Monday, September 30, 2013

Not Even the Sparrow Falls

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28–31, NASB95)

On a hot summer day in 2003 a little white bird showed up in our back yard, exhausted and dancing back and forth on the hot metal of the swing set. A friend of one of our sons did not know what kind of bird she was, so we went outside to help this poor pigeon that they told us about. I climbed up and carefully grabbed her, and of course she grabbed me right back and she was not shy about how hard she bit me. We brought her into the house and found a wire box we used in the kids’ rooms and put her under it, giving her some water and some wild bird seed. Not knowing this little cockatiel’s gender we named her “Bob’s your uncle” which became Bob and stayed Bob even after Bob laid an egg. Bob soon moved to a nicer cage and remained with us for ten years. Without fail, she would dance around and sing when I came into the room and then she would also hiss at Robin who lovingly cared for her (what was that phrase about biting the hand that feeds you?). Recently Bob had a seizure and we brought the kids into the kitchen and talked with them about life and death, and how God was in charge of both, and then we prayed for Bob. Over the next couple of days she regained her strength. But this morning she fell to the bottom of her cage in death under the sovereign hand of our loving God, and this afternoon we will bury her under the swing set on which we found her.

In Matthew 10 Jesus was speaking to His disciples about a time of coming persecution when they would speak boldly of the things which He had told them. Because of their love for Him and their service to Him, there would be those who sought to take their lives. Jesus told them that they were to find their hope in their Heavenly Father who held their lives firmly in His hands and who values them even more than the little sparrows (and cockatiels) who do not fall to the ground apart from Him.

As I thought of the joy Bob brought to our home and the greeting she always had for me, I also stopped to think about how great God’s love is for us. It is so great that He gave His only Son to suffer death on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins. He saved us when we were so desperate and could do nothing for ourselves. He rescued us knowing that apart from Him we would surely perish. And then He continually watches over us, even knowing every single hair on our head. In Psalm 139 we read,

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.” (Psalm 139:1–6, NASB95)

Our God’s eyes are always on us, and His strong hands will never let go. He has called us to rest in His presence and to enjoy Him forever. His Son willingly fell for us and took His life back up again, giving us the most precious gift of eternal life which begins at the point of salvation and is fully realized when we eventually step into His presence in glory.

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25–33, NASB95)

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (9/30)

I am perpetually with you, taking care of you. That is the most important fact of your existence. I am not limited by time or space; My Presence with you is a forever-promise. You need not fear the future, for I am already there. When you make that quantum leap into eternity, you will find Me awaiting you in heaven. Your future is in My hands; I release it to you day by day, moment by moment. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow.

I want you to live this day abundantly, seeing all there is to see, doing all there is to do. Don’t be distracted by future concerns. Leave them to me! Each day of life is a glorious gift, but so few people know how to live within the current confines of today. Much of their energy for abundant living spills over the timeline into tomorrow’s worries or past regrets. Their remaining energy is sufficient only for limping through the day, not for living it to the full. I am training you to keep your focus on My Presence in the present. This is how to receive abundant Life, which flows freely from My throne of grace.

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34, NASB95)

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, NASB95)

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”” (James 4:13–15, NASB95)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

GIGO Redefined

“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, NASB95)

GIGO – “Garbage in, garbage out” - According to Wikipedia (the totally reliable source that so many run to today for information on almost anything, of course being said tongue in cheek), this phrase was “most popular in the early days of computing, but applies even more today, when powerful computers can produce large amounts of erroneous information in a short time. … Early programmers were required to test virtually each program step and cautioned not to expect that the resulting program would "do the right thing" when given imperfect input. The underlying principle was noted by the inventor of the first programmable computing device design: On two occasions I have been asked, "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.” —Charles Babbage, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher

The effectiveness of our electronic devices is based upon the accuracy of their programming. This is an extremely basic principle. Similarly, in life, if we were to throw all of the ingredients for that device into a paper bag and shake them I think it pretty safe to say that we could shake them for the entirety of our lives and the complicated device in question would not build itself.

Man was created by God to have a relationship with God. He was wired by God to function in certain ways, and when sin entered the world the programming got all messed up. Our only hope is to turn our eyes back to our Creator God and to allow Him to change our hearts and minds as we trust Him for our salvation and our growth. His Word was given to us as His a living and powerful revelation about Himself, His Son, His Spirit, us, our sin, our salvation, His plans, and our need to trust Him for those plans (and much, much more). He has also given us His Spirit to seal and indwell all believers as their Helper and the one that brings them to maturity.  God doesn’t throw us in a bag and shake us around, banging our heads against whatever else might be in the bag, but He is very purposeful in what He does.  He gives us the best.

