Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Self Sufficiency or God Dependency?

 “Pull yourself up your own bootstraps.”
“You can do anything you put your mind to.”
"Believe in yourself."

These little sayings, so familiar to many in our culture, evidence an unrealistic philosophy of life.  In a word, they are little motivations that promote self-sufficiency.  Independence.  Living one’s own way by sheer determination and perseverance.

But our God reminds us in His very personal name Jehovah just Who He is.  He is the “I Am,” the Self-Existent one, the only Self-Sufficient One.  Any cute saying that foregoes this reality fails to factor in the overwhelming reality that God Alone is self-sufficient.

A dear woman I know emigrated from a Communist country, using her wits to escape the regime in which she was undesirably employed.  She managed to find a way to the United States and carved out her own existence when she arrived.  That was years ago.  Now she enjoys a somewhat comfortable life and sees the source of all goodness not as the Self-Sufficient God but her own independent spirit.  The American dream worked for her.  God?  Not so much.

Another man I met totes a similar story.  He had nothing when he left his home in Russia; but now, in his sixties, makes his living as a well-renowned architect.  His designs, magnificent and distinguished, demonstrate exquisite artistry in the field.  As he scrolled through multiple photos of his work, he bragged, “Who did this?  I did.  Not God.”  For him, God is a non-reality, a Player who seems never to enter the stage of his life which, from his view, has been self-created and self-propelled.

And so we expect the unsaved to live, without recognizing their absolute dependence upon an Almighty God who created them.  But centuries ago in this great nation, such was rarely the case.  Even the unbelieving Ben Franklin, America’s well-beloved Poor Richard, yet put his eye toward Providence.  It was the 81-year-old Franklin who, in the sultry days of the Constitutional Convention, viewed the mammoth task of forging the documents for a new nation, saw the deadlocks between the states, and addressed the Convention thus:

“I have lived . . . a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”

Franklin requested that the meetings begin with prayer, that God be consulted in the affairs of men.  For, although he had refused the pleadings of George Whitefield to surrender his soul to the Almighty, he recognized this truth—ultimately, God reigns.

Such trappings of spirituality yet exist in our nation.  Prayers at inaugurations and governmental ceremonies.  “In God we trust” placed on our money.  “Under God” stated in our pledge.

But today, Americans—even those who profess to know the name of Christ—too frequently fail to wait upon God as the only Self-Existent One.  As the sun burns in the sky, affecting every living thing upon the planet, so our God infuses life into every dimension of life.  He needs nothing from anyone and yet He speaks through His Word, beckoning believers to take of Him, learn of Him, wait on Him, and live in Him.

How does one live in this Self-Sufficient God?  By yielding to His rulership in life.  By submitting to His authority.  By placing oneself under His dominion.  By saying “yes” to this Eternal King.

Practically speaking, what does this look like?  For a man named Mr. Pulsford of North Devon, England, in the early 1800s, that looked like willingly moving to a town for the specific purpose of winning souls to Christ.  But Pulsford knew he couldn’t do it alone.  Calling out in prayer to Almighty God, he went forward on his knees.  In 1820, a Baptist church formed and converts from the town were baptized.

“I will not rock the cradle of the devil,” Pulsford was known to say.  Apathetic Christians?  Not in his place of ministry.  Ones committed to fulfilling the Great Commission?  That was his challenge to church members.  Is it any wonder that, from his small church, ten towns became systematically reached with the Gospel—all under ministry conducted, not by paid preachers, but by Commission-oriented church members?  Twice a month, preacher boys from his congregation had opportunity to preach.  Eventually, five church members dedicated their lives to spread the Gospel as full-time preachers, a result of this Great Commission mindset.

For believers today, the call of Christ has not wavered.  Self-sufficiency is inability.  God-dependency stands counter to the methods and means of postmodernism.  Great Commission believers, saturated by the truth of God’s Word, living in dependence upon the Spirit, and walking forth in faith to open their mouths with boldness—this is still God’s plan to grow His church, to affect our world, and to reach this nation with the Gospel.

As Franklin acknowledged that a kingdom could not be built without God’s aid, so we must embrace the reality that nothing short of God’s intervention in our lives can build His church His way.

Let us commit ourselves to following Him, opening our mouths to speak the truth of His glorious Gospel, and watching Him change our nation and the world.

One soul at a time.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

God's Hand in History: The Battle of Trenton

Christmas night, 1776.  Washington is determined.  Now some months into this war against Great Britain, he realizes even more clearly America’s dire need for Divine Providence.  Enlistments will be up in just a few days; the American army looks pathetic; and a colonial victory is desperately needed. 

