Saturday, June 2, 2018

Inside Out and Upside Down

How often are you on the path to success when you realize you've got it all wrong? It's inside out and upside down?

That's what happens when we believe our relationship with God is a result of our choices and actions. The Bible teaches (and we inherently know) there's a connection between what we do and God Himself. The problem is that, if we don't know better, we think that's all there is to it.

Instead, God says it's the other way around: our relationship with Him affects our choices. Our choices do not affect our relationship with Him. That might get you a little excited. And you may think I've lost it and gone heretical. Yep. Because that's what Jesus says--and it runs against everything we want to believe.

In reading today, the Pharisees and Sadducees  were "coming for baptism" (Matthew 3:7). And I had to ask myself if I'd read that right. Really? They wanted to be baptized by John? That made we wonder why? Why would the most religious members of Jewish society go to a man in camel skin clothing from the wilderness for baptism? And the answer, based on their reputation, is that they were doing one more thing to guarantee a right standing with God. They really, really wanted to be righteous, holy, and blameless. That's what they lived for; it's what they were willing to kill for.

What, then, do I think I need to do better? More of? Less of? What is my "if only" that will finally clinch my holiness, reputation, and righteousness? I'm sure the Pharisees and Sadducees found their list growing: as soon as they made one change or added one new habit, there was a new one. That was Benjamin Franklin's discovery in his 13-week self-improvement plan. It's never enough. There's always more and the way is fraught with failure.

John answered, "...bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father...’" (Matthew 3:8-9). In other words, change is evidence of a life that belongs to God, it does not create a life lived for God. If you really know Him, your life will be different. You will think, speak, and act the way He does. You will change from the inside out. Repentance begins with the way we think about God--that He is the instrument of change, we are not.

And, really, the fact that Abraham is your father is a great excuse for sin. Most of us can't use that one, but I know I have others. The truth is that we can depend on our parent's reputation, lives, and actions to a point, but it doesn't work when it comes to personal, spiritual responsibility. There is a level of acting in accordance with God's grace once we've received it; after we put Him in the place of doing and winning our salvation. But thinking we have any part in making it happen is where we get it wrong.

If there's a list in my head, or a series of spiritual self-improvement goals that will finally get things right, I've missed a huge piece of God's plan. God's plan is already done. Finished. Complete. And accomplished from eternity past to eternity future in Christ.  If that sounds like heresy, then I've got it right. Grace is anti-effort. Grace always pushes the envelope. Grace is always better than it sounds. Grace is God at work, not me. And that's what makes it so amazing.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Living in God's Favor

I'm starting a new Bible study and will share this morning's insight while it's fresh on my mind. The assignment was to compare Luke 1 with John 1:1-4, followed by a series of thought-provoking questions.

As I read about Zacharias, Elizabeth, and Mary outside of the Christmas season, their stories were less predictable and more fresh. I wasn't anticipating "baby Jesus." I just saw their lives--and how God upset their plans. None of them knew what lay ahead, that they would sacrifice each and every day from that moment forward. None of them anticipated how God would use them personally, but He did. How did they respond to God's intrusion into their lives?

Elizabeth said, "This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me..." (Luke 1:25). Mary said, "May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).
Zacharias said, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us...." (Luke 1:68-69).
From this point forward their lives would be radically changed. Each of their homes would be indwelt with the Spirit of God (through John, filled with the Spirit before birth, and Jesus, God Himself). This was new--convicting, challenging, different, sometimes unwanted! Others would see them as strange, both because of their earthly circumstances  and the tenor of their lives and homes (no wine or liquor, etc.). They would be ridiculed for their testimony ("Tell me about the angel again, Zacharias/Mary!") and choices. Their future would be one of pain, suffering, and loss (your sons will be beheaded and crucified--that's how God treats His chosen ones?).

And yet. Yet. Their belief in God and their view of His redemption stood firm: God chose me! God has shown me His favor! God is moving, working, redeeming, and He is using me. He is the Mighty One, my Savior, He has done great things for me, He is holy, merciful, He fills the hungry with good things, He exalts the humble, He scatters the proud, He has sent help for Israel, He keeps His promises (Luke 1:46-55).  He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, He is our salvation, He will rescue and deliver us, keep His covenant, bring forgiveness and tender mercy, He will light our way and guide us into the way of peace (Luke 1:68-79).

Yes, life would be hard, different, and painful--but God was at work. What is greater than being part of His plan and purpose? Change didn't happen in a day, a week, or a year. It took decades--and most never saw or realized the scope of God's plan. We still wait for the revelation of God's full redemption, believing that He is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do (Hebrews 11:6). Life is hard; but God is good. Serving God is a privilege and honor, not because the way is easy, but because God is worthy--and He makes it all possible.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

Friday, May 18, 2018


Yesterday I got myself in trouble by committing to something that wasn't really mine to do or give...Argh! I hadn't taken the time to think it through. I had prayed, but I didn't want to wait for God to say "No." And I didn't want to ask for anyone else's advice either. Please tell me you've been there?

After a couple of hours of stewing, worrying, praying, and playing out "what if's," this passage came to mind,

My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor,
Have given a pledge for a stranger,
If you have been snared with the words of your mouth,
Have been caught with the words of your mouth,
Do this then, my son, and deliver yourself;
Since you have come into the hand of your neighbor,
Go, humble yourself, and importune your neighbor.
Give no sleep to your eyes,
Nor slumber to your eyelids;
Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter’s hand
And like a bird from the hand of the fowler. (Proverbs 6:1-5)

So I did. I really did pray, "Lord, what would it look like for me to humble myself in this situation?" and I really did wait. Then I picked up the phone, admitted my mistake, and released myself from bondage. What freedom! I know it doesn't mean there aren't or won't be other consequences, but I am free from the "what if's."

My other example of making a commitment without prayer has been that of Joshua and the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites deceived Israel and Israel made a covenant with them "and did not ask for the counsel of the Lord." (Joshua 9:14). Spoil Alert: It was not the best situation, but God remained sovereign, accomplishing His will (see the end of the story in Joshua 9:27).

Prayer doesn't get God right with me; it gets me right with God. And that's exactly what I need. All day. Every day.

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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 4:6-9)