The question for each of us is whether we are going to trust Him for that best or whether we are going to let the old tapes or the input from the world to direct our thoughts and our steps. In Psalm 119:9 the psalmist asks the question, “How does a young man keep His way pure?” To which he answers, “By hiding God’s word in his heart.” Then in verse 11, he determinedly responds, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11, NASB95)

The Bible says that we are temples [paper bags] of the Holy Spirit. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19, NASB95) And being the dwelling places of His Spirit will have an impact on how we live. “Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16, NASB95) And it will give us cause to live differently as a result. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1, NASB95)

God has put His best in us, and as we surrender to the work of His Word and His Spirit, He will also get His best out of us. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:1–5, NASB95)

Maybe GIGO could be viewed a little differently by those who put their trust in Christ. “God in, godliness out”

“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.” (Titus 3:4–8, NASB95)

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (9/28)

Open your mind and heart – your entire being - to receive My Love in full measure. So many of My children limp through their lives starved for Love, because they haven’t learned the art of receiving. This is essentially an act of faith: believing that I love you with boundless, everlasting Love. The art of receiving is also a discipline: training your mind to trust Me, coming close to Me with confidence.

Remember that the evil one is the father of lies. Learn to recognize his deceptive intrusions into your thoughts. One of his favorite deceptions is to undermine your confidence in My unconditional Love. Fight back against these lies! Do not let them go unchallenged. Resist the devil in My Name, and he will slink away from you. Draw near to Me, and My Presence will envelop you in Love.

“that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16–19, NASB95)

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast 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 as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, NASB95)

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44, NASB95)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Hope in Christ

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12, ESV)

Waiting can often lead to restlessness and even anxiety. There is something about uncertainty that can easily leave us wanting. This is true for both good expectations and bad ones. It is frequently not as much the expectations as it is how much we tie ourselves to them and where our ‘hopes’ or even our ‘hope not’s’ are established.

As I read through the Bible, and particularly the words of the apostles, I read a lot about them hoping to do this or that or to go here or there, but every single one of these hopes is based in their relationship with Jesus Christ and their submission to His will. They hoped these things knowing that God was the one who would ultimately bring those hopes to pass according to His will, and should He do otherwise they were content with that. This is because they lived seeking to align their desires with those of God, and they lived in trust of Him for their daily provision, direction, and even their words.

Paul spoke of living this kind of life throughout his letters. In Colossians we read, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6–7, ESV) … “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1–4, ESV) … “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:15–17, ESV)

When we focus and fret over our daily needs we lose sight of our God who meets those needs. It is very difficult to not let these pressures put the squeeze on us as their presence is so real, but it is important that we not view these pressures bigger than they really are. Even the biggest anxiety inducer here in this life pales in comparison to the size, power, goodness, and faithfulness of our God. God may not step in and miraculously solve every issue, but He has promised that He would strengthen us to endure whatever trial might come our way. It is in this, as in all things, that we are called to firmly fix our eyes on God and find our rest in Him.

I know I’ve shared this before, but this following paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 10:13 is a reminder to me as I move through my day to set my hope in God and not in the desired outcomes of my circumstances.

“There is no test, no trial, no temptation to sin, no pushing, pulling, prodding, or anything else that comes my way that makes me any different than anyone else. We all experience these things, maybe in different ways and at times to different degrees, but I am no different than anyone else.

“BUT GOD…. He is always faithful in all things. With every trial, test, or temptation—no matter how big or how small; with all of these things He has set a limit to them. He will not allow anything into my life beyond which He also has not given the ability to victoriously endure. With every single test, trial, and temptation He has provided a way of escape, and He will keep me from being crushed, and He will bring me out standing on the other side. This is true whether that other side is realized in this life or ultimately in His presence. This is a certain fact.

“Therefore, I will place my trust in Him and look not to the size of the situation, BUT to the size and faithfulness of my GOD.” [Joe Burgess]

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (9/27)

Relax in My everlasting arms. Your weakness is an opportunity to grow in awareness of My Almighty Presence. When your energy fails you, do not look inward and lament the lack you find there. Look to Me and My sufficiency; rejoice in My radiant riches that are abundantly available to help you.

Go gently through this day, leaning on Me and enjoying My Presence. Thank Me for your neediness, which is building trust-bonds between us. If you look back on your journey thus far, you can see that days of extreme weakness have been some of your most precious times. Memories of these days are richly interwoven with golden strands of My intimate Presence.

“The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms; and He drove out the enemy from before you, and said, ‘Destroy!’” (Deuteronomy 33:27, NASB95)

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13–14, NASB95)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Access Granted

I’ve heard a lot of advertisements over the years, and it is amazing the number of things we can view or even buy, as they say, “right from the comfort of your own home.” There is so much that we might tend to allow inside our walls through media sources, that if it came to our front door and asked we would most likely send it away. Today in “Jesus Calling” I read, “Marvel at the wonder of communing with the Creator of the universe while sitting in the comfort of your own home.” And it isn’t a sales gimmick. It can't be bought with three easy payments.

In the Old Testament, prior to the coming of Jesus Christ (the Messiah), there was put in place by God a system of sacrifices which would be offered up in the tabernacle which was built to God’s specifications (and then later a temple). And at the heart of the tabernacle was a place secured by a veil known as the most holy place or the holy of holies.

“Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to its plan which you have been shown in the mountain. You shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen; it shall be made with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman. You shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, their hooks also being of gold, on four sockets of silver. You shall hang up the veil under the clasps, and shall bring in the ark of the testimony there within the veil; and the veil shall serve for you as a partition between the holy place and the holy of holies. You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the holy of holies.” (Exodus 26:30–34, NASB95)

Over the next several chapters we read of further instructions concerning the construction of the tabernacle, a period of rebellion while Moses was on the mountain, and then the actual construction of the tabernacle, culminating in Exodus 40:33 where we read, “Thus Moses finished the work.”

What followed next closed the doors for most to subsequently enter. “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.” (Exodus 40:34–38, NASB95)

As we move into Leviticus we move into the system of sacrifices in the tabernacle (including those for sin, guilt, and peace), which were offered up by Aaron and some of his sons who were appointed and consecrated by God as priests. Access to this most holy place was limited both in the tabernacle and then later in the temple.

Yet at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross we read, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.” (Matthew 27:50–51, NASB95) The place that was once reserved for the high priest was now torn open for all. Where once sacrifices were offered up in the temple, now the full and final sacrifice was offered up on the cross, and through it we were all offered full and complete forgiveness and access to Jesus, our High Priest, who is present with us wherever we are.

In Hebrews chapter 9 we have a summary both the Old and the New. “For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Hebrews 9:24–28, NASB95) (For a more complete reading take some time and read all of Hebrews, chapter 9.)

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are….” (Hebrews 3:1–6, NASB95)

Because of the sacrifice of Jesus we have been granted access to God, both as a body of believers in which He is working corporately and as individual believers. “…for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:18–22, NASB95) … “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, NASB95)

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:19–25, NASB95)

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (9/26)

Come to Me and listen! Attune yourself to My voice, and receive My richest blessings. Marvel at the wonder of communing with the Creator of the universe while sitting in the comfort of your home. Kings who reign on earth tend to make themselves inaccessible; ordinary people almost never gain an audience with them. Even dignitaries must plow through red tape and protocol in order to speak with royalty.

Though I am King of the universe, I am totally accessible to you. I am with you wherever you are. Nothing can separate you from My Presence! When I cried out from the cross, “It is finished!” the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This opened the way for you to meet Me face to Face, with no need of protocol or priests. I, the King of kings, am your constant Companion.

“The Lord God has given Me [the Lord] the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.” (Isaiah 50:4, NASB95)

“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 delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David.” (Isaiah 55:2–3, NASB95)

“Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” (John 19:30, NASB95)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Truly, Truly He has Said

I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading and reflecting on Jesus’ interaction with His disciples in the Upper Room following what we know as the Last Supper, where He shared the Passover meal with them for the last time this side of the cross. In the verses which follow from the end of chapter 13 through chapter 16, Jesus told His disciples many things and answered several of their questions which they had not previously understood. He assured them that in His leaving that He was not leaving them permanently and that He surely would return for them and bring them with Him into eternity. He assured them of the oneness relationship that He had with the Father, and that He indeed did have the authority to say the things He was saying and the power to accomplish what He said He would do. He also comforted them with the knowledge that even in His absence that the Father would send the Holy Spirit to be present with them and to help them.

In these chapters we have the New Commandment to love one another which is specifically speaking of those who are in the faith, and that through their love for one another others will see and know them to be His disciples (John 13:34-35). We have the assurance of a new and better home awaiting us to which He would bring us (John 14:1-3). We have His statement about His oneness with the Father in such a way that everything He spoke was spoken with the authority of the Father (John 14:10-11), and as such we would read several times in these chapters the words, “Truly, truly.” We read in John chapter 15 of Him stating that He is the vine and that as we abide in Him and Him is us that we will bear much fruit, and that this abiding includes His love shown to us and our obedience lived before Him. He even spoke of those who would hate them because of their love for Him, but that even then His Spirit would continue to confirm Him by bearing witness of Him (John 15:18-27). And John 16 begins with, “I have said these things to keep you from falling away.” These powerful assurance statements of Jesus continued to add one upon the other, leading to this which we read at the end of chapter 16,

“His disciples said, “Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech. Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”” (John 16:29–33, NASB95)

Jesus spoke to His disciples in this way prior to the crucifixion so that they would not be destroyed when Jesus was hung upon the cross, but rather that they would know this was not the end. He spoke these things so that they would know that He did know what He was talking about and doing, and in that they could trust Him. It was going to be a difficult time and they were going to see much that would shake them at their core, and knowing this Jesus called them to trust Him.

Reading the words of the Upper Room discourse should also serve as an encouragement to us as we are reminded that God does know what He is doing, and that He is imminently powerful to accomplish it perfectly. These words are a powerful reminder of the promises of God, the continual presence of Christ in our lives, and in the abiding empowerment of the Spirit. All of these remind us that we, like the disciples, are needy of pouring all of our trust in Christ who poured Himself out for us and that He will bring to pass what He has promised and will also preserve us until that day when we meet Him face to Face.

