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Practical Faith

Updated: 2017-11-17T21:02:34.199-07:00


God’s answer to my pride


Some people have a rough time with their self-image. I just read a novel about a person wrongly accused of murder. He had a sad past and was continually told that he was an evil child, an evil youth, and an evil adult. After fifteen years in jail, he considered himself an evil man even after he was proven innocent. Eventually, he acted out this image of himself and killed someone.I grew up under the care of loving parents who supported and encourage me, but I’ve talked to peers who were not so fortunate. One of them told me that no matter what she did as she grew up, it was never good enough. Out of that background, she struggles with the grace of God. How could she be acceptable with all her shortcomings? She knew that Christ gave her His righteousness, but has trouble ‘feeling’ the reality of it. Yet even with a supportive upbringing, I can grasp a bit of what this self-abasing does and where it comes from. I want to feel as if I deserve the goodness of God and recognize the root of it is pride. Even without a background that produces a lack of self-worth, pride messes with God’s message of grace. Instead of joyfully and freely accepting His gift of salvation, my sinful human heart will try to ‘do something’ or ‘be somebody’ so that I can boast. Throughout the Bible, God addresses pride as sin yet answers it in a surprising way — with unconditional love. No matter what I am or have done, or what I’m not and haven’t done, He loves me and while I am a sinner, He sent Jesus to die for me. However, God also challenges my pride with the way He wants me to live. When I read passages like the following one, I realize that God’s thoughts are nothing like the way I think, or how my friend thinks, or how that fictional character in prison thinks. God’s love for us is not about what we do or do not do, or about what we deserve. It is not like the doting love, or the never-satisfied demands we experience in our upbringing. Parents may or may not reflect the love of God, but if they do, it is partial at best. For us, Jesus Christ is the example . . . “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:18–25) God’s ways are not like human ways. We want a good boss, just and fair treatment, but Jesus trusted His Father so much that He willingly accepted all that happened to Him. He didn’t try to prove Himself and was not driven to ‘do something’ or ‘be somebody’ so He could win, come out on top, or even boast. Instead, He accepted God’s will for Him and was willing to be utterly humiliated rather than defend Himself. He didn’t fight back.As today’s devotional reading says, they lifted him up on the Cross and hanging between heaven and earth, they watched him die. Christ ‘He Himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree.’ “The sword of God’s justice was drawn against him and the cup of wrath was poured out upon him. He took the place of the guilty, became the guilty, and bore the penalty of guilt that we deserve. The Son of God was crushed to death beneath the wheel of divine justice.”This is the truth that needs to go from mental assent to deeply into the way I th[...]

In Christ, we are perfect


My husband is a decent golfer. Occasionally he has someone else check his swing to improve. However, he says knowing the rules and the proper way to do it does not insure being able to do it perfectly. I understand. I am a quilter and use a longarm machine for larger quilts. I know how to stitch feathers and other fancy stitches and can do them on paper with a pencil, but that does not insure perfect curves and lines on the quilt. Mine can wobble more easily than not. This illustrates the law of God. We can know it and agree with it, but that does not mean we can do it. Every one of us has a sin nature and our propensity to sin messes with all our good efforts. This failure to measure up explains why God sent the Lord Jesus Christ — to keep the law for us, but also to grant His perfections to all who believe. With Jesus as our Savior, we are right with God. Our own efforts fall short, but in Him we can be forgiven and justified: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21–26) Sometimes the Bible is the best interpretation of itself. That is, one passage can be made understandable by other passages. Besides that, a different translation also helps. It isn’t that other translations change the meaning (or they shouldn’t), but they might say the same thing in words that are more like the reader would say it. This passage from the Contemporary English Version clarifies for me the above passage from Romans: “The Law of Moses is like a shadow of the good things to come. This shadow isn’t the good things themselves, because it cannot free people from sin by the sacrifices that are offered year after year. If there were worshipers who already have their sins washed away and their consciences made clear, there would not be any need to go on offering sacrifices. But the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins. It only reminds people of their sins from one year to the next. When Christ came into the world, he said to God, ‘Sacrifices and offerings are not what you want, but you have given me my body. No, you are not pleased with animal sacrifices and offerings for sin.’ Then Christ said, ‘And so, my God, I have come to do what you want, as the Scriptures say.’ The Law teaches that offerings and sacrifices must be made because of sin. But why did Christ mention these things and say that God did not want them? Well, it was to do away with offerings and sacrifices and to replace them. That is what he meant by saying to God, ‘I have come to do what you want.’ So we are made holy because Christ obeyed God and offered himself once for all.” (Hebrews 10:1–10, CEV) Quilters can send out their quilt tops to a professional to have them stitched using expensive computerized machines. If I do that, the work is partly mine yet overall it looks far better than had I done it all myself. In this case, most of the credit goes to the pro who quilted it. Golf does not allow a tour champion play on behalf of a duffer. It might make the duffer’s score look better, but in the kingdom of God, God Himself sent Jesus to ‘play’ on our behalf. Because of Him, our ‘score’ with God is far better than par; it is perfect. ^^^^^^^^^^Jesus, I don’t know how to best explain what You have done. You came from heaven to earth, putting on human flesh to become one of us. God put all our sin and sins on You and You bore the penalty [...]

Faith in what? And why?


Various passages of the Old Testament speak of redemption and salvation in terms of deliverance from physical harm, physical enemies, poverty, and other temporal dangers rather than referring to being saved from sin and eternal damnation:“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you . . . .’” (Isaiah 43:1–3) In the New Testament, the message of redemption is from sin, beginning with deliverance from God’s wrath and extending to deliverance from the power of sin to rule our lives. Instead of physical well-being, the focus is our relationship with God and the wonderful gift of eternal life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ:“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:1–11) I heard a well-known radio preacher talking about this offer of salvation belonging only to those God has chosen, the elect. He said that a person might wonder if he is one whom God has selected, then added that those who are not in that group would never ask that question because God has not put it in their hearts to care. This reminds me of a man who said he could be “saved anytime” he felt like it, but he “didn’t feel like it.” My hubby often chides the idea that people who say, “I gave my life to Christ” need to eventually realize that this happened because Christ put a hunger for Him in their hearts. The saving work belongs to Him, from start to finish and the glory of it should go to Him.Even in the OT, God is the author of all saving work, whether it is salvation through fire, floods and enemy attacks, or that salvation by faith that makes a believer a child of God. Access to Him is and has always been by faith, yet faith comes by hearing Him, by hearing the “word of Christ.”“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) Faith requires an object, something to believe. It does not stand alone because no one can say “I have faith” without that ‘faith’ being in something or someone. Faith in ‘faith’ is worthless. However, I can put my faith in many things, such as electricity, my computer, the postal service, and so on. I can do it because evidence shows that these things will do as expected, at least most of the time. Faith in God is not exactly the same. For one thing, He is totally reliable. He does not lie nor break His promises. How do I know that? I know it because He declares it and I take Him at His Word. Logically, if this were faith in any human person, my faith would require more than that, like evidence that they are what they claim and will do wh[...]

