Monthly Archives: January 2013

If He Does Not

But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.    Daniel 3:18

Children teach us so much about ourselves.  Regardless of their age, children have a sense — or maybe a trying spirit — that tests their boundaries and their place in the order of things.  I’m reminded of this often through the lives of my children, nephews and niece — nine total!  It’s always interesting to me when a request from a parent (usually made to get action) is made to one of them and the response is nothing like what was requested.  It’s because, deep within them, they have a better idea!  So they think!  They have crafted, through their better understanding of their own state-of-affairs that what was being requested was somehow optional to the growing interest of whatever they are actively participating.  It forces the question, “Who’s the boss here?”

I find, in my own life, that I often act the same way towards God when He is trying to lead me down paths I’m not so comfortable walking.  I always seem to have a “better” plan, a “smarter” idea and a more “reasonable” response.  I forget that the outcome of His leading is nothing but good!  And so I ensue.

The confidence I have in knowing that “all things will work together for His good,” as He says in Romans, will become just that — good.  I place my faith, hope and trust in those words that it will be good and press on, as did Paul, toward that end.  But, I’m learning that the measurement of good differs.  What is good?  What is His good?  What is my good?  Good is suddenly looking a little less good and more not so good — not to be confused with bad.

And so enters, without question, the stories of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego along with Daniel.  The good in these real stories is but one thing — serving and worshiping the one true God!  It was not a popular choice and to everyone other than them it appeared to be a bad choice.  But doing what is right, serving the One who lives within me — Christ in me — while it doesn’t appear to be the most popular or notable thing to do IS THE measure of good.  It, beyond all things, is of greater importance and value.

This is why when the heat was turned up, the fire of life burned fiercely before their eyes and Daniel could smell the foul breath of the jaws of imminent death they were all at peace.  With confidence that God would deliver them from fire and lions, they stated ever so clearly, “But if he does not.”

All things do work together for good — but is my measurement of good on a scale I understand or on a scale measured only by my God?

My Father, let this sink in to the depths of my being.  Show me, teach me, stir in me the goodness you measure so that when things do not look so good on the path ahead by what my eyes see that I would know to look more deeply with the eyes of your Spirit within me.  May my faith in you become so strong that I say too, “But if He does not . . .” and be at peace.

. . . for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.   Philippians 1:30

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Knowing All My Ways

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.   Romans 8:28

Personally witnessing another and their journey through life is perhaps the most rewarding and fulfilling blessings we have with each other.  Sitting across the booth from a friend, I listen as she asks a question.  “If He knows what will happen to us, how can we have free will?”  I sat there for a minute.  Clearly a question I’ve also wondered for so many years, but never really tackled.  I knew this was one of those that the best of theologians have attempted to explain and failed at defining it clearly.  Since phoning a friend was not an option, I rested in the peace of knowing who God is and went from there.

While I will not do it justice, this made perfect sense to me!  And since me thinking about it with my friend outloud, it has captured my thoughts all day.  Definitely not a bad thing to think about for sure!  🙂

One of the most commonly used adjectives to describe God is omniscient — meaning, all-knowing.  We often think of this as the way God knows everything about us and so true this is!  But, I believe his knowing of me stretches to the far edges of the universe.  How so you may ask?

Well, we say all the time that God has a plan for me (and you) and wants the best for us, to see us prosper in it and be blessed by it.  But we also know that not so very good things happen to good people all the time.  How so?  Why so?  These are questions we tend to ask when bad things happen.

I believe God has a plan that is VERY GOOD!  But that is not the only path we could take.  I believe God knows every possible combination of options, paths, choices, decisions we have to make AND the outcome of every combination for every option, path, choice and decision.  That’s alot of stuff to know about me!  That’s right, it is — He’s ALL-KNOWING!!

So, how do I know if I’ve made the RIGHT choice, taken the best path, decided to act according to His will?  David speaks about this in Psalm 91.

