December 31, 2010
What is the best New Year’s Resolution I can think of? It’s to make the decision to become an ever-better friend of God’s. Is this possible? Yes. We know that God had a human He called His friend, and we know that Jesus (God in bodily form) called His disciples friends.
What is the benefit of being God’s friend? Much in every way! But it boils down to this: Knowing our Master’s business. (John 15:15) That is, what He’s up to. And more than this, learning about everything that Jesus learned from His Heavenly Father. (same verse)
How is this accomplished –this “becoming God’s friend”? Jesus says it is through obeying His commands. (v. 14) And what is the summary of those commands? It’s to love as Jesus loved. (v. 12) For “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (v. 13) And who is our most important friend? It’s God.
So, are we going to lay down our life for God, our Friend? This is what He requires –if we want to no longer be called a servant, but a friend. And practically, we do this by laying it down for everyone He tells us to lay it down for. This doesn’t exclusively mean physical death, but also that we lay aside our reputation, our desires, our expectations, and even our well-being. No, we don’t throw our pearls unnecessarily before swine, but we do throw our pearls before anyone He commands us to. In fact, they may even look, smell, and act like swine to us, but the difference lies in IF God has given us a command. And this is why it’s critical that we do know our Commander’s business. –That we really can hear from Him, and that we really do know Him intimately.
Now, who was it that was called “God’s friend”? It was Abraham. (2 Chron. 20:7 & James 2:23) God Himself calls Abraham this in Isa. 41:8 when He says, “But you, O Israel, My servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend…” Besides the fact that God chose Abraham out of all the peoples of the earth –to give Abraham a land, and to give Himself a temple (a people and a land in which to dwell)– what else enabled Abraham to be called God’s friend? It was that Abraham was righteous. How was he made righteous? He “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (James 2:23) Was this a mere head belief? No. Abraham’s faith had to be tested. And it was tested –when God commanded him to slay his only son, the son of the promise, no less. But? –what happened? Abraham obeyed. This is why the proceeding verses (v. 21 & 22) say, “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.”
Is obedience, then, about obeying the Law? No. For God’s Law actually forbids murder. Yet God would have considered Abraham disobedient to Him if he’d not listened, led Isaac up the mountain, laid him on the altar, and raised the knife to slay his son. This then, is a lesson that to be called God’s friend is to obey God’s voice –even when our own logic can’t understand God’s reason. I’m certainly not saying that the Spirit will ever lead us to disobey God’s Word, but I am saying that once in a while a command of God’s may at first appear foolish or bizarre. We do have God’s Word now (which Abraham did not), so we have the added benefit of asking God for confirmation from His Word. And guess what? He will give it! And when He does, we will be overwhelmingly compelled to obey! (I won’t give my personal examples right now, but I speak from experience!)
So besides being obedient and thus righteous, and besides being flat “chosen” by God, what else made Abraham God’s friend? It was that in being “chosen”, God was making a holy covenant with Abraham. Was this the Law? No, that was “introduced 430 years later” (Gal. 3:17) through Moses. “For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in His grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.” (v. 18) And the promise was that “All nations will be blessed through you. So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (v. 8,9) And what is this blessing which we, along with Abraham, are given? It is the blessing of walking in the New Covenant –that is, walking in the Spirit –through faith in Jesus. As verse 14 says, “He redeemed us [from the curse of the law –v. 13] in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”
And what comes with this exceedingly wonderful promise of the Spirit? It is the gift of the Counselor… the Comforter… the Spirit of Truth… the Guide who leads us into all Truth (John 14:16, 26 & 15:26 & 16:13)… the One who dwells within us (14:17, 23) to give us Kingdom power (1 Cor. 4:20) to “participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) and be free from law and the sinful nature. (Gal. 5:16-18, 24) This is the Spirit of God, who longs to make us His friend. –“To show mercy to… [us] and to remember His holy covenant, the oath He swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies [–sin and the evil realm], and to enable us to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” (Luke 1:72-75)
Again –The Covenant: “To rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” –Just like Abraham did.
And we do it by becoming a “friend of God’s” –just the way Abraham did.
To do this, and to become an ever-better friend of God’s, is, I believe, the best New Year’s Resolution we could possibly have.
December 30, 2010
Well, my heart is heavy, for I just found out tonight that my very dear friend –the one with the 21 month old baby girl– does have cancer. –Lymphoma.