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24, NASB95)

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (9/25)

Pour all of your energy into trusting Me. It is through trust that you stay connected to Me, aware of My Presence. Every step on your life-journey can be a step of faith. Baby steps of trust are simple for you; you can take them with almost unconscious ease. Giant steps are another matter altogether: leaping across chasms in semi-darkness, scaling cliffs of uncertainty, trudging through the valley of the shadow of death. These feats require sheer concentration, as well as utter commitment to Me.

Each of My children is a unique blend of temperament, giftedness, and life experiences. Something that is a baby step for you may be a giant step for another person, and vice versa. Only I know the difficulty or ease of each segment your journey. Beware of trying to impress others by acting as if your giant steps are only baby ones. Do not judge others whose hesitate, in trembling fear, before an act that would be easy for you. If each of My children would seek to please Me above all else, fear of others’ judgments would vanish, as would attempts to impress others. Focus your attention on the path just ahead of you and on the One who never leaves your side.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4, NASB95)

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1–2, NASB95)

“The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” (Proverbs 29:25, NASB95)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Heavenly Minded

As I read my devotional this morning I thought of an old expression that I know I must have heard in person, because it was well before emails and internet. It goes like this, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good.” While it is old enough and its origin uncertain that I don’t know what was originally intended, I can easily imagine that it may have been used to tell someone to get their head out of the clouds and to get real about what is going on down here. It could even have been used as a criticism of Christians who are so supposedly sold on God and their hope in heaven that they seem to lose track of the reality of life. It may have seemed quite clever, but is it biblical?

C.S. Lewis, in “Mere Christianity,” wrote “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” And he was quite right when our focus here it is on things which will pass and ultimately do not matter or on managing and surviving with varying expectations of enjoyment and self-satisfaction. But the reality is, that a wholly here focus is living in denial of an other than here reality. It is living as if God does not exist or as if He does not care to involve Himself in the affairs of man.

The Bible says, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2, NASB95) God has both declared and demonstrated His love for man and His desire to have a relationship with His creation. He sent His Son in the form of man in order to draw man back to Himself through the forgiveness of his sins and the gift of eternal life. And He has proven His desire to be continually present with His creation by sealing and indwelling every believer with His Holy Spirit. This is our God who engages Himself in our lives and to whom we are to continually look in worship and for guidance.

And He has left us here for a season and a purpose until such time that we enter His presence and enjoy Him fully forever. During this season He has called us to trust Him in all things, and in order to do this we have to look to Him in all things. Looking to Him in all things requires that we have hearts and minds that are heavenly minded (God-directed) in order that He might use us to accomplish His purposes here on earth. To do otherwise is like trying to build a complex construction without any instructions, and to be quite honest, even missing the most critical parts.

Living with our eyes set on Christ strengthens us for the stuff here which can so easily prove discouraging and keeps us from that which can become so easily wasted. Living with our trust in God, growing out of our getting to know Him more and more, both keeps our hope for the things above fresh and equips us for that which He has here below. So, let’s turn that phrase upside down by growing in our heavenly mindedness as we watch what good God does here on earth.

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1–3, NASB95)

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:12–17, NASB95)

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (9/24)

Live first and foremost in My Presence. Gradually you will become more aware of Me than of people and places around you. This awareness will not detract from your relationships with others. Instead, it will increase your ability to give love and encouragement to them. My Peace will permeate your words and demeanor. You will be active in the world, yet one step removed from it. You will not be easily shaken, because My enveloping Presence buffers the blow of problems.

This is the path I have set before you. As you follow it wholeheartedly, you experience abundant Life and Peace.

“How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! O Lord, they walk in the light of Your countenance. In Your name they rejoice all the day, and by Your righteousness they are exalted.” (Psalm 89:15–16, NASB95)

“I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8, NASB95)

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;” (2 Peter 1:2, NASB95)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Walk with Me

This past weekend we were up in Rainier, Oregon helping one of our sons and his wife move into their new home. Their old home has a very steep drive-way, so steep that our van would not back into it without scraping the front cowling on the ground. So, every load to the van was carried down steep concrete steps—up and down and up and down and up and down and ….You get the picture. By the end of the day my knees and hips were quite sore (no pity—just illustrating a point, because it was our great pleasure to help them). But in the end we could see the progress and at night we could definitely sleep.

Sometimes our lives can seem like those tiresome steps, where we wonder even if we can do it one more time. Carrying stuff around in our hearts, minds, and bodies can be very burdensome. It can wear us down and steal joy and hope from our lives. Whether it is guilt, shame, secrets, a long-term or even a short-term but intense trial, they can all wear us down making each step difficult and foreboding.

Everyone has trials. Everyone sins, and everyone has things to regret and issues they’d rather avoid. And it is the commonness of these things that brings us all to the point where our singular answer is found in our God, the work of His Son on our behalf, and the enabling of His Spirit in our lives.