If you make the Most High your dwelling–even the Lord, who is my refuge–then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.  For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.   Psalm 91:9-12

Do I dwell in the presence of the Most High?  Am I seeking Him as my refuge?  It is in this place where I find the RIGHT choice, the best path, the decision in His will.   And if that path is rocky, rough and potentially fatal?  No sweat, a host of angels have been appointed to watch guard over me — specifically for me!  And even so death may come, Paul reminds us to consider it pure joy!

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”    Matthew 10:39

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Letter From Christ

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim any thing for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.   II Corinthians 3:5

Throughout the last ten months the only handwritten letters I’ve received in the mail have been penned from the hand of my own mother.  Her encouragement, her every day happenings in her garden and around the house, her concerned tone and undeniable firmness, all of which is sealed by her hand.  What a treasure to have!  There’s truly nothing greater than getting a hand-written letter from someone.  It spells love, it communicates the rawness of care and the loyalty of belonging.  It’s value is unmeasurable!

We see this level of value and importance in the working world as well.  Whether it’s in finding a job or applying for school, letters play a vital role.  They endorse!  With a letter people become validated, affirmed and creditable.  And having it written, perhaps even formally prepared, it’s sealed by the author and too, is valuable.

But what if?  What if Christ wrote a letter for me?  What if He sat down and penned a letter about me — what He thought, what He sees in me, what His day was like, what dangers may lie ahead for me, what concerns He has for me, what He really thinks about me?  Oh, Lord Jesus, to have and to hold such a letter would send me to my knees, shaking like a leaf.  It would bring such confidence and assurance knowing those things.  I would read it over and over again.

Word has it He actually has such a letter!  He has made this letter — and it’s ME!  I am a letter from Christ Himself!  And with this letter comes full assurance of who I am, full confidence in who I am, full wisdom in knowing who I am, able to rest in the truth that the Spirit of the One who lives in me gives me all strength and power to face the raging storms and pelting hail that can so easily destroy.   That in my weakness He is the strength that sustains me when I wait in the ravines of life.

Thank you Lord Jesus for writing my life!  Thank you for your daily Word that tells me what you think of me, what your days are like, what concerns you have and how much you love me!  The fact that you have taken the time to sit down, give immense thought in scripting my story and in crimson red, pen a letter — me — is beyond the greatest of any love man can describe!

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?  Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?  You yourselves are our letter, written on everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.  II Corinthians 3:1-3

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Imperfect Is Perfect

. . . to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.   Galatians 4:5

Another notch on the door frame. Below it is where I was, this notch is where I am today.  But above me is a notch to which I desperately stretch to reach.  I just want to be like _______ (fill in the blank).  Good as them, tall as them, better than them.  How will I possibly measure up?  Will I ever meet expectations, standards, worth . . .  will I ever be good enough?

These questions and more have followed me all of my life.  Not bad questions at all, but ones, nonetheless, that cause my image to take on a disfigured shape depending on the point of personal reference in the who or what that matters most.  Against whom do I measure my worth?  Against what do I place my value and significance?  To whom do I think that I use as a filter in making decisions?  I can think of any number of people or things I’ve measured myself against.

Why is this?  Well, my futile attempts to be perfect, not fail, get props and the pat on the back have carved within my flesh a dependence on earthly acceptance and approval.  Beneath the scars from wounded attempts of measuring up lies the pain and guarded heart that harbors the memory of hurt.  And so long as I look around me for the answers to my questions that pertain to my life, my value and my worth, I will forever be searching a lost cause.

And this, praise the Lord, is not the way He taught!   Instead, my imperfections are perfect to Him so long as I keep my eyes on the One who came “under the law . . . to redeem those under the law” so that I may receive ALL, the FULL rights of, sonship!  In other words, I belong to the King . . . the Creator of all things, including me!!  Measuring up is no longer necessary, because in my imperfection I am adopted — given the fullness of belonging — and with that status, I am fully accepted!