The Lord guides each step


Christians are supposed to be different, not different-weird but different from the sinful, selfish people we once were. For instance, when Jesus encountered a rich man who was a “chief tax collector” and called a sinner by many who knew him, that man was transformed:“And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’” (Luke 19:8) Today’s devotional passage also talks about that change, affirming that it not about pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, but about something God does by grace and for His purposes:“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, 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 coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:4–10) The changes made by God are because of His mercy and love, not anything I did or could do. I was “dead in sin” and dead people are useless. To that need, He made me “alive in Christ” together with other Christians and gave us an eternal place with Him in the heavenly places that we might experience His grace and kindness. That is a huge change. Before my salvation, I enjoyed “common grace” in that I could live and breathe, but I had no clue about the matters of God or His purposes for my life.These changes produced by God are for good works, not because of good works. That is, I could not do anything to please God until after He sent Jesus into my life. However, He had prepared good works for me to do — even though I could not do them until He saved me by grace and changed my heart, motivations, attitude, and direction.What delights me is that what God wants me to do (His will for my life) was planned and prepared beforehand. That is, God had my life mapped out long before He walked into it. I do not have to struggle with “what is God’s will for my life?” because He knows it and has saved me so I can do it. My part is paying attention to Him in obedience, one step at a time.^^^^^^^Jesus, this is a great assurance. You created the plan and You also direct it and make it happen. How do I know that? I know it because the most important step in that plan was changing my life just as You changed the life of Zacchaeus and millions of other people. There are times when I disobey for which I regret, yet You know all things and have worked out Your plan regardless of my stumbling and resistance. Because of your great love, I walk with You and am grateful that You know and guide each step that I take.[...]

The power of eternal love


Some of our friends are saying that world news is getting so bad that they are not watching it any longer. It is too depressing. One of them is going on a trip soon and is concerned about being in airports and on airplanes, particularly in her destinations because they have been hot spots for terrorists.I suggested that the worst-case scenario is that God would take her home. Her face brightened. She laughed, but she said, “I’m not ready to go yet!” Even though she is spiritual ready because she believes in Jesus, she has a long to-do list and would rather die in bed.We also talked about how many Christians become upset over sickness, accidents, and other life-threatening events, and how we should not — because we know Jesus. Isn’t seeing His face a greater priority than personal comfort? I realize this is easy to say, but much more difficult to live out. Fear of dying is common, even to those who do not fear death. We want to live a long life and be comfortable. At the same time, I am convinced that knowing I’m in the will of God is better having my way about anything else. Knowing He loves me is even better than knowing I am totally safe. This explains why this passage of Scripture is a tremendous blessing every time I read it. God uses it to tell me that He loves me, that He uses all the events of life to conform me into the image of His Son, and that nothing can separate me from those wonderful truths.“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:28–39) God loves me in sickness and health, in comfort and in pain. He loves me enough to accept me as I am, but not leave me that way, always working to help me overcome sin. He will give me all I need because I am His child. Christ died for all my sin. Anyone who accuses me has no grounds because He has justified me. Nothing can separate me from that love, including trouble, distress, persecution, famine, being without clothes or any other necessities, being in danger, or having threats made to my life. I am safe in His love now, and in the future, against all powers and anything else that exists. Because of this, there is nothing to fear. Life might hand me comforts or discomforts, but it cannot rob me of His love.^^^^^^^^Jesus, all I can say is that I love You because You first loved me. [...]

Jesus knows what He is doing


When Jesus came into my life, I’d not invited Him, at least not in words like the sinner’s prayer or anything audible. I was not reading the Bible at the time, although I’d developed a habit of doing that. In fact, I was reading a book about incarnation. In it was a Scripture verse (used out of context), and as I read that verse, Jesus simply appeared. Today I read again the story of a man named Zacchaeus who was “seeking to see who Jesus was” and because he was short, he climbed a tree for a better view. He knew Jesus was going to pass that way.“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:5–10) It seems that there is a span of time between when Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ home and when this man indicated his life had changed, but I understand why this is not mentioned. As one of my neighbors told me, salvation happens in a split second. When Jesus walks in, everything changes.My neighbor, after saying how quickly it happens, added, “Then you will spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what happened!”This is true, not only for me but for others who believe. As I read these daily devotions by a man named Donald Fortner, it has become clear that even the best of minds cannot figure it out. The Bible contains many statements about the process of salvation that seem to oppose each other and in our human weaknesses, the best we can do is accept that all are true. Even though this does make sense, we are convinced that God does not lie, and by faith we know we can believe things like God is sovereign, yet we are held accountable for our choices. He is in charge of my life and the source of all goodness, yet I am responsible to submit to Him. The Second Coming is another debated issue. Even though Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour, this event is constantly under scrutiny. Many try to figure out and make predictions when He will show up. If no one knows, speculation seems a huge waste of time and energy.Many theologians and average Bible readers will choose one side of these opposing issues and try to reason why the other side cannot be correct. Others decide not to do this or get into arguments about it. I’ve tried both reasoning and debating and realize their futility. God knows and that is enough.Not only that, Zacchaeus has a lesson for me. He didn’t speculate why Jesus ‘must’ come to his house — he simply came down off his perch and ‘received Him joyfully’ — following through with repentance from his sin and obedience to the will of God. To me, this is what God wants from me. I don’t need to know why or how Jesus decided to call me from my perch. He just did — and I am glad.^^^^^^^^Jesus, You are my Savior and Lord of all. I don’t need to know what made You come to my living room that day more than forty-five years ago. I just know that You came and that I joyfully received You. The best part is that You have changed my life, are dealing with my sin — and given me the faith to believe that You know what You are doing![...]

Let the Spirit do His work!


