Saturday, February 21, 2015

When I Can't Be Trusted

"God, you can't trust me." I heard the words before I thought them.

In that morning's Bible reading, Jeremiah told Israel to serve and obey Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. The ruler of the known world. The man who ate children (almost). Really?

Jeremiah 27 gives the command six times. Then, in the next chapter God says, "I have put a yoke of iron on the neck of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and they will serve him. And I have also given him the beasts of the field” (Jeremiah 28:14).

But Nebuchadnezzar was a bad guy. Bad. True. God told His people to obey Him. Serve Him. Actually settle in and make Babylon a better place. Read it for yourself if you don't believe me (Jeremiah 29:4-10).

And I guess that's the encouragement. God uses wicked, evil men. He will accomplish His purpose even in His anger (Jeremiah 23:20; 30:24).

You and I make choices and God uses them. Nebuchadnezzar conquered his known world, created a city of wonder and hanging gardens that continue to amaze the world. And God used Him. That guy.

Is God sovereign? Does He have complete control? Yes. Is man free to choose and is he responsible for His choices? Yes. Both? How? I don't know. But Nebuchadnezzar is a great example.

So this is the take-away: If God used Nebuchadnezzar, He can use me. I can't trust my own heart (Jeremiah 17:9), but God is greater than my heart. And sometimes God will require me to obey the bad guy--not do bad things, but live in an uncomfortable situation I don't like in a place I don't want to be under the authority of someone who doesn't deserve it. That's okay. I'm not trusting that individual with my life, I'm trusting God. I'm not going to be there forever, just until God says, "Enough." My job is not to save the world, but to become more like Jesus in my own little orbit. And even that's too big for me (without His help).

So what are you doing? Keep doing it. How is God working? Keep your eyes open. He uses each of us with our unique personalities, gifts, influence, geographical placement--all of it--because He's really that big. And He has a plan. The choice is yours: His way or your way.

"Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.

"Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called." 
1 Corinthians 7:17-24

"Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

"This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us." 1 John 3:18-24

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Tomato Soup of Existence

I started fasting again. Not because of a certain event or time of year--but because of reading God's Word to Isaiah (see the bottom of this post). It's been a while, but it's oh-so-good for me when, by God's grace, I can set aside one day a week to refrain from eating. It's not a big deal. It's not impossible. It's just that I don't eat from after supper one night until supper time the following night.

I began by asking, "What do you want me to pray about, God?" Nothing. Nothing came to mind, so I asked myself, is it enough to simply obey? To seek God? To desire to please Him without sensing a specific need? Of course. So when the hunger pains reminded me of my desire for food, I was reminded of a greater desire and need for God Himself.
Yesterday the discomfort was almost overwhelming in mid-afternoon. I heated up some soup. Drank some milk. And the thought came, "This will not satisfy me."I folded clothes, reminded of the people and blessings God has given: these will not satisfy me. I thought of the dreams I have, of desires for far-off things: these will not satisfy me. I remembered past dreams met: those did not satisfy me. And the beauty of yesterday's fast was that realization. The things we have now; that we see, feel, taste, touch, hear, want, long-for, seek after, will not satisfy. They are not enough; will never be enough. They're the tomato-soup of my earthly existence. They coat the ache. They ease the discomfort. But they don't do the job. The benefit is short-lived and minimal.

What I need is God Himself. What I need is life that fills my soul (eternral life now! not just in the hereafter). And that is only possible through Jesus. How beautiful that, through Jesus, I am brought near to God--me, the one who was far away, the one who had no hope (Ephesians 2:12-13; 1 Peter 3:18). Through Jesus, I can come boldly to God's throne in my time of need to find mercy and grace (Hebrews 4:16). Through Jesus, I can "continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15).

Praise God that He is enough. That He is mine and I am His. He is the bread of life. The real stuff. He is what I need.

“Ho! Everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And you who have no money,
Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.
Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance.
Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Hear, and your soul shall live..." (Isaiah 55:1-3)

“Cry loudly, do not hold back;
Raise your voice like a trumpet,
And declare to My people their transgression
And to the house of Jacob their sins.

“Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways,
As a nation that has done righteousness
And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God.
They ask Me for just decisions,
They delight in the nearness of God.
‘Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’
Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,
And drive hard all your workers.

“Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist.
You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.

“Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed
And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?
Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord?

"Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?

“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

“Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

“Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you remove the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,
And if you give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.

“And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.

“Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.

"If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot
From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable,
And honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure
And speaking your own word,
Then you will take delight in the Lord,
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  Isaiah 58

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Perhaps You Should Get Out More

One of my favorite movie scenes is from The Count of Monte Crisco (2002). Edmond Dantes swims to safety after escaping an island prison only to encounter a band of pirates. He engages in a knife fight and releases his captive, rumbling, "Perhaps you should get out more."

The idea is appealing--especially at this time of year in the American Midwest. I'm tired of snow, ice and cold and would love (love!) to get out more. But as I thought about, there's more to it than just getting out there.

In our Christian life, we need to not only get out there, we need to "be" out there. Too many of us spend month after month, year after year in training, but fail to use it. We call ourselves Christians, we hang out with Christians, we go to church and look the part, but we struggle with intermixing who we are with what we do. Too often we give in to fear of what others would think/say, fear of being rejected, of failing, of  __________ (fill in the blank). We create unrealistic standards for others, live with unfulfilled expectations, and live in a world of constant disappointment and sabotage.

What we need is to simply "get out more." We need to practice what we read (Hebrews 5:14); to do what we know. We carry a lot of "but's" in our back pocket: excuses, experiences and reasons for disobedience. But the life of the Christian is a life "lived by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2:20) It is a  life crucified. It is a life whose excuses, reasons, experience and but's have been nailed to the cross. They have no power. They are not reality. They are vaporous fumes that blind us to the good works God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10, Hebrews 9:14).

We will not be filled with the Spirit, we will not walk by faith, we will not experience the abundant life Jesus came to give if we balk and waver in disobedience and rebellion. God's call is live out His love for us, His love for others, and our love for Him. We are to go. It is as we are "going" that we make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).

If only we would "be"out more--living and speaking His Word--we would see wonderful, amazing things. It is as we go, as we live by faith, that we see God heal the lost soul, fill the discouraged heart, buoy the drowning friend. In the end, we test and try the truth: perfect loves drives out fear.

For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.

For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you opportunity to boast on our behalf, that you may have an answer for those who boast in appearance and not in heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:7-21