And due to this relationship, I can call on my Dad (Abba, Father), and rest in His peace!

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.   Proverbs 14:30

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Gospel Reminder

I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”    Romans 1:15-17

The gospel is a message often reserved to be told to the one who does not know about such great news.  It’s been reduced to small pamphlets and branded into the shape of a cross.  And once we get it and capture the essence of our salvation through the life and death and resurrection and ascension of Christ, we unzip one of a dozen pockets in our backpack for safe keeping and set out on our journey of life with the gospel in tow — just in case.

I don’t know about you, but I need the Gospel full-strength, every day!  Forget that secret pocket!  I need to wear it like under armor!  The grace and faith of the gospel is at the core of who I am!  May I never tuck it away, set it down or adorn it for only a moment of apparent need.

I read this prayer recently that has stirred me, challenged me and awakened God within me!  This prayer is one I completely resonate with in my heart.  I continue to read it often and this is why I’m placing it in this post.  Remember, this is me speaking the gospel back to me!

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Dear Lord Jesus, even as Paul was eager to preach the gospel to believers in Rome, so I’m eager to preach it to my own heart today. There was a time when I thought the gospel was only for nonbelievers—simply the doorway and launching pad for beginning a relationship with you. I now realize the gospel is just as much for believers as it is for nonbelievers.

Indeed, there’s nothing more than the gospel, there’s just more of the gospel—inexhaustible riches to be mined and treasured; a bottomless ocean of sovereign grace and daily mercies; irrepressible power for transformation and liberation.

So what does my heart need to hear and believe, this and every day? The “it is finished” of your life and death, resurrection and ascension! Lord Jesus, that you’ve already accomplished everything necessary to completely redeem us—nothing is left to chance or left to be done. You came into the world as God’s promised Messiah. You lived a life of perfect obedience on our behalf—as our substitute, fulfilling all the demands of God’s law for us. You died upon the cross for us—taking the judgment we deserve, completely exhausting God’s righteous anger against our sin. Hallelujah, many times over!

Through faith in you and this good news, all of my sins have been forgiven and I’ve been given the gift of your perfect righteousness. God has already declared me righteous in his sight. He cannot love me more than he does today, and he’ll never love me less. In fact, because of your work for me, Lord Jesus, God now loves me just as much as he loves you, for he’s hidden my life in yours.

Oh, the peace this brings. He’s adopted me as his child, placed his Spirit in my heart and will send you to complete this grace work one Day—a redemption so glorious, so spectacular that it includes the gathering of your pan-national Bride and the renewing of the entire cosmos. Astonishing!

And now, the Holy Spirit constantly reminds me I’m God’s beloved child, because I’m so prone to forget. He’s also present in my life to make me like you, Lord Jesus, for I can no more change my heart than I can materialize a herd of camels by snapping my fingers. Salvation is of the Lord, from beginning to the glorious end. Keep pressing this gospel into my heart—and protect me from all false gospels. So very Amen I pray, in your priceless and peerless name.

by Scotty Smith, Founding Pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN

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Confident Trust

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, 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

Troubles, like stones, come in many shapes and sizes.  Some are as huge as boulders, while others are as sharp as daggers.  Some are used to step from place to place — perhaps to higher and drier ground, while others are used to carve and sharpen.  But then there are those that weigh a ton — sink to the bottom, as others skip across the calm waters to disappear after the dance.

It’s funny, too how we collect stones!  I can’t tell you the number of times one of my son’s has filled his pockets with rocks.  I’ve often wondered how many could possibly fit in there before his belt no longer served it’s purpose!  That many rocks and stones gets heavy to carry around.  But it’s not unlike how we treat our troubles.  We tend to collect those too!  Hoarding them on the inside, burdening ourselves and others around us with the weight.