The women in my group at Bible study talked about self-examination so we can see our sin and what we need to deal with. My take? This task belongs to the Holy Spirit. He sees more clearly than I do, knows my heart, and knows the best time to reveal sinfulness to me. If He showed me the depth of my sin in the beginning of my Christian walk, I would likely consider suicide! However, seeing my sinfulness is necessary, both at the time of salvation and throughout my walk with Christ. Today’s devotional illustrates this with the story of Zacchaeus, the short man who climbed a tree to see Jesus as He passed by:“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’” (Luke 19:5–7) The rest of the story indicates how this encounter with Jesus changed Zacchaeus’ heart and produced fruit in his life that indicated he had new life from God. The devotional writer uses this coming down from his perch to say that, “Anyone who experiences the grace of God in salvation will be brought down in the dust of humiliation before the throne of his sovereign mercy. Before God exalts a man, he abases him. Before God clothes any sinner with the garments of Christ’s righteousness, he strips the sinner of the filthy rags of his own righteousness.”He goes on to make a plea, which applies to sinners not yet saved, but also Christians whose pride is getting in the way of their maturity. The Bible verifies this application by saying:“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) I was saved by realizing I could not save myself. I grow in my Christian life by realizing the same thing. When I am trusting myself in any way, ignoring the teaching I have learned from the Lord, and am grumbling and not thankful, I need to pay attention and listen to this plea:“Come down. You must come down from your own good works and come down from your own self-sufficiency. That is another great step downward, but it must be taken . . . Come down from all your hope in yourself and in what you do. Come down until you see that you are utterly without strength, until you are utterly lost, until you see that you are nothing and can do nothing. Come down until . . . you are made to see that you justly deserve to die. Come down until you are made to see your utter wickedness, vileness, corruption and filthiness. You must come down, down to the feet of Christ. The place of mercy is in the dust. Come down!”The devotional writer uses dramatic language, but sometimes a strong message is needed to shake loose the complacency of taking the grace of God for granted and letting pride run my life instead of the grace of God.^^^^^^^Jesus, You know how this happens for You see the human heart and the effects of the self-life. Like Paul, I want to do right, but that old nature has other ideas. Besides the struggle with the flesh, the devil would have me thinking I’ve reached the heights and arrived, that I am no more in need of Your mercy and can coast from now on. How foolish. The good news of the Gospel is not only for those who have not yet believed, but also for those who have received Christ. May I remember this, walk in You, rely on You, never assuming I have reached that goal, but always move toward it. [...]

Good news before breakfast


My devotional time this morning was delayed, but it was a sweet delay. A family member called, and we talked nearly an hour. He told me of how the Lord is at work in his life and the lives of his family. This good news delighted my heart and shows me again the power of God and how He answers prayer.This person is a Christian. He has an attitude that blesses me, particularly the attitude of a peacemaker and one who wants to build people up not tear them down. He fits this description:“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17–19) While I was listening to him, I thought of the burden I’ve had for his life. Even though Jesus often whispers, “I’ve got that covered” this burden would not go away. Was I piling it on myself? Was it a reminder to keep praying? Did that indicate I was trying to make changes happen — even by my ‘hard praying’ rather than trusting God to keep His promises and do the work in this fellow’s life?Perhaps all the above, but mostly the burden seemed like the ‘labor’ of the first part of what Jesus said in this well-known passage. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30) However, God changed it this morning with a visible assurance that put my heart at rest, just as Jesus promised to lighten the load when I bring it to Him. He does not want me to put on my to-do list the things that He alone can do. The yoke He gives is much easier than that!I also notice those words: gentle and lowly in heart. This is about meekness and humility. Many say that meekness is like a tamed stallion that has submitted to its owner. The horse is not weak, but that power is under control. In this case, anything I can do is under the guiding and influence of the Holy Spirit. Humility is easier to define. It means no arrogance or pride, no self-aggrandizement. It is not the putting down of self, but being taken up with others to the point that self is not given much thought. This too is the work of the Holy Spirit. I cannot do it.Yet this is what Jesus is like and this characterizes the “burden” He wants me to carry, a “burden” I noticed in my caller this morning and an attitude that shows he is at rest with himself and his life. He even said that he turns down extras because, “I have nothing to prove.” He does not need the ego-boosts and perks that come with those kinds of offers. ^^^^^^^^Jesus, I am smiling. Not only have You blessed this man in answer to my prayers, You have transformed him into a person I can look on as a great example for my own life. What a blessing You are — and I don’t mind at all that my breakfast was cold by the time I got off the phone![...]



When my sister’s three boys were small, the family lived in Algeria in a compound for foreign workers. She required an armed guard to go shopping. One day in the nearby town, they saw a small person who was obviously a dwarf. One of the boys pointed to him and said, “Look, mom. It’s Zacchaeus.” The man walked over to him and said, “You are not so tall yourself.”We have chuckled over that incident, partly because the surprise that this Algerian man understood and spoke English — but also knew the Bible and had a sense of humor. Today, I’m noticing an interesting parallel between that story and the biblical story of the one taught in Sunday School as the wee little man:“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’” (Luke 19:1–7) My nephew and the man were both small in stature, but my nephew didn’t think that of himself, at least until the man told him so. The parallel in the Bible story is that the people who grumbled about Zacchaeus being a sinner didn’t seem to think that they were sinners themselves! Their critical finger-pointing was done without realizing or admitting that they were just like the man they accused. Many spiritual leaders and some psychologists have realized that we are often guilty of the same flaws we criticize in others. If I complain that another person talks too much, or is unkind, or jumps to conclusions before knowing all the facts, I am usually guilty of those same issues. I see myself mirrored in them, but instead of taking responsibility for my own flaws and sins, I make them the object of my scorn. This is what Jesus was talking about in this well-known admonition about judging others:“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5) Not all critical judgment is like that. I can criticize child molesters yet have never done the same or even considered it. However, because of the ease that my sin is mirrored to me by others, I need to be continually aware — if I’m critical, I need to take a close look at myself before opening my mouth in judgment of someone else. ^^^^^^^^Jesus, Your Word is my best mirror, but You often use others to show me my sinful attitudes and actions. If I am being critical of another person, jab me sharply with the reminder that I need to check first that my observation is about a log in my own eye. And if that log is there, remind and assure me of this wonderful promise of Your power and faithfulness — “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) — before I talk to someone else about their problems! [...]

