth watch of the night (6:00 a.m.), "He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them." What next? He went to them, of course. But what we may miss if we're reading too quickly, is that He intended to pass them by. They didn't perceive it was their friend, Jesus, the Son of God who just fed a multitude of people. They thought it was a ghost. They misinterpreted Jesus' person and power.

What if the disciples had not given in to fear? What if they saw Jesus for who He was? "Look! It's Jesus. How's He walking on water we can hardly get our oars in?" "Jesus, you're amazing!" "Jesus, look at you!" "Jesus, could you give us a hand? We're not going to make it on our own."

His very presence, walking on a sea that threatened to undo them, should have been enough. His deity, supernatural power and grace could have been a comfort. The reminder of His provision and loving care for the physical needs of the crowds could have encouraged their souls. Jesus knew--and came near. He didn't leave them in terror. He didn't walk by without stopping. He didn't scold or reprimand them.

But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.” 51 Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped...

Jesus loved them in their fear. He cared for and ministered to their physical needs, their emotional, dare we even say "psychological" response to very real danger. When we are confronted by the storms of life, it's easy to forget God's blessings, provision, and character, to be swept up by our circumstances and misinterpret the nearness of God. 

More than wondering about the imminent danger of wind and waves, I ask, "What's keeping me from seeing Jesus?" What fear, what dread, what storm is interfering with my knowledge and memory of His goodness, grace, mercy and kindness? And I remember that He is not only near. He hears me. He knows my heart, my weakness, sin and frailty...and He is here in the boat.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Blastus and Harbonah--Who??

My dad, who taught adult Sunday school all of my childhood and most of my adult years, takes notice of the least likely characters. One of our favorites is Blastus. Not only is his name memorable and distinct, he was King Herod's personal attendant and a friend of Tyre and Sidon (Acts 12:20). The one mention of his name is just prior to Herod being eaten by worms. It might not take you real far, but thinking about what he saw, heard, and smelled can certainly set off a young imagination and a serious discussion about pride.

Today as I read Esther chapter 7 Harbonah rose to the surface. In each mention and interaction, his chief concern is the safety and well being of the King. In chapter 1, he summoned Queen Vashti. In chapter 7, he is present at the second banquet of Queen Esther and suggests using Haman's newly constructed gallows as they cover Haman's face and take him away. His mission and focus is the king. 

Application? Whose kingdom am I most interested in protecting and promoting? My own? Or the Lord's? How committed am I to promoting Christ instead of myself? To protecting his reputation? To giving up personal comforts and desires in His service? If I had to be honest, it's a constant, moment by moment struggle to serve my King well. Regardless of how it looks to others, the chief concern is my heart--which fluctuates and morphs at a frightening rate.

Even my service is dependent on God's work in and through me. I cannot love Him in my own strength, with my own willpower or efforts. It is an absolutely humbling, God-dependent task, which means He is glorified, not only by the outcome, but by the heart and faith behind it. I cannot, dare not, take credit for serving my King, but as He will and works in my life, He is glorified--and will continue to be eternally glorified--in it all.

How do we get here?

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.

By starting here:

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;  in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. 

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 1:27-2:13)

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

To Do or To Be? That is the Question

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’" (Matthew 7:21-23)

As I read this there seems to be a discrepancy? Have you noticed it?

"...did we not prophecy in Your Name"
"and in Your Name cast out demons,"
"and in Your Name perform many miracles?"

"...depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness."

The last time I checked, those weren't acts of lawlessness. And they did it in Jesus' name: prophesied, cast out demons, performed miracles. So what's the catch?

The fact is that God uses whatever He will to accomplish His purpose. He uses pagan kings: Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus. He uses calamity, natural disasters, even our sin according to His wisdom and for His desired purpose (Ephesians 1:11).

That means God doesn't get a kick-back from my deeds on His behalf. They don't make Him bigger, better, more holy, more anything. He already is. The fact is, what I do has less to do with Him and more to do with me. It is a blessing and privilege to be His instrument, used in cooperation with His Hand, Spirit, and Word. I am the one who benefits from obedience.

But if I am not personally, submissively, volitionally connected to Him, there is no benefit whatsoever. Jesus said:

"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." (John 15:5)

Does that mean we can't do "good" things? It depends on how you define, "good." If you define it as something that benefits others or society at large, sure you can do good things. Anyone can. The individuals mentioned earlier prophesied, cast out demons, and did miracles. Those are good things.