When I called her she sounded so matter-of-fact about it. But that’s just her way. I know she’s worried –especially for her kids. I have to admit I’m tempted to be too. And I’m very sad.
What do we do when we hear such news? How should we think? Well, we trust. We trust the Lord’s goodness, His loving ever-watchful care, and His ability to work all things out for everyone’s ultimate best. And like I emailed another friend tonight, we stand unwavering in the doctrine of Job 13:15: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”
Life does seem to be speeding by. It’s seemed like this for a few years now. I mean, didn’t we just have Christmas of 2009? But Christmas of 2010 is over too. And now we’re already looking over the precipice of yet another new year.
What about our decisions? The ones we’ve made in the past, and the ones we’ll be making in 2011 –and beyond? Will they be decisions that, after looking back at them from eternity’s side, we’ll be glad we made? Will our choices be ones we’ll be ashamed of, or will they be ones that God will reward us for?
“But I said, ‘I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.'” (Isa. 49:4) Do these attitudes cross our weary minds sometimes? If so, we must look up. We must believe, and trust, and continue to press into the promises. For as the rest of this Isaiah verse says, “Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”
In other words, when everything looks bleak and sad, tiring and no longer worthwhile…, we can remember that God has viewed it all, has added it up, has heard our prayers and seen our efforts, has stored our tears in His bottle, and has worked behind the scenes… And someday… yes, someday… we will be granted our reward. The reward that God has stored up for those who love Him. Those who have served and trusted Him, and continued to do so with love — even when we’ve thought we can’t take another step.
For it’s all about eternity. And there is a grade given there.
However………, this life is the test. One big exam. That we are expected –and enabled– to pass. And pass with a high score.
We can do it as we put our trust in Him. Every day. With every… single… step… we take.
December 29, 2010
A week or so ago I was reading in Acts 16 and I was impressed by some very beautiful truths, ones that are definitely helpful in carrying out God’s command to set the captives free. For whether or not verses such as Isa. 49:9 are being addressed to the Messiah or not, we are to follow in His steps, furthering His purposes. Therefore the LORD is saying to us “to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!'”
How then do we do this? Do we just walk up to people –just anyone– and say, “You appear to be captive. So I’m here to proclaim to you that God has sent me to tell you, ‘Come out of your captivity and be free!'” –? Such an approach will likely not work well. So how do we obey Isa. 49:9?
Well, one place I find the answer to this is in Acts 16:16-40 when Paul and Silas were severely flogged and thrown into prison for casting a demon out of a fortune-teller. On top of their wounds and bad predicament, “the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.” (v. 23,24) This does not sound fun at all, and probably most of us would be crying, angry, and very much worried about our uncertain fate.
But what did these evangelists do? Verse 25 says, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.” I was struck by the fact that, in spite of their pain and the temptation to cave in to fear, these men of faith were not only praying, but singing to God. While in a stressful situation, yet to be singing, is a sure sign that one’s faith is active. Okay, we’ve heard this before. But what I took note of even more this time was, “and the other prisoners were listening.”
Prisoners listening… to us… –doing what? –Praying and singing hymns to God, that’s what. And when? When they see us underneath the burden of a trial, that’s when. Interesting… And when they see this, watch this, hear this, notice this… –what’s about to happen?
Verse 26 says, “Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.” What? “The foundations of the prison were shaken.” Wouldn’t this mean prisoners are about to have their confinement and bondage broken? And what causes the shaking (the loosening)? An earthquake does. And a violent (strong and mighty) one at that. And one more thing: It happened “suddenly” –which means quickly and unexpectedly. –Which is how miracles usually come about. And what, again, was the initial cause of all this? Singing… praying… more singing… more praying…
Verse 26 continues: “At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.”
I don’t know why, as I’ve read this passage a gazillion times… However, this time the Lord spoke to me from it. It had to do with laws of the spiritual realm. For it’s not just humans that listen and watch, but the spiritual realm does too. And earthquakes happen in the spiritual realm when we activate our faith by our calm trust in God –so assured of His goodness and help that we can continue evangelizing through our praying and singing even while in physical pain and emotional distress. When the invisible realm sees this, the one side advances under our praise to God, while the other side retreats, then cowers, then flees. And what happens to those who were caught under the evil side’s power? Their chains are loosened. They are given the choice –the choice to step out of the shackles. They can look up and see that the prison doors are open. They can believe. And they can act upon their belief.