First of all, are the issues of guilt and shame. It is guilt and shame that drove Adam and Eve to hide after they ate from the tree, and it is guilt and shame that drives us to draw within ourselves. At the core of this is the unavoidable truth that we are all guilty. We have all done things worthy of judgment. But we don’t have to live under that guilt, for God has given us release in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus was always and remains fully God, yet He consented to the will of the Father and willingly was born of a virgin to become a man, living a sinless life keeping Himself as the spotless Lamb who could pay the ultimate sacrifice, satisfying the price for our guilt. This He did on the cross when He willingly laid down His life, knowing that it would not end there. For on the third day, as foretold in the Scriptures, He took it up again not only demonstrating His power over death, but extending to us the right through His gift offering to have the full and complete forgiveness of sins and the inheritance of new life which never could again be lost.

Jesus paid for our sins, and as such they are fully accounted for and our accounts are credited with His righteousness when we trust Him for salvation. This means that the real big part of guilt and shame has been permanently taken care of. Now, there are the smaller issues of guilt and shame when we do sin and when we hurt others. With God we confess those sins to Him knowing that He has forgiven us and that we can continue to be right with Him. But with others, whose forgiveness might not be as freely granted, there might be a difficult walk to endure. But it is a walk we need to face, knowing even in this that God has given us the strength. We need to set aside our pride and our image and admit that it is growing into the image of Christ which is our real desire even as we deal with others.

Next are those things that come from living in a fallen world next to people doing the same thing, all carrying around personal bodies which are temporary and ultimately failing. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30, NASB95)

Man was not created to carry around all of this garbage, but as a result of sin we now must do so. Jesus tells us that when we place our trust in Him and enter into a relationship with our Creator God that these originally unintended burdens become His burdens—taken up at the cross. And it is our responsibility to turn them back to Him, knowing that He will strengthen us for the challenges He sovereignly allows into our lives. Peter wrote, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7, NASB95) He went on to write about the reality of the battle in which we are engaged, but also affirms our God who will bring us to victory. “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:8–10, NASB95)

Paul wrote, “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13, NASB95)

Sarah adds in today’s devotional writing….

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (9/23)

Walk with Me in the freedom of forgiveness. The path we follow together is sometimes steep and slippery. If you carry a burden of guilt on your back, you are more likely to stumble and fall. At your request, I will remove the heavy load from you and bury it at the foot of the cross. When I unburden you, you are undeniably free! Stand up straight and tall in My Presence, so that no one can place more burdens on your back. Look into My Face and feel the warmth of My Love-Light shining upon you. It is the unconditional Love that frees you from both fears and sins. Spend time basking in the Light of My Presence. As you come to know Me more and more intimately, you grow increasingly free.

“Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation. Selah.” (Psalm 68:19, NASB95)

“but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:7–9, NASB95)

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18, NASB95) 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Living at the Intersection

The death of a loved one is a dramatic way to demonstrate the tension we experience between the things of heaven and the things of earth. If the loved one has placed his or her life into the hands of God and trusted in His Son for their salvation, then death for that person is actually a fulfillment of their greatest expectation. Yet the time leading up to it can be filled with pain and suffering, with anticipation of the future mixed with a desire to remain with those in the present. There is no greater dividing line between heaven and earth than the body of life surrounding us now. We live as Paul said with divided attentions. Though the context is about end times and whether it is better to marry or not marry, knowing that we are free to do either without sinning, Paul wrote about a core issue which all of us contend with, and that is our divided attentions.

 “But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:32–34, NASB95)

Marriage and relationships are good things. God designed us that way. But with those relationships come bonds which pull us in different directions and bring upon us varying demands. While these demands are ones we often would not trade for the blessing of the bonds, they do set us in a place of tension. It is even here, though, that we are called to give our undivided attention to God, and to entrust every one of our relationships and our needs to Him and trust Him to meet them.

These pressing issues can become monstrous tyrants when they are seen apart from God and His power over every single one of them. These demands can give us cause to lose hope when we lose sight that even the best of things here is only temporary and pales in comparison to our awaiting glorification and enjoyment of God forever in His presence. I do not know what heaven holds for me, but I know that God has intended me to spend eternity with Him in a relationship for which man was created but which was broken by sin. Returning man to that kind of a relationship was even the joy which was set before our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ when He laid down His life for us. In just three verses of Hebrews 12 we see both those who have gone before and us who are still waiting brought together because Jesus went to the cross.

“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, NASB95)

Yesterday I wrote a bit about the battle we are engaged in for our minds and included some Scripture from Ephesians 6. If you were to read on from there in Ephesians you would find that it is Jesus who also equips us for that battle so that we might live victoriously. And as we close our eyes and think about our loved ones who have gone before and their opportunity now to fully be in God’s presence, we can get a taste of the joy that moved God to send us His Son and the joy which the Son has as we are presented back to Him as His bride. The last chapters of Revelation talk about a glorious time when all of this will come to a culmination and we will be given a new and permanent home.