Fruit is a natural outcome of being. Apple trees produce apple because that is what they are. It is their genetic make-up. It is part of their being. The tree is a living organism that works to draw nourishment, energy, and identity from its root and trunk. The fruit it produces is a function of the tree itself.

You and I can do all kinds of things on our own that other people see as good. We can be self-disciplined, moral, helpful, productive, and generous.  But we can do all these things from a root of pleasing ourselves and others. The source of living and giving is no deeper than our own effort, self-reliance, and self-motivation. When that is the case, the fruit may look the same in some respects, but it is not godliness. It is self-righteousness. The work is done to promote myself; it is short-lived and my expectation determines its success. If it doesn't meet my expectations, I am crushed. If people don't notice, care, or appreciate my efforts, I feel like a failure. Why? Because the root of all the "good" things I do is shallow: it's dependent on and driven by me.

But to be connected to Christ is to be free from performing, doing, and its earthly ramifications. When my Source is Jesus Christ, He provides the nourishment, energy, desire, identity and opportunity. My efforts and expression of life is not dependent on me, nor am I dependent on them. My sole dependence is on my Savior and His love for me. In every moment? No, not yet. With never a disappointment? Not yet. But more and more as I grow in understanding, knowing, and practicing what it means to abide in Him and His words abide in me. So the fruit I bear, the life I live, the choices I make are a natural outcome of being. 

What I do does not define who I am; who I am defines what I do. 

And when I am hidden in Christ, He is glorified as the Doer, the Producer, the Giver. I am simply a conduit--and blessed to be one.

“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.

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another." (John 15:1-17)

Monday, April 27, 2020

Christlike Forgiveness

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about forgiveness. Books have been written--articles, blog posts, theses. There's a lot to learn, but here's a tidbit regarding forgiveness that can't be received due to distance, death, or danger:

Becoming like Christ means walking in forgiveness.

Not just working through and giving forgiveness (see this article before you move too quickly), but receiving forgiveness. Jesus Christ lived a guilt-free life. He was sinless. He had no guilt until he took yours and mine upon that cross and suffered the wrath of the Father.

If you and I are going to grow in Christlikeness, we must accept and walk in righteousness. Not ours, His.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Embracing Christ's forgiveness, seeking and receiving other's forgiveness, frees me to walk a guilt-free life. I am responsible for my actions. I must walk in confession and repentance. But I am not to hold on to past sin--mine or others.

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13-14)

Walking in the Light means walking as Christ did--and He has made it possible through His death and resurrection. I have nothing to add by my regret, pouting, self-pity, desire to manipulate or control the outcome. I am simply called to walk in faith believing that God is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do. When all else fails, I accept forgiveness by faith.

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.(Hebrews 11:6)


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Confidence in Challenging Circumstances

As I write this morning, we are under social distancing guidelines as a result of Covid-19. School is canceled, churches aren't meeting, stores are closed, people shelter in place.

And I have seen the people in the book of Luke differently.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were "both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren..." (Luke 1:6-7). Zechariah and Elizabeth's life was not driven by their desire for a child. Apparently Zechariah had prayed and asked for a son (1:13), but his obedience and devotion to God was not dependent on God's gifts. It was dependent on God Himself. God was their audience. God was their heart desire. God was their motivation and reward.

The lack of a child, or God's answer to their prayer, did not inhibit their service. "Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense..." (Luke 1:8-9). Zechariah's ministry and diligence to his calling was not affected by God's answer, or lack of answer. He followed through. He was dependable. He was faithful to his calling--not resentful, withholding, or anxious--but steady and unmovable.

Elizabeth's response to having a child reveals her heart. She did not want a child so everyone would see, so everyone would finally notice and include her in conversation, in the responsibilities and company of children at play. She set herself apart, choosing communion with God over the enthusiasm and excitement of others. "After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months saying, 'This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men'" (Luke 1:24-25). Her desire and devotion was not to the women clambering at her door to share tidbits of advice on pregnancy, to ask after her health, to carry back news and gossip of her blossoming figure. Her focus and heart were set on the Lord Himself. Which led to her time with her relative, Mary.