Do some prisoners choose to remain in their chains? Yes, they do –and sadly! They may do so for fear of the outside (that life of freedom) for it sounds too different, and many are afraid of the unknown. They may do so because they love the smell of the dungeon, or they like the darkness, or they don’t want to part with friends. But the choice is given, the freedom made available.
What did it? What broke the chains, what shattered the darkness of captivity? It was faith. Faith which rose up in strength, and the strength manifested in action. And what was the action? It was petition and praise. It was asking God for help, believing Him to answer, and singing unto God in courage and thanksgiving.
So how do we obey Isa. 49:9 and “say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!'” –? We do it through continued faith-filled prayer and joyful songs of praise. –To God. –Confident that both prisoners and rulers of the air are listening and watching, and that prison walls really are about to come down.
December 28, 2010
God’s Word is full of exceedingly wonderful promises. So we certainly can’t pick and choose which is the best. However, here’s an exceptional one for sure: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31)
Do we realize the comfort given to us in this verse? It speaks to the fact that if our God is for us, no one can harm us or separate us from His loving care. That He has our back. That He is our Shield. That He is our Protector. That Christ Jesus Himself “is at the right hand of God… interceding for us.” (v. 34) That He, not we, is “able to keep us from falling [–from falling into discouragement, apathy, fear, harm, sin, or away from grace…] and to present us before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” (See Jude 1:24)
For His Word is laden with such encouragement. Like Ps. 27:3: “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” Who tries to war against us? Is it not the enemy –Satan? And is it not those he uses? Is it not also our own heart that has gotten pulled in many directions by the voices of the world? Is it not our mind which tends toward fearful, sad thoughts as it ponders the evils and sufferings all around us? Yet what does God’s Word tell us to do? It tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus for strength. It tells us to focus our mind on the Lord for peace. It tells us to listen for His voice and then rest. It tells us to heed His commands and be kept safe. It tells us to praise Him and be blessed.
Look at this verse: “He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.” (Isa. 40:11) This is not a verse about any common, but caring shepherd. It’s a promise from the Sovereign LORD God Himself –Jesus, God in bodily form, who reveals, “I am The Good Shepherd.” (John 10:11) And He says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. You trust in God; trust also in Me.” (John 14:1)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…” (Jesus in Luke 12:22) And assuring us that the Father knows exactly what we need and will give it to us as we seek His kingdom first, He adds in verse 32, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
Are we His flock? Do we belong to Him? Are we following The Good Shepherd –sticking close to Him by reading His Word and obeying His Spirit? Then God is for us.
Which means we can be “convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers… [nor] trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword… will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (See Rom. 8:38,35,39)
Why? Because “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (v. 37)
And conquerors –with God on their side– have no reason to fear or be dismayed. They have reason only to be full of courage and peace, resting in the victory that is already theirs.
December 27, 2010
“He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.” (Rom. 13:8b)
“Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” (Prov. 4:7)
“… hold to My teaching… Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jesus in John 8:31,32)
Okay… –what am I getting at? It’s this: That “the new way of the Spirit” (Rom. 7:6) which we serve in is about Love, Wisdom, and Truth, and that all three are a Person. (1 John 4:16 & Prov. 1:20-33 & 3:13-19 & John 14:6) Therefore, the manifestation that we have the Spirit is that we will love our fellow man, and we will do so in wisdom and in truth.
1 John 4:16 says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” The reason? –Because “love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (v. 7) Then the next verse says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
So: Those who are born of God –that is, who belong to God because they are in Christ– will genuinely love, not just other born-anew brothers, but all their fellow men. Conversely, those who are not born of God –who are not abiding in Christ– will not genuinely love others (except as the world loves, for “even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.” –Jesus in Luke 6:32)
So: To love with true love (with The Love) means we’ve been born of God, which means we have the Spirit, which means we possess Eternal Life.
Now, a problem in loving our fellow man can arise. This is due to our concept of love. But if we abide in Jesus who is also Wisdom and Truth, then Love (the Person) will be truly walked in and lived out. This is what could be called “The Way” or “The Creed” or “The Life” –as in the principle, the system, the law, or the doctrine. For “love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Rom. 13:10) But since this Love upholds Wisdom and Truth, then it is not just any love. It is God’s Love which is Love, Wisdom, and Truth combined. For if we love without wisdom and truth, then such a love is not submitted to the will of God, and is therefore not God’s love.
