Monday, August 26, 2019

Who I Am and Why it Matters

Years ago, our pastor cautioned me, "There is only one inspired Book, everything else is written by sinful people. Identify their bent and you can use it all to God's glory." That has been helpful advice. No matter whose material I read, study, or listen to, I look for the author's Achilles heel and it puts things in perspective. The extension is that you and I have our own Achilles heel--and it affects how we view life, God, and others.

Some individuals view everyone and everything in life with suspicion. No matter what happens, they have to be on guard lest they're taken advantage of.

Some see God's Word as a set of rules to be followed. It's about doing this and doing that. Though they long for grace, they don't seem to find it.

Others play their way through life. The more the merrier; eat, drink, and make happy, for who knows what will happen tomorrow?

Still others fight, forcing and pushing limitations and circumstances in an effort to overcome and experience personal accomplishment.

In all of this, life revolves around me--my likes, dislikes, desires, comfort, convenience. I fail to admit it and become defensive when caught, but I honestly think life would be better if it met my standards and expectations.

The key, then, is knowing myself as I come to God's Word, and being willing to change. It's not about reading the Bible religiously, rarely missing church, and staying on my best behavior. God desires transformation and change, not appearance.

I will receive God in the same way I come to Him. If I come proud, stiff-necked, "it's just who I am and nothing's going to change," I will receive rebuke and live under regulations until I am broken and bereft. God opposes the proud--and His Word will work to break those who fall on it. If I come to God broken, helpless, and desperate, I will receive grace and help in my time of need.

A true sense of myself exposes my inability and weakness. A true sense of others reveals their inability and weakness. But a true sense of God lends to greater trust and reliance; a lack of fear, anger, despair, and drive for personal pleasure or potential. He does control it all. He is all wise, all knowing, all loving, and all powerful. I can rest and stop striving.

God is not looking for people who have it all together. He is not out to get us or take advantage of our willingness and need. He is not about me having my own way or experiencing accomplishments. God is about Himself--because He is the best, the most, the greatest, the purest. He is the mold we were created to image and only in Him and His glory will we fully live our our original design. Apart from Him, we are nothing. But in all things He will be glorified. He's just that big; just that grand and glorious.

What is your Achilles heel? The sooner you and I bring our true selves to the Word of God, ready to be healed, the sooner He will effect His goodness and grace in our lives. Choose brokenness. Seek. Knock. Ask. Be a beggar...because you are.

I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul will make its boast in the Lord;
The humble will hear it and rejoice.
O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together.

I sought the Lord, and He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces will never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
And saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him,
And rescues them.

O taste and see that the Lord is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
O fear the Lord, you His saints;
For to those who fear Him there is no want.
The young lions do lack and suffer hunger;
But they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.
Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Who is the man who desires life
And loves length of days that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil
And your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
And His ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
To cut off the memory of them from the earth.
The righteous cry, and the Lord hears
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones,
Not one of them is broken.
Evil shall slay the wicked,
And those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned. Psalm 34

Monday, July 29, 2019

Accountability and Community

I am more and more convinced that the Christian life revolves around community. God is self-existent in community: Father, Son, Spirit. He created people in His image: male and female created He them.

Each week I am blessed to interact with women who pray and live life with me. We don't need another Bible study or teaching time. We need a place to be honestly raw, to ask questions, to follow, encourage, cheer, and admonish one another. We need loving kindness, forgiveness, wisdom--the hands and feet of Jesus--to intersect with our everyday lives.

Years ago I stumbled on a group of women who practiced accountability. I asked a lot of questions,  prayed, went home, and began asking women to join me. There are 3 of us who meet weekly for about an hour and half. We text and call each other regularly with prayer needs, concerns, and praises.

The group has changed with time and location, but the beauty of ministering to one another remains unchanged. If you don't meet regularly with others, this is a call to prayerfully consider practicing what it looks like to be the body of Christ...

Here are a number of articles that I have found helpful and directive:

How to Start and Maintain Accountability Relationships

Why We Need Accountability

Accountability Questions

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:4-21)

Friday, July 5, 2019

A Wedding Vow

Sometimes it's difficult to see God's goodness. Every sermon, devotion, passage of Scripture seems to criticize and judge our failure. We may have a sense that if God doesn't meet our every whim and desire, He doesn't love us.

Instead of living life through past experience and relationships, God's Word calls us to truth.

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

This teaching of Jesus follows 32 verses on marriage--both a parable and specific teaching. We are not called to love ourselves (contrary to what some say); we are to consider ourselves in light of God and others.

Recently I was challenged to apply marriage vows to my relationship with God:

"I, ________, take you, Jesus Christ, for my Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health..."

With God as the Center of my life and affection, His Word communicates His loving, caring character. He shapes and redirects my thoughts and affections. When God says, "This is right and good," I have a choice. I can push my own agenda and definition or I can ask God to help me wrestle renegade thoughts, emotions, memories, past experience and present desires into submission. "God, I may not understand, but by faith I confess (agree) that this is right and good." When God says, "This is wrong, evil, and wicked," again, I can choose my own standard or ask for His help in wrestling those thoughts, emotions, past experience and desires, into prayerful submission, "Yes, God, I confess (agree) that that is wrong and evil."

The question is not whether my experience or feelings are true. They happened. They are real. The question is "Whose standard is true?" A look at my thoughts, behavior, and choices reveals what I believe. Am I living by my standard or God's?

God's standard accurately measures right and wrong where my perspective, experience, emotions or desire, vary from time to time, person to person, circumstance to circumstance. When I acknowledge God's Word as absolute truth, it is followed by commitment. "I, Sydney, take You, Jesus Christ..." He, the Word, the Word made flesh, the Living Word, is "My beloved...and I am his...." (Song of Solomon 2:16, 6:3).

That leads me to believe and live by His written Word regardless of personal circumstances or performance. He has already proven His love for me, bought me back from the slave market of sin at the cost of His life, exchanged His righteousness for my unrighteousness, and pledged his undying presence from this day forward. How foolish and ignorant to think He wouldn't love and care for me: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health!

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies;  who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,

“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)