And as I read of Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem, I had to wonder that Mary didn't say, "Joseph, go ahead. Count me as one of your family. I'll be here when you get back." It seems that being "with child" is a good reason not to travel cross-country and endure uncertainty. After all, this wasn't just any baby--and what mother today would take on that journey under those conditions? This was the Son of God. The was not just a baby; it was THE baby.

But if Mary hadn't gone, prophecy wouldn't have been fulfilled, "And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel" (Matthew 2:6; Micah 5:2). If Mary hadn't gone with Joseph, there would have been no lowly stable birth, no shepherds, no proclamation to those who knew them. No doubt there would have been wonder and awe--but Mary's obedience to governing authorities led to a wonder-full, timeless, matchless birth of our Savior.

God uses the confines of our present reality to form and shape us into the image of Jesus Christ. He uses circumstances, government edicts, and even our desires to accomplish His will. There is no need for fear, anxiety or worry. He is powerfully, wisely, wholly, mercifully using all things for good. Yes, frustrated plans. Yes, disappointment. Yes, suffering and uncertainty. But in and through it all, God is at work.

"Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass." 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Speak No Evil

Words are cheap. We can't see them. Like Snapchat messages, the appear and disappear. They can be misunderstood, misinterpreted, misapplied. Teaching children how to speak is important--not just word order and proper usage, but proper choices as well. "Watch what you say." "Say what you mean." "You shouldn't have said that..."



For years this passage in James bothered me,

But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3:8-9).

No one can tame the tongue. No one. Really? Then why does the Bible teach so much about our words and controlling what we say? Why all the instruction if it's impossible?

Using the Bible to interpret itself, I discovered that

The heart of the wise instructs his mouth And adds persuasiveness to his lips. (Proverbs 16:23)

Jesus says it more clearly:
For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. (Matthew 12:34)

But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. (Matthew 15:18)

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45)

When you and I are surprised by what comes out of our mouth in a heated situation, the truth is we really did mean it. Maybe we didn't intend for it to come out, maybe we hoped to keep it inside, hidden, and silent. Maybe we regret those inescapable words. But Jesus teaches that we said what we meant. It was already there, in our heart and mind.

In that case, it's true. We can't tame the tongue. We can work to change habits and patterns, but sarcasm, anger, crude language, and cutting remarks will find their way to the surface. They can't be quieted. When stirred, they rise to the surface and burst.

The answer is to harness my heart. Words and actions are a vehicle for my desires. What I want, value, and treasure is communicated outwardly. It has been said that "My actions betray my beliefs." The same is true of words. Snippets of words can be controlled and managed, but the whole of my speech reveals my heart. And there's more bad news,

The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

That's the struggle. Not only is the tongue unstoppable, the heart is deceitful, sick, and wicked. We need a new one. But there is a way. There is hope.

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)

Recognition of my sinful, wicked state, of my selfishness, arrogance and pride is the first step. The second is a humble plea that God would forgive and cleanse. He will, and He does, when we come believing that Jesus Christ already paid the price of our sin against Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10).

At that time we are given new life, a new heart, the very Spirit of God to fight the desires and sin that remain. Daily, hourly, as we renew our mind with the Word of God we replace our own desires with God's. Then, when difficulties arise, our plans are thwarted, and others sin against us, we respond with a different heart. Our words are different, not because we've wrangled them, but because they come from a different source altogether.

Put it into context and this is what you have:

If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:2-18)



Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Loss

It would seem that church goers, evangelical Christians, whatever-you-call-them-in-your-neck-of-the-woods, look down on depression and loss. They seem above it all. There is little or no room for despair. But as I read the Bible, it's there. It there among people who should "know better," among the good guys, so perhaps our platitudes and judgment should be applied to those who struggle with the idea of depression and despair being unbiblical.



Here's the thing. We say and think and rest on the fact that we are not to grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). And I honestly believe that if Christ is our hope, we will not give in to despair for as long as others. That those who belong to Christ will receive comfort, peace, and a settledness even in affliction. But in reading the book of Luke, in contemplating Christ's death and resurrection, we must agree and see the true despair and loss. The disciples lost Christ. They lost the source of hope. They experienced true despair. We could counsel and encourage them till the cows came home, remind them of all Jesus had said, but the reality of the situation is that Jesus. Was. Gone. They had nothing. They were hopeless. And the fact is, what they experienced and the way they interpreted the situation was real. It was, in fact, the most hopeless, despairing time of all eternity--and they felt it. They knew it. They were immune to hope because they felt the weight of reality, loss, emptiness. It had a grip on the pit of their stomach--and it was justified.