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1–4, NASB95)

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (9/19)

There is a mighty battle going in for control of your mind. Heaven and earth intersect in your mind; the tugs of both spheres influence your thinking. I created you with the capacity to experience foretastes of heaven. When you shut out the world and focus on My Presence, you can enjoy sitting with Me in heavenly realms. This is an incredible privilege reserved for precious ones who belong to Me and seek My Face. Your greatest strength is your desire to spend time communing with Me. As you concentrate on Me, My Spirit fills your mind with Life and Peace.

The world exerts a downward pull on your thoughts. Media bombard you with greed, lust, and cynicism. When you face these things, pray for protection and discernment. Stay in continual communication with Me whenever you walk through the wastelands of this world. Refuse to worry, because this form of worldliness will weigh you down and block awareness of My Presence. Stay alert, recognizing the battle being waged against your mind. Look forward to an eternity of strife-free living, reserved for you in heaven.

“When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O LORD, I shall seek.”” (Psalm 27:8, NASB95)

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,” (Romans 8:6, NASB95)

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15–17, NASB95)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

God’s Welfare

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NASB95)

This morning I found out that something I had expected to happen did not happen and it left me trying to find out what actually did happen. As I moved through the process, including sitting on hold on the phone for a very long time, I had plenty of time to also wait on God and His peace and leading in the situation. As I did this I also reflected on my devotional reading for the day, and especially the part where the author wrote, “You inhabit a fallen disjointed world, where things are constantly unraveling around the edges. Only a vibrant relationship with Me can keep you from coming unraveled too.” As I read this I thought, ‘how true.’ I thought about my God who does not unravel and who holds the very strings that appear to be unraveling. And in doing this I closed my eyes and prayed.

As I continued to sit on hold I also remembered a sermon I heard last year by David Jeremiah in which he spoke about how things might actually get harder after we get leading from God and set a course of following Him. The reason for this is that we have an evil one who is active in trying to thwart what God intends, and if we are in line with God’s intention then we should fully expect that he would try to thwart us as well. This is one area where the need to be close to God is easily seen. It would be easy to see these barriers and unraveling things as closed doors and as a sign that we should move in another direction, which actually may be what God intends. But it also may be an attack of the enemy through which our keeping our eyes on our faithful and powerful God will again demonstrate that His plans will not be thwarted, and that He indeed has authority over all and in all.

The apostle Paul in Ephesians 6 wrote, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:10–13, NASB95)

So as I continue to sit on hold and wait on a response, I also will do so waiting on God. And even when I don’t know what is going on or even how to pray I know that His Spirit is right there with me interceding on my behalf. “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:26–28, NASB95)

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (9/18)

Seek to please Me above all else. Let that goal be your focal point as you go through this day. Such a mind-set will protect you from scattering your energy to the winds. The free will I bestowed on you comes with awesome responsibility. Each day presents you with choice after choice. Many of these decisions you ignore and thus make by default. Without a focal point to guide you, you can easily lose your way. That’s why it is so important to stay in communication with Me, living in thankful awareness of My Presence.

You inhabit a fallen disjointed world, where things are constantly unraveling around the edges. Only a vibrant relationship with Me can keep you from coming unraveled too.

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33, NASB95)

“And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29, NASB95

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (Colossians 3:23–24, NASB95)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Directed Steps

“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.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95)

I remember the first time I went to a professional hockey game. The team I had gone to see with my friends and was rooting for was down by one goal at the end of the third quarter, which didn’t seem like a real problem to me as there was still one more quarter for them to catch up. Then everyone began to leave the arena, and I turned to my friend who brought me with him. I don’t remember exactly how it went, but it must have been somewhat humorous when he told me that hockey did not have quarters, but had three periods and the game was over.

I imagine all of us have had times when we thought we had all of the details covered and we had a green light from God. Yet as we began to move forward we found out that there was still a significant barrier which either brought everything to a stop, led to some scrambling, or hopefully even stepping back and asking God if there was something there which needed to be considered. Maybe some additional waiting needed to be done, or maybe there even needed to be some redirection.

I know I am pretty good at details, and I have to be careful not to get ahead of where I should be with God. Even in times when we move forward seeking God’s leading there may very well be occasions where we have no checks in our heart and our prayers, yet at some point in the process God may step in and tweak or redirect things a bit. He might even close a door that we had thought was open.

Planning in itself may not be as much the problem as making plans ourselves and then taking them to God for His rubber stamp. In these paragraphs there are several points where presumption or assumption may creep in and lead to frustration; those are the points where we may have ceased looking to God for all of our plans, which are really His plans for us. When plans are ours we tend to make the decisions, when the plans belong to someone else it is incumbent upon us that we find out what that person wants.

Paul mentions open doors several times in his letters. In each of them we see that he had a desire for ministry in a certain way, but we also see that he was submitting that ministry to God’s leading which sometimes was even governed—permitted and even restrained—by circumstance. This did not shake his trust, but rather gave him cause to rejoice in what else God might be doing by changing things around.