All we, like sheep . . .


Sheep are not like cattle. When I was a teen, we often moved cattle from one farm to another (my uncles lived in the same community). They resisted and had to be driven. We used vehicles and horses to press them in the right direction. Sheep are not like that. If you try to drive them, they scatter. Instead, they must be led.For a short time, I had some sheep. They are not easy animals to care for and leading them requires a ‘relationship’ — otherwise they did not know my voice. Because I didn’t have time to develop that intimacy with those critters, I was a stranger to them and they were always scattering. Eventually I gave up and sold the flock.Jesus used sheep to illustrate His relationship with His people. Once that relationship is formed by grace through faith, we know His voice and follow Him:“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:3–5) In New Testament times, all the sheep grazed together, but at night each shepherd called their flock and they followed him to a sheepfold where they were safe from wolves and other predators. Out of hundreds of other animals and dozens of shepherds, each sheep turned only to their own owner: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:14–16) In these verses, Jesus uses shepherding to explain how His people know His voice, but also to say that this relationship has several astonishing qualities. First, that intimacy between believers and Him is the same intimacy that characterizes the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. This is incredible and at first seems a bit of an exaggeration. However, Jesus tells the truth and this produces a desire in my heart to more deeply explore and enjoy this great intimacy.Second, Jesus plainly says He lays down His life for the sheep. This is a present tense verb. I’m not a Greek scholar, but this seems to indicate more than His death on the Cross. My dictionary says laying down means “to give up or set aside” along with the idea of being prone. Could He be saying that Jesus gives His all for His sheep all the time? He died for us, yet He also lives for us and forever intercedes for us. Amazing.Third, there are other sheep. They were not His at the time, but He said they will be. He is talking about Gentiles, yet in a larger sense, He indicates that more people will eventually join His flock and there will be one flock, one body of Christ, a church of those who are in relationship with Jesus. There will also be unity. The people who crowded around Jesus were divided. Some asked Him to tell them plainly if He was their Messiah. He answered them: “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:24–29) ^^^^^^^Jesus, with that, You said that we who are in an intimate relationship with You not only hear, know, and follow You, we also have eternal life (eternal means eternal) and no one can steal us away from You. We are safe in Your care. This is precio[...]

Faith even in tragedy


Yesterday’s post was written in shock and with a sorrowful heart. Yes, the Christians who die seemingly before their time and at the hands of twisted minds go to be with Jesus, but their deaths leave us with a sense of ‘this should not happen.’  I am sad. The sorrow of the people in Sutherland Springs cannot be imagined. This mass shooting took more than half of their church, children, precious family and friends. I weep with them, for them. Yet they are God’s people. The news reports how the difference faith makes in the lives of survivors as studied by researchers and told during the American Psychological Association convention last year. They found that “faith communities that rally together in the wake of a mass shooting make a measurable difference in the lives of survivors” and faith results in fewer symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This research is under further review, yet already points to how churches can help, whether the tragedy happens within their sanctuaries or not.Death affects us yet there is hope in our tears. Soon I became a Christian, the husband of my wonderful mentor died. I expected uncontrollable grief from this loving widow. However, when people tried to comfort her, they found that she comforted them because of her faith in his eternal destiny. She said that any grief she felt was sorrow for herself not him, and she knew he was with Jesus. How could she feel sorrow for him!Life is precious, yet those who know Jesus can affirm Paul’s hope. He said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) Other verses declare what all genuine Christians believe. Our assurance is in Christ.“If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:9–13) Faith in Jesus is our comfort because faith gives us assurance in the promises of God. We are sad, but we also have the hope of eternal life:“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18) Someday I will see those people from Texas and give them a hug, just as I will see all those who died in faith because we believe what Jesus said and know that He tells the truth:“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, [...]

A call to proclaim that death is not the end


A church building used to be called a sanctuary, a place of safety. Another shooting, this time during a church service in Texas, brings out the need for security and how some congregations have cameras and people watching for intruders.My heart aches for those who suffer. At times, I’ve wondered what I would do if someone did that in our church. We want people to come, but attacks like this can certainly add to the qualms some already have about going to church. Today’s Scripture reveal that this is not God’s intention. He says, “whosoever will may come” even in the Old Testament. The Israelites, God’s chosen people, were to bring this invitation to the world: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’ “Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.” (Isaiah 45:22–25) God’s intention for redemption was never confined to the Jews only. Jesus said:“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:14–16) Many NT passages confirm His plan to include all people, such as Ephesians 2:11–22 which says in part, that Gentiles were formerly “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility . . . that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have 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 members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone . . .  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” In the last book of the Bible, God says Jesus “was slain and His blood ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) God intends that all are welcome in His family, despite the efforts of our spiritual enemy who tries to divide and destroy, to upset and split congregations, to sever relationships by stirring up strife and fear. No doubt he was involved in this latest horrible event, trying to ruin, divide, and destroy.However, God is more powerful. Israel failed to welcome the nations, but now the Body of Christ is united in one Body. We all die, but we all live again because we are His and God tells us to act like it:“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace . . .” (Ephesians 4:1–6) What does this have to do with Texas? God calls His family t[...]

Who is responsible for evil?


Last night we watched “The Imitation Game,” a 2014 historical movie loosely based on the biography of Alan Turing. In the movie, a group of brilliant people cracked the enigma code used by the enemy in WWII. This man and his team, at least in the movie, decided that if they immediately used to code to prevent attacks, the Germans would realize what they had done and change it to something even more difficult. Instead, they allowed some invasions to succeed  and others not, just so no one, not even their superiors, would know their secret. Some might say these people were God-playing. I’ve not studied the actual story except to find that the end notes on the movie were correct: Turing was treated for ‘indecency’ In the 1950s and deteriorated physically and mentally. He eventually committed suicide, and was later ‘forgiven’ because his work saved millions of lives. He is considered as at least one of the inventors of the modern computer.What would this team have done if they were not ‘sinners all’ and had been people of God? Millions of lives were saved, yet many were not. How would the power of redemption changed the story? In another era, a proud king boasted and God took away his kingdom. He became like an animal, eating grass and living with beasts until his hair and fingernails grew. God did it so he would know that “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Then God did an amazing thing. Here is what that man said:“At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’ At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:34–37) The devotional asks about the power of God and states we can trust Him because He “rules and governs all things with absolute control” and yet those who do not know this take matters into their own hands. Could God have done to Hitler what He did to Nebuchadnezzar? Certainly, but He did not. Was it because human beings did not trust Him? Or was it because He choose to use a group of sinful people to defeat Hitler’s armies using mathematics and exceptional deduction?The workings of Almighty God are beyond me. I can try to figure out the course of history and its events, but my reasoning, even coupled with faith in God and His power, cannot make sense of most of it. Why allow a major war in the first place? Why use sinners to both start it and end it? Why all the destruction and pain? A cartoon shows a man with fist raised asking, “God, why do You allow so much evil in this world?” The next pane shows the answer from heaven: “I might ask you the same thing.”My theology professors sum up history in a few words: God created, man ruined, God works to restore, Jesus wins. Do we experience the blatant resistance of sinful humanity so God can demonstrate His power? Do we experience the pride and hate of one another so we will be broken ourselves and yield to the Only One who truly loves us?I cannot answer these que[...]