What do you do when your foundation, your security, your reason for living is gone? We may use the term jokingly, but loss of hope is the worst. It's below bottom. There's no way out. The disciples had lost everything that mattered. Jesus really died. Gone. A lifeless body in a tomb. And in His last moments, they had deserted and betrayed Him. He would never know how much they missed Him. They blew it--and He died alone. What guilt! What shame! What fear, desperation and despair.

Is it any wonder that His resurrection was received with skepticism and trepidation? There were some who had lost loved ones and received them back. They may have understood a measure of the disciple's joy, but oh, what an energy-sapping turn of events to receive, not just Jesus, but the hope of all He'd promised. Their weeping, gloom, wracking grief had been for naught. Not only was Jesus here, "in the flesh," there was now multiplied hope, joy, and peace that everything else He said would come to pass. "For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us" (1 Corinthians 1:20 NKJV).

To their amazement, forty days later, He left. Again. But as always, He left with a promise. This time they believed Him. They had proof and confidence that in Jesus Christ, a promise made is a promise fulfilled. This goodbye was not accompanied by guilt, shame, embarrassment, fear, and betrayal but hope. Here is a description of Jesus leaving them a second time:

While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God. (Luke 24:51-53)

To those who've lost the best, who have lost your foundation, your joy, your reason for living: you are not alone. You feel very alone. You are in a dark, desperate place. Here is a biblical example of those who know and understand what it is to grieve without hope. To grieve ugly. To grieve until your gut hurts and your tears run dry. God gave us a record of men who traveled beyond the rim of despair.

Beautifully, that is not the end of the story. God intervened. He brought the only hope that matters. When Jesus breaks into your gloom and despair, you will live again. You will have peace and confidence. This world is a broken, sinful, wicked, dark place. You are not wrong. But God has entered. He promised to be with us, to give us the "light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4). Cry out to Him. Don't stop. Turn to Him. Let loose the bindings that keep grief close, tight, and protected. Let Jesus see the pain. Invite Him to sit with you in the darkness. Pour out your heart. He is okay with your guilt. He isn't surprised by who you are or how you've responded. But He is waiting for your call.

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.

But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:6-18)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Mind of Christ

My daily Bible reading has been a bit sketchy of late between travel, caring for parents, short nights, one thing and another. This morning, as I considered diving in to "to-do's" before taking time (because I'm already behind-!), I was reminded that I will not have the mind of Christ apart from time with Christ (1 Corinthians 2:11-16).

I cannot begin to fathom what He would do, how He would do it, and why He would do it until I immerse myself in His Word and character. Until I come alongside Him and put my mind where His mind is, my heart where His heart is, I cannot put my hands where His hands are.

That is abiding.... Not picking up the Word of God to check one more thing off the list, but to enter into the mind and heart of God. To realign this sinful, lazy, self-exalting, twisted self with the perfect, all-loving, all-knowing, all-kind, all-powerful Creator of the universe. In and of myself, there is no good thing. I will not seek Him. I will not understand. I am not righteous. Or good. Peaceful. Or profitable. (Romans 3)

In all this, in each word, each moment, each decision, each interaction, I must bring myself in line with the person and character of God--and that does not happen until I come to Him, ready to learn, hungry for His righteousness, disgusted with my pride, longing to be filled, changed and used. I need to get into Him, to think like He thinks, to climb into His ways, to empathize with God just as much as I need Him to come into me, to enter my heart and mind. I must open myself, question myself, be vulnerable, honest, and frank about our differences before I see the need to change.



Today--each day--I must interact with and recognize that the Bible is not me. It is not who I am, but who God is making me. Agreeing in the moment is not the same as adopting God's truth as my truth; living it out in the moments of life. It must enter and become part of me--like the bread and the cup... Taken with reverence and eagerness, becoming part of my physical composition; entering my bloodstream, making its way into my molecular biology. Essential to life. In that way, I live on as Christ's body... Christ in me, the hope of glory.... The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He remains in and through His people as they do His will and walk in His ways.

