Archive for the ‘April 2011’ Category

A jewel in his crown

Sometimes I think about how my life would turn out if everything went my way. If every prayer was answered exactly as I expected it to be. If every red light turned green. If it were simple to believe.

Yet in truth, hell is what happens when God leaves men to themselves. Reality check! Thank God He’s not our genie in a magic lamp!

The issue with everything going our way is not limited to what our world would be like outside, but what we would be like inside. We would not learn patience, perseverance, discipline, surrender, justice, forgiveness, humility, trust, faith, or unconditional love, joy, and peace. How could we ever learn good character?

Jesus is the only one with naturally good character. He is the only one who can be trusted with sovereignty. God is the only one who does not need a higher authority. When we really think about it, we might all agree that any trial we face is worth the opportunity to be conformed into His excellent image. To develop His transcendent character.

When I get to heaven, I don’t want life to have been a piece of cake where I always got my way. I want Jesus to look me in the eye, to wipe away the tears I’ve cried, to give me white robes for my bloody clothes, and to say from the bottom of His beautiful heart, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Matt. 25:23).

I want to have hoped against all hope that His Word was true. I want to have believed what I couldn’t possibly see. I want to say with Paul, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’ (2 Tim. 4:7). And any merit I receive will only be a jewel in His crown. It will not be my own, but due to the mercy and grace I was shown.

Life gives us every good reason to pray, but not many good reasons for things to always go our way. Heaven is what happens when God always gets His way.

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Maybe certain (seemingly) unanswered prayer requests are troubling us today. Because our requests are not being answered in the way we expect, we feel as if they are going unheard. What more can we do to get through? We try praying harder, or more specifically. We try talking about it to more people, or the right people. Those are good things, but when we only try harder to make it happen on our own, it can lead to a sense of helplessness and even hopelessness when we realize we need God, yet He seems distant and passive regarding certain requests.

All in a matter of time we can go from feeling hopeful and trusting to forgotten and even forsaken when it comes to certain requests. But who is to say that God is not most active where He seems most passive? Who is to say that He does not think about the situation more than we do? Can we really make a case against Him based on the facts? Especially when, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 14:12). “As for God, his way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless…” (Ps. 18:30). And He says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:9).

If anything, the real evidence will speak for God’s everlasting love, goodness, and faithfulness to us, and not against. When we feel that our circumstances are making a case against His character, the greatest proof in His defense is the cross of Christ. There is the ultimate example of where He seemed most passive, yet was truly most active! There is where Jesus was truly forsaken in order that we would be remembered by God! Gazing upon the cross will put everything in perspective! And there are countless other testimonies all around us – His Word, His Church, and His power and presence in our lives. When today we are tempted to doubt Him, let’s be strengthened by remembering the evidences of His goodness and surrendering our requests to His perfect will again. Surely His answer is better and higher than what we have in mind!

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Matthew 7:9-11

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Isaiah 53

1 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

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We all have people in our lives who seem more dependent upon us than we are on them. A friend and I were talking yesterday about how to be a godly minister and good friend to them.

Today, God spoke to me on this through 2 Corinthians 9:6-15.

First, I remember Jesus who befriends and ministers to me every day while I am as poor as ever in His presence. He welcomes children, who are the most dependent in society. If I am to be like Him, I will be welcoming those who are most dependent.

‘Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously’ (v. 6). How often are we generous with our time, service, money, love? It seems overwhelming, yet ‘You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion’ (v. 11) and ‘God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work’ (v. 8). The bigger our cup of need, the deeper God’s grace will fill and overflow us.

More than generosity, the passage encourages a cheerful giver (v. 7). For God Himself is a cheerful giver! He loves to share all He has and is with us! We are not to give out of mere obligation or guilt, or because we are comparing our service to others, but out of the overflow of the countless blessings God has given us. It takes being filled up in order to be poured out.

May this be said of us, ‘They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever’ (v. 9).