What does being ‘saved’ mean?


We’ve seen that billboard that says, “Jesus saves — we should also be thrifty!” We might chuckly or be annoyed at the use of this word to talk about being thrifty instead of a serious spiritual matter, yet it reminds me that words often have more than one meaning. I love my husband, but I also love pizza and quilting! In Bible interpretation, context is important, particularly in today’s devotional verse, Psalm 37:39. The immediate context includes verse 40 and defines how the word ‘salvation’ is being used in this passage:“The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.” (Psalm 37:39–40) A Hebrew concordance says the root meaning for salvation is to “make wide” or “make sufficient”— in contrast to another word that means “narrow,” or “be restricted” or “cause distress.” It explains that ‘wide’ is about freedom from distress and the ability to pursue one’s own objectives, a moving from distress to safety that requires deliverance. This deliverance generally comes from somewhere outside the one distressed. In the Old Testament this includes national and individual distress from enemies, natural catastrophes, such as plague or famine, and sickness. The definition adds that anyone who brings deliverance is known as the “savior” yet this word is used in everyday life too, without theological overtones. One example is Moses saving the daughters of Reuel from some shepherds (Exodus 2:17). However, the OT word ‘save’ or ‘salvation’ often has strong religious meaning because it points to God who delivers. He might empower people to do it, yet it is God behind the salvation. In the NT, this word generally means forgiveness of sin, deliverance from its power and defeat of Satan. The OT begins to point in this direction, yet many references to salvation speak of Yahweh granting deliverance from real enemies and out of real catastrophes. Reading Psalm 37:39-40 again, this is about salvation from wicked people. An illustration is given again from Exodus:“Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.’” (Exodus 15:20–21) This celebration points to God’s deliverance of His people from bondage in Egypt and the evil of forced slavery, setting them free to serve the Lord. While it depicts what Jesus later did concerning slavery to sin, these verses need to be considered in their context. How can I interpret this saving power of God for today? Mostly by my life experiences. Last night I dreamt that I was driving on a slippery street and my vehicle would not stop when I braked. I slid into another vehicle. When I got out, the other driver said we could go to court or he would settle for a million dollars. I looked at the dent in his truck and realized that my vehicle could not have done that because it was not high enough. I told the man what I observed (and the many onlooking witnesses) and suggested he was being dishonest and greedy. Then I woke up. This event never happened, but I did have a real incident where a woman accused me of hitting her bumper. I knew I didn’t, but leaned down and checked — impossible because my bumper was not even close to the same height as hers. When I told her, her husband hustled her to their car and they left. Both the dream and that situation illustrate God’s protection from this and many ot[...]

No parts, separations or divisions


I’m reading a book in which one of the characters is mentally ill. She has two egos. One is sweet and kind and the other is destructive. Some might say she was possessed. Today this malady is given a label and treated with drugs. Is it the same problem as those people whom Jesus encountered and called out of them evil spirits? I don’t know. In the book, she was held accountable for both extremes. Whether she did it in her name or in the name of her alter-ego, the law said she did it. In a different sense, the Bible speaks of Christians as having two natures; the old self and the new. We are told to “walk in the Spirit” and “not fulfill the desires of the flesh” which makes us accountable. Even though walking in the Spirit means doing God’s work God’s way, we have a choice, at least most of the time. Sometimes, when I pray words come out that startle me — where did that come from? Sometimes I do things that seem natural at the time, yet when I think about them, I know that they were prompted by God, not by my sinful flesh.Can any person be separated into parts? Can a saved person be separated into parts? The Bible does say: “May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23) This sounds like three parts, yet Bible language scholars cannot make a strong case that this is a three-part division. We are entire creations, one even with a spirit, soul, and body.It is something like but not the same with the three persons of the trinity. The Bible speaks of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, yet sometimes speaks of the Son as the Father and the Spirit who lives in His people as the Spirit of Christ. God is one, yet there is a mysterious three in one that His people know is true but cannot explain. This is a mystery beyond our comprehension. Another mystery — the Calvinists say God alone saves; we have no part in it. The Armenians put the emphasis on human will and say things like ‘no one will go to heaven against their will.’ The Bible speaks of God as our fortress, the One who saves, yet also says that we must turn to Him:“The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.” (Psalm 37:39–40) The Bible also speaks of God’s choices and work that depends on nothing we do, yet at the same times tells us to do things His way. In other words, as a sinner I had no options but to sin, but as a saved person, I can now choose God’s way or my old sinful ways:“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” (2 Timothy 2:20–23) I don’t know how all of this works together. I know that God is the Savior and Redeemer. However, I also know that He holds me accountable to be saved and live as a redeemed person. Even more pertinent is that He tells me to stay away from controversial issues (as in all of the above) for it breeds quarrels. ^^^^^^^^^^Jesus, today I can put this to practice by praising You for saving me, and by [...]