(Congress had sensed the need, too, and a few weeks earlier had urged every colony to call a day of prayer to ask God’s help for the nation.) 

Finally, it is time to act.  It’s a bold attempt, he knows, but he must try it. 

Trenton, New Jersey, is crawling with Hessian soldiers, elite groups under the direction of a Colonel Rahl.  The man has no respect for American soldiers and calls them a bunch of country clowns.  Christmas night sees Rahl and his men partying, playing cards, and having their share of alcohol.   Some time into the evening, a man appears with a message for Rahl, who stuffs it into his pocket and forgets about it.  (The note warns of an attack on Trenton.)

At the same time, Washington and his men are making their bold attempt, loading into boats at the edge of the Delaware River. God, meanwhile, is answering those prayers made by thousands of concerned Americans only days before.  The Almighty sends a storm at just the right time:  hail to discourage any Hessian who might be patrolling the coast, and snow to blind the enemies’ eyes and weaken visibility. 

Finally, after three hours of painstaking travel, the men arrive safely at the coast but must trudge a weary eleven miles to where Rahl and his men are stationed—time enough for summons to be made and the forlorn forces to be vanquished.  But no such problem arises:  Providence has prepared the path.

Washington arrives at Rahl’s outpost and proceeds to fight the unprepared Hessians.  Within one half hour, Rahl is mortally wounded, the untouched letter still in his pocket.  Three elite Hessian forces surrender, and the battle is the Americans!

Had it not been for the Divine hand of God, this “turning point” of the American Revolution may never have occurred.  The Americans’ morale may never have been restored; New Jersey troops very possibly would have been incredibly discouraged from re-enlistment, and the Americans, this early on, could easily have been defeated in their fight for independence. 

What’s more, we may not live today in a nation called the United States of America.

Let us praise God for His providential hand in history as we learn about our great nation.  May we, like the colonials did so long ago, intercede in prayer for this land.  How we need the mighty hand of Providence to guide and protect us yet today!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Journey of Joy

Jesus.  Others.  You.  That's the essence of joy, right? 

But what does joy look like, lived out, in the nitty gritty of life?

What about when things happen that are completely beyond our control and way outside of our comfort zone?  What about when life shakes us up to the point we can barely recognize anything anymore?

When things got like this for David, he regularly responded with praise, joy, gratitude, and thanksgiving.  You see this pattern noted frequently through the Psalms.  Take, for example, Psalm 35.  David has experienced the deep hurt of being betrayed by people he loved, slandered by those for whom he cared deeply. 

He understood the pain of betrayal, rejection, and strife against him.  He knew what it felt like to be injured deeply by those whom he had loved and cherished.  Tales arose about him that surprised his ears, they were so far from the truth of the situation—he says “False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not” (verse 11).  He relates the anguish of his soul and the way in which those who despised him paid him back for his love to them—“They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul” (verse 12).  That phrase “the spoiling of my soul” refers to the destroying of one’s life.  In the natural course of things, without the supernatural enablement of God to joy in his situation, David’s sensitive soul would have been worn down and whittled away by those who had slandered his godly reputation.

But notice David’s praiseworthy response.  He makes his request to God.  He bares his soul to the only One Who can do anything about his situation, the Righteous Judge of all the earth, who alone sees all, knows all, and understands everything about every circumstance.  He prays to God. 

He will not avenge his enemies.  He will not defend himself, explain the rightness of his cause, the justness of his character.  Instead, he pours out his soul to God and determines beautifully, “And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD: it shall rejoice in His salvation” (verse 9). 

His soul would not be overburdened by the slander of those who had attacked him verbally.  Instead, from his inmost being, he would choose thanksgiving.  In verse 18 he says, “I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people.”    Rather than using his tongue to return the evil against him, he would use it to bless God.  He would choose instead to let his joy of the Lord flow from a grateful heart, allowing himself to be overcome by the greatness of Jehovah’s deliverance in his own life.

What a powerful way to live!  This is grace in action—the ability to joy, regardless of the pain inflicted by unkind or untruthful words.  And this pattern is reflected numerous times throughout the Psalms.  David chooses joy and praise in the face of ugliness.  What a beautiful demonstration of the New Testament command not to be overcome of evil but to “overcome evil with good”!

As 21st century believers living in a generation who find no repulsion at unleashing unkind words against the people of God, let us embrace a biblical response to the unbridled tongues of those whose words may, intentionally or otherwise, seek to destroy God’s church, God’s ministers, and God’s worship.  