As His beloved child, why would I forfeit precious time with God in His Word? It's the best part of the day.

Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.  But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:21-27)

 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”

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. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “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 yourselves. He who eats 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. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”

These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”


As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:28-71)

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Confession of a Recovering People Pleaser

Only be as kind as you are.

After reading Lou Priolo's book, Pleasing People, I realized how much of my life functioned around others: their preferences, schedules, unspoken expectations. Almost everything I did was for, or because of, someone else. When I realized it was okay, godly even, to have preferences, I didn't know what they were. My default answer to "What would you like?" was, "I don't know" or "It doesn't matter. I'm good either way." Suddenly chocolate wasn't my favorite. Blue wasn't my color. It took time and prayer to work through who I was and who I wasn't.


Not falling in line for the sake of wanting to be liked or "nice," affected my relationships with others. I became brutally honest, refusing to flatter or bow to other's opinions. As I worked through what was true and what was not, I was no longer socially pleasing. Or nice. I wasn't kind, loving, or tasteful. I was an honest hot mess, fighting to do what was right and see the world the way it is, not the way people (or I) wanted it to be.

God graciously intervened. Honesty results in being marginalized, set aside, and discounted by others. Yes, God is Truth. He is also Love. I needed to learn the balance between the two. Thus today's proverb: "What is desirable in a man is his kindness, and it is better to be a poor man than a liar." (Proverbs 19:22). If Jewish literature proves true and each phrase defines the other, then we are known by our kindness. But if we cannot be kind, it's better to be friendless and poor. Don't lie as a means of pretending kindness and gaining friends; be who you are.

In my case, that meant I needed to change. Kindness is not a reflection of others; it is a reflection of my own heart, who I am. Kindness means letting go of my agenda and expectations. In kindness, I look for the image of God in others and respond based on who He is, instead of who I am or what I want.

Jesus was not nice. He was kind. And poor. But He was rich in relation to His Father. He was rich in deed. He, Himself, is the source of wealth: "And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19).

The answer is not to "be nice" or act kind and lie to myself (and others). The thoughts in my head that are unkind, untrue, ungracious need to be captivated and taken to the cross. There, they must be sorted and my sinful desires crucified, mortified, put to death. Only then can I be lovingly, genuinely kind.

Today, seek to be as kind as you are. Don't lie. If you must, be unkind. It is only as the darkness is exposed--as the filth comes out from within the cup--that true righteousness and holiness reveals the forgiveness and goodness of God.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23:23-28)

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:13-26)

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Prayer--A Hard Question

When I'm counseling, I try to give people a heads up before asking a hard question. So, here's your warning. Are you ready?

When you pray, are you more interested in how you will be justified the sight of others, in the ease and relief that comes with God's provision, or glorifying Him?

I recently read the simple story of the ten lepers who cried out for mercy, were healed, and only one returned to give thanks. That one was a Samaritan. He couldn't go and show himself to the priest as Jesus commanded because he was not welcome in the temple. Infirmity makes strange bedfellows. Nine were Jews. One was Samaritan. They lived together. Walked together. Requested healing together. But when healing came, there was a division. 

Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. (Luke 16:15-16)

And he was a Samaritan. Oh, by the way. If you hadn't noticed. It might make a difference... He wasn't concerned about what the priests or his community would say or the benefits his healing would provide in that moment. He was moved with gratitude at the generous goodness of our kind, loving Savior. "He turned back." How often do we turn back to God when He answers our prayers beneficially? Or how often do we fail to stop and give thanks?

"...glorifying God with a loud voice..." How consistently do let others know God has answered my prayers and so we can glorify Him together? So they can see and experience the goodness of God?

"...and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him." Praise takes time. Worship takes effort. It is an outpouring of heartfelt gratitude and humility.

"And he was a Samaritan." Those on the outside are often much more genuine and expressive than those of us in the church. Isn't that sad? Shouldn't it be the other way around? But we expect God to do things for us. We expect Him to answer prayer. We have expectations as His children.... and we often respond as naughty, spoiled children do.

Maybe today it's time to rekindle love and affection for God, to confess a heart of entitlement, privilege and consumerism. Maybe it's time to praise Him with a loud voice, falling on our face at His feet and giving thanks..because He is worthy.

...the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they *sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”

And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying,

“To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
(Revelation 5:9-14)