God’s mysterious ways


I love reading mystery stories. In many of them, the solution comes to me long before the author reveals it, yet the stories I love the most are those that end in a surprise because the plot completely baffled me. I love a good mystery!God saves us by grace, yet tells us to turn to Him. God grants repentance, yet tells us to turn from our sin. God calls us by name, yet tells us to call upon Him. God gives faith as a gift, yet He tells us to believe in Him. The Bible says that no one seeks Him, yet God tells us to seek Him with all our heart. God is the author of salvation, yet we are told to save ourselves. God chooses His own, yet tells us to choose who we will serve. These are mysteries.One of the greatest is He says His saving work does not dependent on what I do, yet God makes clear that what I do is vital — and that He will judge me accordingly:“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:17–21) Some try to explain this by saying God gives us all the power and our lives fully depend on Him. Others say God gives the ability and it is up to us to follow through. Still others say our choices make the difference. Yet with all the ‘proofs’ offered for each opinion, ‘all those proofs’ exist. This makes a cut and dried answer impossible and the working of God remains mysterious. How does what God does and what I do join so that my choices depend on Him but are also judged as if they are mine? I have no idea — except to say that when God speaks, reveals, makes Himself known, I’m to respond to whatever He has made known to me.While this blending of His will and my choices remains a mystery, the best understanding comes through taking a good look at Jesus Christ. He is fully God and fully man. How does that work? Some say things like, “He could only do what He did because He is God.” Others say His manhood and deity were in balance while He was here on earth. Still others say that He laid aside His divine nature and lived here as a human being who relied on God just as we are to rely on God. While all three perspectives could be points of contention, the Bible indicates that all three are correct. How does that work? I’ve no idea, except to say that regardless of how this can be, I am charged by God to trust Him and obey what He says, realizing that the ways of God are higher than my ways. ^^^^^^^Jesus, not understanding You or how salvation works does not mean I’m to walk about in a fog, nor does it mean that I’m to ‘pick a view’ and argue or insist about it. What this lack of complete knowledge means is that I am to be in awe of You, fully aware that You are God and I am not — and my ‘ignorance’ should never stop me from totally trusting You. You will give me whatever I need for each moment of life so that I can be and do whatever You have ordained for me. Until You choose to reveal them, it does not matter that these mysteries remain unsolved.[...]

God’s Unsearchable Ways


The Bible is clear that no one will seek God. As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10–12) Yet in some mysterious way, God elects some for salvation and not others.Today’s devotional tries to reconcile this mystery by saying that God will reveal the gospel to those He chooses with irresistible power causing them to believe in Christ, but “all others will be left to perish in their chosen ignorance.”However, this reasoning does not work for me. If all are unrighteous and will not seek God, then this is also true of those who eventually believe. That is, I lived in ‘chosen ignorance’ too, so why then would God save me and not leave me that way like others who are the same? The Bible says that God told Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” This means my salvation is not about my will (or my won’t) nor on my efforts (or lack thereof), but on God, who has mercy." (Romans 9:15–16) Why me and not some others?I cannot say God picks some and not others because of what we can do, but I also cannot say that God is capricious, selecting this and not that because of whatever mood strikes Him. He is not like that. The basis of His selection is grace and mercy, but it is also a mystery."Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33) It seems to me that faith is trusting God even when His workings do not have answers. It also seems to me that when I simply trust Him, He sometimes may show me the answers, not because I am smart or wise, but because I am content to trust Him without trying to figure it out, content to let His ways remain beyond me. As I write this, I’m reading today’s verses and am humbled . . . “At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’” (Matthew 11:25–30) For most of my life, knowing things has been an important value, but lately I’m learning that academia and IQ are not nearly so important as trusting Jesus, whether it is with the knowns or the unknowns. His knowledge is incredible and I trust Him. Knowing Him is sufficient.“The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. The Lord lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground.” (Psalm 147:2–6) ^^^^^^^Jesus, I still tense up a bit when someone treats me as if I don’t know anything, or if my understanding is challenged, but more and more I am content to be like a child holding the hand of my Father. You know the way I am going, and that is enough for me. Besides, that path proves to have far more revealed treasures than anything I could find or figure ou[...]

Anticipating heaven?


A friend with four lively children used to quip, “Oh for the peace of the grave!” While she intended to be amusing, her remark was biblical! The Apostle Paul said the same thing using different words . . . “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.” (Philippians 1:21–25) His motivation was a bit different — my friend laughingly wanted relief from the noise and hubbub going on around her — Paul wanted to be with Jesus.I understand both of them. Sometimes life is tough. I’ve often said, “I just want to go home” in the desire to escape whatever was happening around me, but I never once said it to be funny. I also understand how Paul wanted to be with Jesus. Even though I know Jesus is with me always, and even though I almost always sense His presence, seeing His face and hearing His voice is very appealing. At the same time, like Paul I am torn between the two. Being with Jesus is perfection, but this life is precious too. The older I get, the more I wake up wondering if today will play out like other days, or will this be the day that He takes me home?The majority of people I know, even Christians, have a fear of death, or at least speak of it as if death is a terrible and sad thing. I’ve felt that way too. When my father died, many Christian friends said things like, “I’m sorry for your loss” — which was not a comfort at all. The best comfort came from a young friend, under twenty at the time. She is one of those bouncy, positive souls who often annoyed others because she was incredibly expressive. Her comfort was given at church. She came up to me and said, “I know that this is supposed to be a sad time for everyone, but I am so happy for your dad!” She bounced and so did my heart. That was exactly the right thing to say. Instead of feeling sorry for me, I became thrilled at the thought of my dad discussing the mysteries of the weather and the delights of farming with the Creator who makes the rain fall, and causes seeds to sprout and grow. Since that day, my attitude toward death has changed. Even more, I see life as only a classroom — often full of tests and difficult curricula but where the Lord is teaching me to be like Him — and death as a shadow yet also a graduation. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4) The rod and staff are His guidance through this life, and death is like a mere valley in shadows.^^^^^^^^Lord Jesus, daily You grant Your people with the crown of life, a life that is abundant and full. Yet just as it has been a thrill to experience literal graduations from academia, I am excited that one day You will hand me that final diploma along with the cap and gown of eternal life.. Right now, my task is to work hard and finish well, summa cum laude would be great. However, just seeing Your face will be the very best of all![...]

All of the Bible is important for me . . .


Far too many Christians dismiss the Old Testament because they think it is about ancient Israel and has no application for the modern world or the church. However, this is not the way it was understood by the writers of the New Testament. Paul was an Israelite and the OT was the only Scripture he had at the time he wrote letters to the churches (which later became the NT). In one of those, He said this of our relationship to God . . . “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” (Romans 9:1–8) This and other passages proclaim that Christians are the children of God in the same way as His OT people; by faith like the faith of Abraham, all are saved. What does that mean in a practical sense? It means that the promises made to the OT believers are also promises that I can believe in for myself and claim as the Word of God to me.“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9–10) “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:29) ^^^^^^^^Jesus, because I belong to You (by grace I am saved through faith), then I am a child of Abraham, an heir of all the promises made to him and to all Your OT people. This is mercy, yet it is also marvelous and grand. I’ve known this truth for a long time, yet am overwhelmed at times by the width and breadth of it. Even the size of the OT alone is indication of all that You offer to me because I am a child of Abraham, a child of God. Thank You for including me in the most blessed family on earth, Your family. Thank You also for teaching me why I should read and enjoy all of the Scriptures, not just part of what You say and promise to me. [...]