Let us praise and joy in God, nurturing a heart of gratitude and a spirit of joy despite overt unkindness over social media and words that criticize the people of God.  Let us live with a heart like him whom God called “a man after [His] own heart.”  

And then, daily, moment by moment, as we live in the spirit of praise, we can experience the journey of joy that our God, whose Spirit produces such joy, can give!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Power of Grace

A brand new microwave sat on my counter for the past two weeks, wrapped in a box, while we waited to see if a better “Black Friday” deal would emerge before opening it.  Although the new microwave had the power to transform the way I did my morning coffee, I couldn’t use it, because I had never opened the box.

Yesterday, I took a scissors and cut off the tape from a box that enclosed a second microwave which had been delivered to our house—my husband had found a better bargain.  Needless to say, my coffee routine was performed in much less time this morning than it had been the past few weeks. While the microwave had been there all along, it wasn’t enough to know that the brand-new microwave would speed up the time I heated up my milk and creamer for the espresso on the stove.  To access the power, I had to actually open the box, plug in the microwave, and experience the rapid heating of the liquid.

In our Christian lives, a power source exists that radically altars the way we live—God’s grace. 

One gift at a time, grace is God’s strength provided for us. 

One day at a time, grace is the riches of Christ available to us.

Some have defined grace with the acronym “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense,” for without the shed blood of Christ on Calvary, believers would be powerless to live grace-filled lives in the reality of this evil world. As we acknowledge the propensity of our own sinful hearts and the depth of our own depravity, we are propelled to reach out for this amazing gift of God. Through Christ, grace gives us the answer for living, for responding, for “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) in each of life’s circumstances and situations.

Grace illustrates Christ within us, the Hope of Glory.  His grace is the ticket out of every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13)—even if nothing changes externally!  Grace is the work of Christ in the heart through the power of God's Holy Spirit within.  It radically alters everything about us, even if nothing on the outside seems different. 

Grace is a powerful notion.  A life-changing concept.  A radical transformation of our hearts from the inside out.

It’s Spirit-empowered living because of the power of the Gospel.

How often did Paul begin his epistles, “Grace to you…” or “Grace…from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”?  It was wish, a prayer, a hope, a belief that the believers he cherished would experience the liberation of their spirits in a life of transformed, Spirit-empowered living.

Grace is the liberating reality that empowers believers to live life dominated by the Spirit of God, loving and forgiving others who fail.  Outlandishly.  Because that’s what Jesus did for us.  Believing the best about a situation when things look darkest.  Because that’s the character of the God of love.  And reaching into the lives of those in our surroundings to touch them with the same grace that we have received.  Because that is the example of Jesus.

I’m amazed at Paul’s words to the Philippians—“Ye all are partakers of my grace.”  And this is the heart of God for us—that we, who have freely received spiritual riches from His hand should also live, empowered by God’s strength, to affect all in our surroundings with His grace!

Galatians 5:13-6:10 powerfully illustrate the ramifications of the gifts of grace—the fruits of God’s Spirit.  Living in the freedom of grace kindles within us a desire to serve each other in love, for self-denying service is the normal outgrowth of such liberty.  Not license.  Not legalism.  But freedom to serve God and love others in ways we never knew were possible. 

Grace transforms our conversation, making our words gifts of grace that build up, ministering God’s strength to the hearers (Eph. 4:29).  The grace of God can’t be stopped.  It’s more powerful than any sin around us, any sin within us.

Often emerging from the pain of difficulty, God’s grace paints a picture of the beautified Christ reaching out to others.

Dear believer, may you allow God’s grace to touch your weakness today and transform your heart daily into the likeness of Christ. 

As was true in Paul’s life, God’s grace can extend from you to everyone you touch! 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Choose Your Own Adventure

The plot thickens.  The character must decide between any number of choices.  What will he do?  If you choose for him to (a) follow God’s will completely for his life, turn to page 67.  If you want him to (b) follow God’s will from his 30s on but make his own decisions in his 20s, turn to page 43.  If you (c) choose for him to wait till the end of his life to follow God’s plan for him, turn to page 88.  If you choose for him to (d) neglect God’s plan for his life altogether, turn to page 101. 

I never got into Choose Your Own Adventure books.  Personally, I liked stories that had already been written for me to enjoy with me as a reader taking less of an active part in making choices for the hero or heroine. 

And yet, I wonder . . . how often do we as believers live our lives as if we are in the midst of a Choose Your Own Adventure book?   