What more powerful way to demonstrate the power of God to open and close doors and to give permission to either go through them or even restrain us than that of a prison door. In the book of Acts we have several accounts of God doing a miraculous works with prison doors. In Acts 5:17-23 the apostles are arrested and imprisoned, yet in the middle of the night an angel sets them free even having the door remain locked after they were gone. In Acts 12:6-11 Peter had been arrested and was even in chains between two guards, and again an angel sets him free, with him passing right past guards and even seeing a gate opened before him. Peter was quite surprised when he realized that this was not a dream. And then in Acts 16 while Paul and Silas were imprisoned and singing praises to God when an earthquake struck and the doors of the cell were opened. Yet this time they did not leave, and as a result the guard and his whole household were saved. It was Paul who later in Philippians wrote of another imprisonment:

“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” (Philippians 1:12–14, NASB95)

But even in the times out of prison Paul saw things the same way as we read in Acts 14:24-28, “They passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished. When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they spent a long time with the disciples.” (Acts 14:24–28, NASB95)

Of course, the prison accounts mentioned above were obvious miracles. But as you read the accounts of the apostles, and in particular of the apostle Paul, you find that they relied on God directing their steps in their daily lives, with God providing them access and even restricting them access as He intended and them relying on Him for the very words that came from their mouths as we see Paul even asking people to pray on his behalf. He saw his care and his provision as coming from God and even the churches being able to give as God gave them opportunity. Paul knew what it meant to trust God with His steps that he might be the faithful servant God called him to be.

Today I needed this lesson again, and I also am thankful for my God who has promised to direct my steps as I align my heart with His agenda.

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (9/17)

You will not find My Peace by engaging in excessive planning: attempting to control what will happen to you in the future. That is a commonly practiced form of unbelief. When your mind spins with multiple plans, peace may sometimes seem to be within your grasp; yet it always eludes you. Just when you think you have prepared for all possibilities, something unexpected pops up and throws things into confusion.

I did not design the human mind to figure out the future. I crafted your mind for continual communication with Me. Bring Me all your needs, your hopes and fears. Commit everything into My care. Turn from the path of planning to the path of Peace.

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6–7, NASB95)

“The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9, NASB95)

“Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He will do it.” (Psalm 37:5, NASB95)

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Example of Enduring Marriage

The other day Robin and I sat next to a couple who have been married for sixty-seven years. That’s twice the number of years we’ve been married, and we were very much encouraged by the joy they shared in talking about their years together. When a man and a woman give themselves to each other in marriage a oneness union is created which is not intended to be separated this side of the grave. And to see couples, such as this, endure in a world where so many people give up on one another for one reason or another is a testimony to their committed relationship with each other, a relationship in which two separate and unique people come together to love and build into each other for as long as they both should live.

Today we were blessed with a trout dinner when another couple came by to share the bounty of their catch from a fishing trip that they did not know if they would have again together as the wife is very weak from her battle with cancer. Yet they went, and though she was very tired, it was a very good day for them together.  We have been so incredibly blessed by knowing them as friends during our lives here in Grants Pass, and it is difficult watching them walk together through this season of their oneness life together as they near 59 years of marriage.

Similarly, I am mindful of my own parents who raised four children while my dad was subject to the directives of the US Navy for my entire life in their home (30 years active duty complete with deployments). Following his Navy retirement they deployed to Saudi Arabia for a new ten year adventure in a very restrictive land where they experienced many incredible things together. And after returning to the US they settled in Grants Pass for another eighteen years where they continued to serve side by side until it was interrupted by my mom having a stroke followed by other events, with my dad spending every day by her side (even learning to cook and so much more). Even when he, himself, was found to have terminal cancer and my mom was in a care facility, he continued to be by her side every day until his strength would not allow, leading to moving to Utah and spending their last days together in my sister’s living room. They celebrated their 50th anniversary together here and were both in the presence of God before their 51st.

All of these couples demonstrate the enduring nature of marriage, and while I don’t know the first couple, I do know that the other two couples endured some very good times and some very difficult times. And as they finish together they did or are doing so knowing the strength that God provides and with the hope that comes from being united together in Him.

In Ephesians, chapter 5, the apostle Paul used marriage as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and His church, in which Jesus gave of Himself that His bride might be presented without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish, as He nourishes and cherishes her. In verses 28-32 we read, “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH." (Ephesians 5:28–31, NASB95)

As humans, born alienated from God because of our sin, we are called by Christ into a relationship with Him. And having believed that He loves us and that He indeed gave Himself fully to purchase our salvation, we accept His hand and enter into an eternal relationship with the living God. At that moment everything changes, and yet in some ways little changes. Where we were once spiritually dead, we are now made alive in Christ. Our spirit is joined with His Spirit and we become inseparable.  Yet we also have all of those things which make us unique, which includes our passions, talents, and skills as well as our junky stuff and the tendency to still do junky stuff—to sin and rebel. But Christ is absolutely faithful to us as our God who can’t do anything else, not only always by our side but His Spirit even fully indwelling us, as He builds into us and we grow in our faithfulness to Him as we read in Ephesians 5:25-27.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25–27, NASB95)

What we can’t do for ourselves, God overwhelmingly does. But this doesn't work well if we fight Him in the process. Going back to the biblical instructions on marriage we find that there is also a submission that must occur. In verses 23 and 24 we read, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:23–24, NASB95)

Christ does His work in us as we submit to Him and trust Him to do what He said He would do for us.  Where I fail as a human husband, Christ does not fail. And He even sets for me a greater example as I see how He submitted to His Father (with whom He also is fully God), even to the point of death on a cross.