Seeing the patterns of God . . .


For seventeen years, I wrote a weekly newspaper column. It was called “Parables” because God gave me insight into how much the events of this world point to spiritual truth. Through that, I realized manh things, especially His amazing oneness, His powerful hand in all that happens, both in creation and in the affairs of humanity.It is easy to say that He designed the world that way, but I’m beginning to understand that this divine ‘dot-connecting’ goes beyond the design of a superior mind. That is, there is a cohesiveness in the created world that parallels the nature and working of God — and it is there simply because God is. A crass illustration might be the presence of a large elephant in a small room. That huge animal affects everything in that space. If it sneezes, the entire room shakes. If it snoozes, everyone tiptoes. Because of the working of God, an event happened in the Old Testament that points to a greater event in the years to come, an event that changed the world. This is a short episode, given only a few words, but it happened so God could use it to explain a vital truth. When He delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, they set out for the promised land, but like us, they were a rag tag group, prone to the same sins we are, particularly when life does not go the way we want: “From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.’ Then the Lordsent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lordand against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (Numbers 21:4–9) Their complaining illustrates mine, grumbling when things go contrary to what I want. The fiery serpents illustrate what happens to not only the health but the lives of people who are never happy; it eventually destroys us. Moses illustrates the role of an intercessor — a person who takes pity on those who are continually out of sorts and sinful; he prays for them. And the fiery serpent on the pole illustrates what happened to Jesus.“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” (John 3:14) I’m not certain how far this illustration goes. Did Jesus take on the pain and affliction of a people who hated the rule of God in their lives? Certainly. What does being ‘fiery’ have to do with it? I don’t know. I just know that this barely mentioned event in the lives of God’s people pointed ahead to the work of Christ on the cross for the salvation of my sin. It also pictures human responsibility — God arranged this saving event so that we who are ‘bitten’ by sin must look at Christ on the Cross that we might live.^^^^^^^^^^Jesus, I’m thinking that all the events of life somehow point to You. I am oblivious to most of them, but what You reveal is so lovely, so profound, so grandly filled with Your power and grace. Of course, I don’t want to s[...]

Pay attention . . .


People who live with an ocean or mountain view, or who see spectacular sunsets every night can become so accustomed to their surroundings that they no longer appreciate or even notice them. We lived in Alaska for a year and in the evening the sky was often colorful, even jaw-dropping. The most impressive one that I remember was in Soldatna. We came out of the grocery store and looked up to a mackerel or buttermilk sky, clouds from horizon to horizon, all in shades of bright red. Amazing! However, as I looked around in the parking lot, people came and went without pause and without looking up at the spectacular sky.“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8–10) This morning, I read this familiar passage and remembered that experience in Alaska. Can Ephesians 2:8-10 ever become so familiar that I would skip over it? It happens. I can read Scripture or at least run my eyes over it and be thinking about something else, like plans for the day, or a telephone conversation. I know what the words say, which is one thing, but rambling through without thinking about them is like hearing someone speak, smiling and nodding, but shutting them out and not really paying attention. But this is God speaking. I should be ashamed of myself.And this is why good works will not save anyone. All that comes from the human heart is flawed. I love the Lord and am thankful for all that He has done for me, but like that sunset in Soldatna, my sinful heart can take the beauty of the Lord for granted and become preoccupied with ordinary stuff, like my plans and thoughts.However, I am quick to immerse my mind in the ways of the Lord when trouble comes. I want relief and grace to overcome my fears and whatever is troubling my heart. Like the psalmist, I am ready to acknowledge His Word and promises and follow through with praise, even the praises like these:“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:3–4) “In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:10–11) “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (Psalm 57:9–11) As for those verses in Ephesians, just because I’ve memorized them and believe them with all my heart does not mean that God has stopped using them to speak to me. I still need to pay attention and listen, reading every Word as if I’ve never seen them before.^^^^^^^^^^^Jesus, You are the living Word of God. I cannot imagine walking on past You because I’m so used to Your presence that I don’t notice You! Forgive me for skipping through the familiar passages of Your love-letter to me. May I always let them sink into my heart, thrill my heart, and bring praise to my lips giving glory to You. [...]

How to have a shiny face


A friend told me that before she was saved she easily identified Christians. It was not by anything they did or said though; it was their shiny faces!I might have laughed at this, except that the Bible confirmed her observation:“I will bless the Lordat all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lordwith me, and let us exalt his name together! I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” (Psalm 34:1–5) A radiant face is not uncommon. It can be seen on newlyweds, the faces of many women who are pregnant, and on a child in wonder over a new discovery. It is the mark of delight, even perfect contentment and joy. According to the psalmist, my face should be radiant. Yet there is a caveat for this. The Bible says that it happens to those who look to the Lord, who bless and praise Him all the time, trusting Him and not boasting in themselves. By this attitude of total and joyful trust, they are delivered from fear and invite others to be glad in Him and magnify His name with them. Sometimes Christians are more noted for sour faces. For instance, it happens to me when I worry instead of trust Him, or when  I grumble instead of being thankful, or when I’m selfish and things are not going my way. What is the cure for this? A clue comes from the psalmist in his invitation to others; he says “let the humble hear and be glad.” The joy of the Lord is not available to the proud of heart. Humility is a great key. Without it, I’m not seeking anything from the Lord because I’m satisfied with myself. Without it, I think I can handle my life. Without it, I’ve no reason to be overjoyed because I’ve shut off the grace of God and am living by my own efforts and strength, not aware or not admitting my efforts are puny.However, even if what I do looks good and seems to work for me and please others, it is not the way that God works. His avenue for blessing in my Christian life is the same as His avenue for blessing in becoming a Christian:“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8–10) I cannot save myself. Humility is important in being able to say that, but humility does not save me either. As the Word of God says, I am saved by grace through faith, not my own doing. My face might take on a glow when I am boasting, but that is not the same as the radiant face of one who has received the gift of God and been recreated in Christ. ^^^^^^^^^^Jesus, all I can say is wow! No, that is not all . . . I will bless You today, praise You continually and boast in You, from my insides and out of my mouth. Those who are humble will hear and be glad. I can invite them to magnify You with me; we will exalt Your name together! I can continually seek You, knowing You will answer me and deliver me from whatever troubles me. I will not be ashamed or bashful about the faith and life You have given me, and who knows, I might even have a shiny face! [...]