While some things in life certainly are left to personal choice, much specific direction for life is found in God’s Word.  Christianity isn’t a “choose your own adventure” world.  Rather, it’s a “find God’s will in His Word and follow it” world.  God has given us the Holy Spirit, who uses the Word to guide us into all truth, so that we can discern His perfect will for our lives.

God's will never leads us to a place of less surrender.  His will never leads us to a place of less love for Him or less worship of Him.  If we are indulging in sins of the flesh today that have taken us from His path of life--where His presence remains (Ps. 16:11), where full joy exists--we should examine our choices.  His Spirit is one of truth that leads us into “all truth.”  Are there portions of the Bible that we pick and choose, deciding whether or not to obey them?  If so, we will reap many negative consequences—but they will come in a different season than the season in which we sow.  

Today we are faced with many choices.  Will we spend our time seeking God in His Word and interceding for others in prayer?  Will we choose to love people to Him by giving them the Gospel and seeking to open our mouths with Spirit-led boldness?  Or will we stagnate in our Christian walk?  Will we live our moments and minutes in God-dependent faith, letting the Spirit produce His fruit in our lives, or will we cope by running to our own way—busyness, entertainment, self-indulgence?  Are our minutes consumed with His way or our own?

Today’s choices are tomorrow’s realities.  What we think about today we will begin doing tomorrow, for how we think shows who we are and will eventually display itself in the actions we choose.   

Let us, then, examine our thoughts.  Are we thinking only about “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report”?  

If not, we can expect negativity to emerge from our lips.  Unkindness to emanate from our spirits.  And disregard for God’s ways to color our world.  Further, we can expect our own adventures to be riddled with inner turmoil and unbelief. 

In Numbers 13, only two men reported what God saw when He viewed the Promised Land.  How do we report our reality to the people about us?  If we are people of praise, thanking God morning, noon, and night, worshiping Him in our spirits--then faith-filled and God-honoring reports will emerge from our lips.  If we are people of complaints, bitterness, and unresolved anger, we will report our world through a negative lens as being the result of someone else’s poor choices. 

If you’ve chosen your own adventure instead of God’s, I plead with you to return to His pathway today.  Let God color your world, shape your perspective, and give you the eyes to see His plan as perfect and good for you.

Return to our Lord, Who says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jer. 29:11).


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Power of Listening

Have you ever been corrected and known that the person seeking to admonish you was a bit off in his perspective?  Have you ever heard words from another that hurt so deeply because you felt at your core that they didn’t really see the situation properly?  Did you ever feel misunderstood when being reproved?

A situation occurred recently in my life in which someone corrected me.  I have asked this person at various times to please let me know if they see something off in my life.  But when the individual said the words, it really seemed her perspective was not quite on.  I felt hurt.  Misunderstood.  Like I didn’t want to be as close to this person as I had in the past.

But God wouldn’t let me think that way.  He showed me that, as a Trinity, He is united in perfect fellowship.  As Father, Son, and Spirit, He is perfect Love.  His desire for believers is that we, too, have “fervent charity” among ourselves (I Peter 4:8), that we “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3).  So I knew that, even though relationships can become messy and sticky and uncomfortable, I couldn’t by any means treat this person with a casual relationship or diminish the significance of the person’s words.

We set up an appointment to talk, but I wanted to get God’s mind on the issue first.  I examined myself in light of the individual’s words but wasn’t getting clarity.  I looked into the Word and saw in my devotions a situation reflecting my own from the Psalms.  But I still didn’t arrive at conclusions.  However, when I looked into Proverbs the following day, God showed me exactly my own problem, brought clarity to my thinking, and helped me to correct a wrong pattern that had developed in my life.  I was so grateful that I hadn’t chosen to make null and void the words from this dear sibling in Christ. 
The tentacles of pride are a great source of opposition in believers’ lives.  God clarified in my spirit that, to respond by avoiding this person or annulling what she had said would be to respond in pride.  His Spirit works as we humble ourselves before Him. 

While my sister in Christ was not quite on in her evaluation, her words assisted a journey to ask the Lord the root of something in my heart, and He showed me in living color where I needed to turn to Him. 

“Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath,” James tells us (1:19).  God does not want us to become irritated inside when someone speaks a truth perspective into our ears.  Even if they haven’t exactly hit the nail on the head, God wants us to listen and examine our hearts to see “if there be any wicked way in us" (Ps. 139:24).  He wants His people to live in unity, fellowship, and harmony with one another.  Although relationships with people can become sticky, He longs for His own to “seek peace and pursue it" (Ps. 34:14; 1 Peter 3:11).