But this was never God’s intent!  There was never a doubt we would encounter troubles — in fact, James said we would and they would be “trials [troubles] of many kind.”  But what do I do with the many I encounter?  I think, like the collector, I want to carry them around with me.   I want to show them off like war wounds from the battlefield.  Why in the world would I want to do this?  Well, simply because I make my troubles all about me instead of living them through Christ in me.

The precious stone, like quartz, reflects its natural beauty when light shines through it.  When Christ’s light shines through my troubles, the beauty of who I am reflects Christ in me!  God wants me to live through my troubles, not live my troubles over and over.  He wants me to live who I am!  He wants me to relax in His Peace and stop reliving my suffering.  Resting in Him will truly transform my fears into confident trust!

Lord Jesus, I store up my stones like a chipmunk prepares for winter!  Your burden is light, but when I’m carrying my troubles I’m weary.  You’ve promised me rest in you and I’m unloading my pockets of the stones I’ve collected.  Big or small, I’m skipping them across your Peace, watching them dance upon your Grace and trust as they disappear in your Care.

“No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.  As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”    Joshua 1:5

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Out of Compulsion

To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.  All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighted by the Lord.     Proverbs 16:1-2

Because I must — this is the reason for living life that is owned by the law.  Living the life of do’s and don’ts is nothing more than bouncing off the walls of legalism, submitting to the equating of good and evil against the righteous and the damned.  But remember?  Christ did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

Answering the question of why sparks the truest and purest of self-reflection and dissection of the heart.  Identifying the climate of one’s soul in the often muddied waters of life can stir the most meaningful glimpse of presumption.  It’s knowing the root of behavior and getting to the bottom of purpose.  It’s when a man can look in the mirror and see beyond the scruff, beyond the tangle, beyond the age and see deep within his soul to witness the heart of Christ dwelling; then choosing to rest in the assurance, not presumption, that the purpose for his life is not spent out of the compulsion to obey the law, but to serve his risen Savior!

Martin Luther examines the essence of what one sees looking to the law instead of looking into the heart:

Presumption follows when a man sets himself to fulfill the Law with works and diligently sees to it that he does what the letter of the Law asks him to do. He serves God, does not swear, honors father and mother, does not kill, does not commit adultery, and the like. Meanwhile, however, he does not observe his heart, does not note the reason why he is leading such a good life. He does not see that he is merely covering the old hypocrite in his heart with such a beautiful life. For, if he looked at himself aright-at his own heart-he would discover that he is doing all these things with dislike and out of compulsion; that he fears hell or seeks heaven, if not also for more insignificant matters: honor, goods, health; and that he is motivated by the fear of shame or harm or diseases. In short, he would have to confess that he would rather lead a different life if the consequence of such a life did not deter him; for he would not do it merely for the sake of the Law. But because he does not see this bad reason, he lives on in security, looks only at the works, not into the heart, and so assumes that he is keeping the Law of God well. (Luther’s Works, St. Louis edition, 11:81 ff)

Listening to the Law instead of the health of my heart leads me to replace one mask with another.  Determining and defining the purpose, my motivation to enter into a period of waiting so that God can transform me from within ushers in an inquisitive emotion of soul searching.  It’s a time to ask questions:  What’s important?  What matters?  Whom shall I serve?  What shall I obey?  Why?

It’s a deep place to camp, a scary place to visit.  I’m reminded of Elijah being sent to the ravine to wait.  No questions asked, no purpose given.  He was told to wait, drink from the brook and the ravens would bring him food.  He had no idea how long this would be nor did he know where he would go from there.  But the one thing he did know was that since God said it, God promised it and God was in control — his purpose was then to only obey and trust that what He said would be fulfilled.  And scripture says, “and so he did.”

Lord Jesus, may my motives, my desire be that which comes from my heart and not from obligation.  You are my Savior, to you I belong!  The sincerity of my heart weighs only as much as my trust in you!  I choose you!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.    Romans 8:1-2

 

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