Worry is a robber


Our Wednesday morning ladies Bible study will discuss today what it means to keep the Sabbath. The book we are reading brings out the biblical truth that Sabbath is far more than taking a day off from work. While that might be part of it, this ‘rest’ commanded by God is also about ceasing in other ways. What preoccupies my time, my mind? What keeps me from a simple time of totally enjoying the Lord and resting in His love and presence?When I read today’s devotional, it occurs to me that worry is a huge problem for many people. My mom was a worrier. It seemed this was her way of trying to control that which she could not control, so it was a fruitless and futile exercise. Worrying never accomplishes anything. I worried this week about something that didn’t happen last week. I worry today about an event I am going to next week. I worry about what a particular person might do or say the next time I see her. All of this is pointless. Not only that, worry is sinful because it is a God-playing activity. It reveals that I am not trusting God about all of the above. Anxiety and worry are the biggest symptoms of not trusting His wisdom and plans for me. It is also the biggest symptom of being discontent with what He is doing. It reveals my pride, that I think I know better ways to run my life. Putting it that way, worry is a very black mark in my spiritual life. Worry can also stem from looking at others and wanting what they have. When someone in the crowd asked Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” He replied, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:13–15) This man did not trust God to give him what he needed or take care of his needs. Worry can also come from fear; fear of the future, fear of consequences, fear of the unknown. However, God is not the author of fear. He gives us power, love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7) These thing drive out fear and are His answer to worry over a host of things.Today’s devotional addresses anxiety over daily needs. Jesus told His disciples not to worry, why they should not worry, and what they should focus on instead. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12:22–31) From many years of following this amazing advice, I can say that worrying about the ‘stuff’ of[...]

God’s Amazing Love


“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16) I am deeply offended by the use of this verse and others like it to assume that God only loves those who accept His offer of eternal life. These ‘loved ones’, for reasons not clearly understood, are called the elect and the rest are ‘hated’ — not at all matching my understanding of God or His love. One man illustrated it this way: “Just because I chose my bride  and deeply love her does not mean that I hate everyone else!” He loves her differently, but not exclusively. While believers, like the bride of their loving husband, enjoy the love of God in an intimate relationship, that does not mean that all people who are outside of that relationship are hated.How do I know that? God’s love for even those who reject Him and are His enemies is clear from this passage that quotes Jesus Christ, God’s Son:“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48) Christians are told to love their enemies because God shows His love toward all, even those who are against Him. Ordinary people care for those who love them, but God is not like ordinary people. He is perfect and He calls us to be perfect. How can He say we must love our enemies and pray for them if His perfection does not include that same love?Many of us know the pain of unrequited love. Our attachment to those who do not respond or have the same love for us is deeply felt, yet that does not stop a parent from loving their wayward child, for instance. The only possible way love would fail is if it was based on performance. That is, ‘if that child does not measure up, then I will not love him.’ Since the love of God is clearly not based on our performance, this cannot be said to describe the love of God. Today’s reading seems to assume that the love of God is defined by His choice to save some and not others. That is, those He saves are loved and those not saved are not loved. This is defining love by God’s performance. However, God does not love us based on our performance, so how can we assume His love is defined by His performance? The Bible says God is love. It is His very nature and being.Perhaps hate needs to be defined. The biblical word can mean dislike or have distaste for, or even an aversion toward. In modern day, hate can mean not so much an animosity but simply ignoring, turning away, treating someone as if they do not exist. Either way, this is a strong word, not to be considered lightly.However, assumption is a dangerous thing. The Bible does not explain why God selects some to save and not others. He hates our sin and wept for what sin does, but His choices are based on who He is, not on what we do. Further, God proves His existence in creation (Romans 1) and if people refuse to acknowledge that, He lets them go their[...]

Saving faith changes everything


Faith often begins when disaster strikes. Because of a threatening situation, the human heart is desperate for deliverance and calls out to the God they know exists, a God that they see is the author of creation and the only One who can do anything about the troubles they are experiencing. A friend was in a building struck by a huge tornado. She said everyone was praying, even praying aloud. However, when the storm was over and life returned to a semblence of normal, nothing had changed in their spiritual lives. Most of them returned to a life without faith.Sometimes the Bible describes faith like an outcry in trouble. Consider this portion of a psalm:“I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!’” (Psalm 116:1–4) The psalmist was in trouble and great distress. He cried out to God to rescue him, yet this was not the actions of one with ‘temporary’ faith — because he asked for more than physical deliverance. His prayer asked also that God would save his soul.Some would call the first kind of faith ‘temporary faith’ because it came during a felt need for God but left when that need was satisfied. It was partial faith, not faith concerning the salvation from sin that is the main focus of biblical faith. It was temporary in that it didn’t last. Biblical faith has an eternal component because it is about eternal life. It also comes with a declaration. That is, those with faith share with others a testimony of what God has done for them: “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11–12) Biblical faith is not about faith that God will rescue me when I am in trouble, even though that is part of it. Rather, it is faith that God, through Christ, has forgiven my sin and given me the life of His Son. Because of Jesus, I am changed! Actually, who could not change when the Son of God comes into their hearts, their very being! And since He is eternal, that new life is also eternal, an amazing gift from God that changes everything.As proclaimed in the Old Testament and by Jesus, the two most important commands are that we love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength, and we love one another. Without Jesus, this does not happen. Temporary faith is insufficient because that focus of self-preservation is always there. So is that immature, ‘I want what I want when I want it.’ We can dress it up, but it remains the driving force of life.Saving faith has a new objective. It takes my eyes off me and turns my heart upward and outward. I can love God love others because of new life in me. Even though the ‘old me’ sometimes fights that, because God is God, He gives victory over that sinfulness and changes my focus from here and now into eternal hope.“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven . . . .” (Colossians 1:3–5) ^^^^^^^Jesus, I love You because Yo[...]