Wednesday, June 21, 2017

It's Better This Way

The tiny stuffed dog lay beside my three-year-old nephew.  Its long, rounded ear touched Andrew’s face. His bedtime trademark, the fuzzy blue blanket with its silky edge pulled just under the chin, lay behind the toy dog's collar. 

“What is that hard clump on the doggy's back?” I wondered. 

And then I heard it.  The same sound the mobile in our baby crib at home used to play when I was a child--the tinny, tinkling tune of “Rock-a-bye, Baby.”  Andrew had wound up the toy and, by now, was gazing upward, a far-off look in his eyes.  I looked at my nephew—the picture of adorable—nearly asleep.  There he lay, surrounded by two of his favorite things—a stuffed doggie and his cozy blue blankie.  His mommy had just given him a good night kiss and tucked him into bed.  Within moments, the rhythmic breathing of sleep sounded from his corner of the room.  What else could a little boy want?

The sweet picture of my nephew at bedtime reminds me of the Holy Spirit, our Comforter.  When Jesus bodily left this planet for paradise, He promised not to leave His people comfortless.  The knowledge that their Precious Savior would depart seemed unbearable to the disciples—at first.  But in the midst of pain, God always works a divine plan.  John 16:7 describes Jesus’ concept of this new arrangement:

            Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.  

That special stuffed animal and much-used blanket nightly help transition my nephew into the world of sleep.   Those comforting objects, pulled close, somehow make the segue better.  And that’s the idea of the word expedient—something that’s better.

Before Christ's departure from earth, only a few special individuals throughout history possessed the indwelling Spirit.  Now, every believer would experience His abiding presence!  Had those first believers not experienced loss, Christians throughout time could not have comprehended God's tangible Comfort to us, His Holy Spirit.

Like the ring of comforting objects surrounding my little nephew, the Holy Spirit surrounds us with God’s Truth. As we endure the difficulties of this world—pain, death, tribulation, persecution—the Holy Spirit sheds light upon the objective truth of God’s Word, and we experience His shielding in the midst of tribulation as we trust our Eternal God.

Security, rest, and quiet exist for the believer because the Comforter takes the pure words of God and applies them to our hearts.  He allows that Word upon which we meditate to penetrate into the very fiber of our redeemed hearts so that our rebel wills, molded by His divine influence, soften into hearts of child-like, implicit trust.  Where once our own way dominated, our own will guided, now our Guide into Truth leads the way--as we permit Him.

I once met a man whose face glowed with the joy of the Lord.  An elderly pastor of a Southern congregation, he mentioned something that I believe could well be the secret of that radiant countenance--his Bible reading plan.  Reading the New Testament through once each month and the Old Testament in its entirety four times per year had been his practice for decades.

“If Christians would just spend 45 minutes to an hour reading their Bibles each day, they could read the entire Bible through often!”  he told me.  Because he had practiced such a plan for many years, it was his testimony that “during the day, when a thought comes to mind—it's Scripture.” 

And have you not, dear Christian, experienced such leading in your life? Have your daily thoughts not likewise been shaped by your morning quiet time, so that you too follow the Spirit's leading throughout your day?

            “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left" (Isa. 30:21).

That application of God's Word to our hearts encapsulates the ministry of God's Spirit.  What security to know that this Comforting Spirit not only quickens our innermost being to truth but also illuminates our next step on life's winding pathway!  What comfort to know that our own faulty understanding (Proverbs 3:5) need not direct us into our next steps but this Spirit of Truth who reveals truth to our hearts (John 14:26;15:26; 2 Peter 1:20-21) can lead us with God’s Word!

"O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!  Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments" (Psalm 119:5-6).

Asleep in the wee hours of the morning, my nephew is not consciously aware of the stuffed animal doggie and silky blue blanket that lay at his head.  But the objects still rest there, relatively undisturbed.  Come morning, they will provide further comfort as needed.   

Far better, our precious God the Holy Spirit is with us--waking or sleeping.  He lives within, sealing us until that day of ultimate redemption in Heaven (Eph. 1:13).  Let us listen, then, to His leading each day, imbibing God’s Words to our souls and walking more and more under His divine leadership.

It's better this way.

For the indwelling Spirit is God's perfect plan.

For believers today.  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

God, My Expectation

“My soul, wait thou only upon God; 
for my expectation is from him."  (Ps. 62:5)

The cake sat on the table, a trophy of exquisite workmanship.  My mouth watered as I waited for dessert to come.  But, when I tried the first bite, I internally grimaced, for interlaced within the crème and sweet fluff, I discerned the hidden taste of a smoker’s house.  Every bite elicited the same result, so that I barely finished my piece and gladly refused seconds.  The baker’s habit for cigarettes had, unbeknownst to her, affected even this masterpiece of culinary art.

We’ve all had expectations and then found that those same anticipations yielded unfortunate results.  Throughout the meal that day, my mind had not failed to consider dessert.  But when it was time to enjoy the torte, my expectations did not deliver as anticipated. 

So in life, our expectations shape perspective.  They stimulate joy or misery, assist contentment or covetousness, and even encourage faithfulness or lack thereof.

I believe that theology has a lot to do with expectations.  In fact, much of that word expectation is dependent upon our concept of what we deem valuable in life.  Wrong theology eventually results in sinful actions.  So, practically speaking, we don’t want to be wrong here.  We want to expect things in a theologically accurate way.

There are two specific areas where personal expectations and biblical thinking can collide—success and results.