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Our sense of entitlement seems to define us yet it actually destroys us. We tend to think… What am I without my dreams? My roles? My relationships? My stuff? My rights? I am what I own. But when we feel we have a right to something, we will demand it and hurt others if we don’t get it. And if we lose something we believed identified us, we will grieve as if part of us has died. Ultimately, we will be foolishly driven to curse God, because He is keeping us from our real god who we believe has more power to identify, secure, and satisfy us than HE does. Otherwise (and hopefully), we will be wisely compelled by His Spirit to surrender to Him what we once claimed, and find ourselves in Him.

Sometimes the claim is on something outside of a man (a possession, a position, or a person), and sometimes it is something within (a dream, a feeling, or a right). Whatever the case, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (1 Cor 10:26).

Paul writes, “though we own nothing, everything is ours” (2 Cor. 6:10). One commentary suggests Paul is “contrasting possessing nothing in the way of material goods with possessing everything in terms of spiritual goods.” I also take it to mean that when nothing possesses us (we could freely give up any thing), truly we are free to enjoy all things for their rightful purpose. No created thing was intended to identify and sustain us. Only Jesus Christ can bear that pressure. All else will fail us. “Idols always break the hearts of their worshipers” (C. S. Lewis.).

Philo of Alexandria articulated it this way: “The good person, though he possesses nothing in the proper sense, not even himself, partakes of the precious things of God so far as he is capable” (On the Life of Moses 1.157).

Jesus gave up all things, even His own self, to receive us into Himself. May we gladly do the same to gain He who is in all good things yet better than any thing. All we need is all He brings. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). In being possessed by no thing, we possess all things.

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Who of us can say we were a friend to God before He was a friend to us? Who can say we were good to Him before He was good to us? So sometimes we are left wondering… how can God love me like this? How can He be so holy, so worthy, so lovely, so high above me, yet thinking of me? Our heads know a reason on paper, but our hearts fail to understand.

Sometimes we remain distant with deep, unanswered questions. With regrets because of who we’ve been, and despair because of who we are compared to who He is. We feel more like Judas than Jesus. Like the Israelites who broke their Husband’s heart. Like Peter who failed Christ after making a great claim to love Him no matter what. Like Thomas who doubted until he saw. Like Martha who was too busy to sit and listen. Like David who let lust get the best of him. Yet there’s one thing other than sin that we all have in common. Jesus calls us “friend.”

“I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You” (Psalm 73:22). We know we have not treated God as we ought. We’ve been as criminal as enemies and wayward as sheep and brutal as beasts, yet Christ is full of mercy and His table was full of grace long before it was full of saints.

When Jesus died for you and me, truly Beauty loved the beast. By His blood the curse will be undone and we will be holy, fit to live in His Kingdom. Jesus lovingly pursues us unto death no matter who we are, yet the truth will remain upon the page unless the ink is written on our hearts.

“I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before You.
Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.”
Psalm 73:21-26

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It seems we have many legitimate reasons to fear… right? If anyone had reason for fear, David did. King Saul was hunting him unto death. David was forced to take refuge and make his home in a dark, cold cave. Yet he wrote…

“Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.”
(Ps. 23:4)

If God’s presence was enough to comfort David in his desperate circumstances, may it be enough to comfort us in the midst of what threatens our peace. In truth, we have more reason for faith than fear because the Sovereign King who rules over all is mindful of the smallest details of our lives, even the number of hairs on our head. He has the key to every door and every heart. Nothing and no one can stand against Him or thwart His purposes. So if He is for us, whom or what shall we fear? Whom shall come against us and succeed?

“You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You.”
Isaiah 26:3 (Amplified Bible)

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Lately I’ve been having somewhat restless nights.. Among the reasons why is the fear that I am offending or grieving the Spirit of God without knowing it. Have you ever shared my sense of uncertainty when it comes His approval? (That is why we need the gospel daily!) Psalm 139 was a great comfort to me. I drank in every verse like it was a glass of cool, refreshing water. The last two verses especially resonated with me…

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

(Ps. 139:23-24)

This morning I decided to use my quiet time to write out each fear bothering me. As soon as I came to God as my Abba, Father, Daddy, and told Him everything, I wondered why I didn’t do it sooner! “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).

And then while reading Psalm 139, I was struck by verse 10, “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” So I recited each specific fear and spoke those words into that dreadful outcome… “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

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