Believers have been designed to live in community.  In fact, Christian community and fellowship with each other is one incredible feature of God’s church.  That fallen creatures can live through the power of His Spirit in peaceful, harmonious, and beautiful relationships is none other than the product of Spirit-filled living.  But God’s working in us demands that each of us “be clothed with humility" (I Peter 5:5).  The gracious God of the universe has actually promised to resist us if we respond in pride!  But grace—His amazing grace, the kind that sent Christ to earth—will fill us and enable us as we humble ourselves before Him.

Oh, let us pursue such openness with our siblings in Christ that we will be propelled to the throne of grace, with hearts worked over by Christ’s own humbleness of mind!  Let each of us be quick to hear, slow to speak, and ready to let the Spirit shape us in yet one other area of life.



And each day until eternity!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Spiritual Blindness

"I can’t see out of this eye,” the elderly woman told me.  “And the other one has a cataract.”

She still takes the newspaper but must use a magnifying glass to read the words.

Night blindness for her is real.  And day blindness has become her new normal.

She tells me it’s not pleasant to look upon a grey, blurry world out of bleary eyes.

And I empathize with her. 

Yet as I consider the notion of blindness, I realize that for us as believers, spiritual blindness can overtake us in a subtle way.  It can cause us to see the world about us indistinctly.  It can make falling far easier and an understanding of God’s truth less likely.

For many with developing eye problems, cataract surgery brings hope of restored vision.  For the Christian, correct biblical thinking clarifies truth, bringing the world back into sharp perspective and correcting the blurriness of life.

Second Peter 1:9  tells us that we are blind if we fail to add to our faith any number of things.  ("But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.")  What are those things?  Faith.  Virtue.  Knowledge.  Temperance.  Patience.  Godliness.  Brotherly kindness.  Charity.  As I look at that list, I am reminded that each of these can be categorized as traits of the spirit. 

My spirit was purchased at salvation and belongs to God.  And yet, indwelling sin is my life-long partner.  While the Holy Spirit produces His fruits within our hearts, indwelling sin within us is the greatest evil we must deal with. (See Matthew 15:18-20.)

While the evils of the world, multiplied together, make up for a weight of sin that crushes the heart of Jesus, my own sin grieves God’s Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and breaks my fellowship with God (I John 1:6).

It is that sin for which Christ died—a cost I would have to pay had I not been redeemed.  It is that sin from which I have been set free! And while that sin at one time barred my entrance to Heaven, it is Christ’s grace that can keep me from falling every day.

When any of us for one moment lose perspective on sin, we fail to figure in the great cost of our own sin being the most impossible debt we would have had to pay, had we not embraced the free Gift of Christ.  We fail to wonder at the amazing sacrifice Christ paid in blood, on our behalf.  We fail to recognize that the evil within trumps the evil of any circumstance anywhere outside us. We forget we were purged from sins and that each sin stands contrary to the 2 Peter 1 qualities, the 1 Corinthians 13 qualities.  The Matthew 5 qualities.  Unbelief.  Embracing what's not the best.  Lack of spiritual understanding.  Indulgence.  Frustration in trials.  Ungodliness.  Unkindness.  Lack of biblical love.

And so we embrace blindness.  Having failed to diligently add those 2 Peter qualities, we embrace a counterfeit of our soul's enemy.  One lie argues, “If only my circumstances were different, I would be different.”  We think that it is really some difficult person or situation with which we are dealing that would need to change in order for us to change.

The evils about us can grieve us on the inside, pushing us to the throne of Grace to intercede on the behalf of others.  Wrong choices of others can burrow down deep as we ponder a life thrown away, living in selfish indulgence of sin.  We can wonder at others’ choices to walk a pathway that is far from God’s.  In fact, we can become so lost in the labyrinth of others’ needs that we fail to reckon that—no matter how hard we try to help others, if we for one moment fail to embrace the utter evil within and our own need to continually access God’s grace at all times with every person and in every situation—we have lost perspective.  The perspective of the overwhelming gift of grace and our utter need for it.  Clarity. 

Indeed, if we fail to recognize our complete helplessness without the grace of Jesus, if we fail to embrace our absolute dependency upon our All Sufficient Savior, if we in any way, for one moment, believe that the sin outside us is bigger, greater, and more hurtful than the sin within us—we’re blind.  We can’t see where we’re going.  And we can easily trip, fall, and lose our way.

For you, for me—God’s grace is sufficient.  In every situation.  At all times.

And as we embrace His grace, never losing sight of our utter need, we can be kept from spiritual blindness. 

And from falling.