Success.  We live in the age of prosperity gospel and mega churches.  What God calls the “favour” of men in His Word is often mistaken as success in the minds of many believers.  Since the favor of men (popularity) is deceitful—actually a lie (Prov. 31:30)—God’s definition of success stands in direct contrast to popularity.

Joshua 1:8 tells us how to find success—“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

Meditating on Scripture 24/7, seeking to obey every one of God’s commands—this is success.  Although the crowd to whom he preached left and went to Egypt, Jeremiah experienced success in his preaching—not because he appeared successful to his generation but because he obeyed God.  When only eight people were left to join him in the ark, Noah likewise experienced success—for he, too, obeyed God.  Obedience to all of God’s commands—that is success. 

Defining success as God does is imperative for the believer; otherwise, our expectations will be disappointed.  Was Christ’s ministry a success?  Yes, for He fulfilled the will of His Father.  Was He always popular?  No.  Did many leave His “church”?  Yes. In fact, Christ’s message was so strong and divisive in John 6 that  “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus  unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?  Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (v. 66-68).  

How is that possible?  God’s Word is a sword that cuts deeply and literally divides. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Results.  Another area in which our expectations and biblical definitions may collide is in the area of results.  Fruit is the biblical word describing results; and, as in the physical world, spiritual fruit always occurs in a season different from that in which the seed was planted. 

During the spring of my second or third grade year, my father planted a peach tree.  One of my jobs that summer included watering the many tiny saplings about the front yard of our farmhouse.  I would string the green hose out, count to thirty, and then, kinking the hose so as not to lose the precious water, move to the next tree.  Watering trees seemed to take forever, especially when the sun beat down upon me, pounding its way onto my uncovered head and leaving burn marks on my skin.  But at last, come August, we enjoyed the fruit of our labor.  As I had held the hose on that tree, I had counted four tiny peaches.  At last, gold and bronze overtook green, and the soft fruit was ripe and ready to be picked.   Fruit at last! 

While the young peach tree produced tiny fruit that same summer, when we choose our own way over God’s, the fruit of that pathway is not immediately seen.  Proverbs 1 reveals the ultimate punishment for fools, scorners, and simple who fail to heed God’s warnings.  When counsel is considered as nothing, God will turn from Merciful Savior to Judge.  Verse 31 says, “Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.” 

Although the unrighteous man goes his own way, seemingly without consequence for a time, the patient endure to the end.  They turn their eyes upward, beholding a coming day of judgment, where the wheat will be separated from the tares, the sheep from the goats, and the wood-hay-stubble from the gold-silver-precious stone.  We read of the Thessalonian believers who endured persecution—but anticipated a heavenly reward (2 Thess.1). 

From a human perspective, both results and success focus the attention on the horizontal.  From God’s perspective, results and success can be defined biblically, so that our attention is drawn heavenward.

Throughout the Psalms, our attention is riveted vertically—that is why I love this book so much.  In its pages, we read of God’s people looking upward for peace, joy, and satisfaction. These writers understood that joy was not sourced in any external circumstance or relationship:  it was rooted in God. 

Note the psalmist’s words in Psalm 43:4— “Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.”  As our Joy, God can give us the spirit of thanksgiving and the eyes of faith that allow us to see all the joys He brings into our lives.  We can determine by His grace to be joyful, even if our earthly situations or relationships seem threatened.  Nothing need steal our peace.  With God’s strength, we can embrace every situation with thankfulness and joy, delighting in His pure and holy way. 

No one else can so clearly tell us the path for our feet; but He can.  Thou wilt show me the path of life" (Ps. 16:11).  Nothing else can deeply fill and satisfy—ever.  No longing fancy fulfilled, not even faith realized, prayers answered, or victories won is the same as God’s abiding presence, as His un-understandable peace.  Truly, it is “in [His] presence” that “fullness of joy” exists.  “At [His] right hand, there are pleasures forevermore" (Ps. 16:11). 

I vividly remember the day that a young girl brought a birthday treat to my elementary school class.  The cookies tantalized from the plate, a perfect brown with glints of chocolate chips tempting our taste buds.  But we had to wait until after lunch to enjoy the birthday treat.  When she handed out her chocolate chip cookies, the girl sat down, smiling.  I bit one, distinctly tasting moth balls.  I tried another bite and received the same sensation. The cookie did not offer the delight I had anticipated, for the odor of the home where it had been baked had worked its way into the cookie. 

Like that cookie and later the cake from my experience, neither of which offered what I had anticipated, everything this side of eternity will come crashing down and we will be left with gravel in our mouths (Prov. 20:17)—if our focus is incorrect.  If our expectations have rested in the wrong places, we will continually ask “Why?” and the smattered bits of those dreams will hurt us, causing wounds and difficulty—which never would have resulted had our expectations been in God.

But if our expectation is in Him Alone, if He is the One in which we hope—then we shall never be disappointed! 

After recently celebrating a wedding anniversary, I can truly say God has been good!  I expected to have five children by this time.  I planned for them, anticipated for them, and idealized my expectations for them long before I was ever married.  But God is my expectation—not my own dreams.  His Word tells me that His way is perfect and I can live in that reality!  

The next time you feel yourself drawn aside to fret in any way, ask yourself, “What am I hoping for?”  If your expectation is in God, whatever is happening around you will seem incredibly insignificant in light of the truth of this verse.  

 Let us embrace the biblical perspectives on both success and results, living every moment to the glory of God.

When our expectations are in anything other than our God above, we will be disappointed. 

Ever set your hope in God.

He alone is Your expectation.

Your expectation...

Is from Him.