We don’t bring anything to Him except for us returning our admiration and submitting ourselves to His guidance in our lives. What He asks of us is that we love Him with all of our hearts and look to Him and trust Him fully as He directs our steps as the God who knows perfectly and will eventually even bring us to perfection.

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (9/16)

I designed you to live in union with Me. This union does not negate who you are; it actually makes you more fully yourself. When you try to live independently of Me, you experience emptiness and dissatisfaction. You may gain the whole world and yet lose everything that really counts.

Find fulfillment through living close to Me, yielding to My purposes for you. Though I may lead you along paths that feel alien to you, trust that I know what I am doing. If you follow Me wholeheartedly, you will discover facets of yourself that were previously hidden. I know you intimately—far better than you know yourself. In union with Me, you are complete. In closeness to Me, you are transformed more and more into the one I designed to be.

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36, NASB95)

“For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” (Psalm 139:13–16, NASB95)

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17–18, NASB95)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

How Good Is Good Enough?

There are many who believe that their good will eventually outweigh  their bad, and because of that they will be accepted by God and allowed into His heaven (or whatever else they might think comes after this life). Their basis of acceptance is them basically being good people, and as long as they continue to be good people then their chances are pretty good for them to experience a favorable afterlife. The basic problem here is, who determines how good is good enough?

There are so many different standards out there, and what if the one any person chooses to follow isn’t the right one, or what if they happen to die on the wrong day when the scale is tipped in the other direction, or if they die sooner than they had expected basing their hopes upon doing their own thing now and good later when they have more time? What happens then? This is such a risky way to live. And if you do live that way, do you really want to be around a God that would leave all of this stuff up for grabs? This was part of the message at a recent memorial service for a friend who didn’t leave this stuff up for grabs.

The reason she didn’t leave stuff up for grabs was not that she was a super-wonderful, extra-good person, though we thought very highly of her. No, it was because she placed her trust in a God who did not leave all of those questions about eternity up for grabs. You see, her salvation and her assurance was not based upon her good works (which she did plenty of as you listen to the people she impacted in her life), but rather it was based upon her receiving a gift from God to do what she could not do for herself.

The problem for every single one of us is that we are not perfect. We’ve all messed up, blown it, rebelled (sinned) in many ways and many times. Yet God hasn’t. He has never failed in any way. This leaves quite a gap between us—His perfection and our dismal imperfection. His scale of good is absolute and ours is absolutely flawed. So, in answer to this His perfect and flawless Son—God Himself from the beginning—Jesus Christ willingly gave up His life to pay the price for our failings. And He didn’t remain in the grave like a brave soldier or first responder of some type who might have given his or her life to save others. No, the Bible tells us, and history supports it, that He rose from the dead on the third day demonstrating His power to lay down His life and to take it up again. With Him taking up His own life He also offered to all who believe in Him both the forgiveness of sins and a newness of life that lasts for eternity.

And just as this new life is given as a gift free to us, but bought at a high price by Him, so also He gives us the ability to live in the same way—by faith and not by works. This does not mean that we go and do anything we please because we’ve been forgiven, but rather because of His great love shown to us we return ourselves as ones bought with the price of His blood as faithful servants who live to please Him (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Doing good works is important, not because our eternity is dependent upon them, but because it is the only reasonable thing for us to do as children adopted by the living God (Romans 12:1-2).

In this there is great freedom—freedom from a performance driven life. We don’t have to work to please God. God is pleased when we spend time with Him, when we worship Him, and when we in faith step out in service to Him because of the love which He has shown to us and which abides in us (Romans 5:1-7; Titus 3:3-8). Take time and get to know Him. Take time to rest in his presence. Take time to listen to His voice and to hide His Word in your hearts, and then go through your day giving everything back to Him knowing that His love never fails.

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:1–7, NASB95)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NASB95)

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95)

(If you have questions about today’s posting I would love to talk with you more, and also give you a gift of a little, but powerful book, titled, “How Good Is Good Enough?” Just message me and let’s take it from there.)

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (9/15)

Rest in Me, My child. This time devoted to Me is meant to be peaceful, not stressful. You don’t have to perform in order to receive My Love. I have boundless, unconditional Love for you. How it grieves Me to see My children working for Love: trying harder and harder, yet never feeling good enough to be loved.

Be careful that your devotion to Me does not become another form of works. I want you to come into My Presence joyfully and confidently. You have nothing to fear, for you wear My own righteousness. Gaze into My eyes, and you will see no condemnation, only Love an delight in the one I see. Be blessed as My Face shines radiantly upon you, giving you Peace,

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, NASB95)

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” (Zephaniah 3:17, NASB95)

“The Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.’” (Numbers 6:25–26, NASB95)