We must love with God’s love. Otherwise, we will fall for deceptions, lies, or foolish actions and emotions which come from sentimental feelings. For example, if we go to the prisons to visit, we can love a prisoner, but wisdom and truth must balance that love, or we can get coerced into danger. We can love a friend who has gotten hooked on drugs, but to get in a car with her or visit each other’s homes, would obviously be cause for jeopardy. We can love someone at church, but if he is in immorality, then he must be confronted and told to leave the fellowship until he has left that blatantly sinful lifestyle. These, plus all other situations, are opportunities for loving our fellow man with God’s Love –that which is always balanced with truth and wisdom within “the new way of the Spirit.”
Christ Jesus is our model. When He walked this earth He was fully God, but He was also fully human. Yet He walked in “the new way of the Spirit” all the time. This, then, is how we are expected to constantly walk. (1 John 2:6) He showed us how to genuinely love, and we are therefore to copy His life and His teachings. In doing so, we will walk in The Truth. (See John 8:31,32 above.) In walking in the truth, we will automatically then be walking both in wisdom and in love, for to walk in Wisdom (God’s true wisdom, not the world’s kind), leads to a knowledge of more Truth which connects to Perfect Love. And the circle continues –that we may come to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…” (Eph. 3:18) –this Love He wants us to extend to one another.
Meditating on all this, then –what should be our creed? It should be the way of Love. –A life of love. –And the type of love that consists of both Truth and Wisdom. For this type of love is the Love which will enable us to love each particular individual on earth with just the right attitude, words, and actions. –The type that reflects perfectly “the new way of the Spirit.” –That portrayal of Love which proves we possess Eternal Life.
December 26, 2010
Well, I wonder if everyone got what they wanted for Christmas. And if it has made them happy now. And if so, how long it will make them happy. A week? A month? Hmmm….
Most of us have learned the hard way that nothing –things, people, acclaim… –none of it satisfies for very long. As soon as the thrill wears off, we notice that the hole in the heart hasn’t actually been filled. Or if it was, it sure drained out fast.
This truth does not hit us more obviously as it does when we’re faced with the possibility of a terminal illness or injury –either concerning ourselves or someone very dear to us. Suddenly, all the worldly success we’ve had –all the accomplishments, the acknowledgements, the fame, the glory, the prestige, the experiences, the ease, the pleasures, the entertainments, the money, the possessions, etc.– means next to nothing. For it certainly can’t save, or even extend comfort.
One of my best friends is going on Tuesday to have a biopsy done for possible bone cancer. She has two children; one is only 21 months old. Being very beautiful, she used to be a model. After that, she was an expert at “knowing horses” –which brought her significant success in that market. But does any of this mean one thing now when she’s facing the uncertain future? –When she’s faced with the fact that her children may have to grow up without their mom? And sadly, though this family acknowledges the Lord, they have never walked with Him; so it’s hard for them to run to Him for comfort. However, I am praying… and I know that God can turn a frightening situation around for eternal good.
So can any worldly thing bring about lasting happiness, peace, or contentment? It can’t. I know of another family… The daughter has been in a coma because of a horse-riding accident. This family is wealthy, yet as much as money can often help, in this case it cannot bring about a cure. The same way that money cannot cure a ruined marriage, a disfigured face, a mental illness, or bring a loved one back from the grave. The pain remains –the unrest, the dissatisfaction, the loneliness, the fear, the sadness, the suffering, the anguish, and the hole in the heart. For can money –or any worldly thing– cure, or even soothe, the devastated heart?
The answer is of course –no. However, there is one thing that can bring peace, comfort, hope, healing, and contentment. It’s knowing Jesus. –Listening to Him and taking refuge in Him. It’s not enough to just know He’s there –available. We have to take the step of faith to go to Him, cling to Him, cry out to Him, and then get quiet and listen. Once we’ve heard, we must then hold, in faith, to what He’s said. Has He given a word that “All is well”? Then we must believe that good will come and we are not to worry. Has He said, “My grace is sufficient”? Then we must believe that no matter what, His grace will be there to help us endure the trial. Has He given a word that He will intervene and heal, restore, or pave the way where there is no way? Then we are to believe that. For whatever the Lord’s promise, we must, by our faith, hold on to that promise, continuing to show our faith by our thanksgiving and our calm assurance. This is what heals the heart –no matter the outcome of circumstances.
Let’s always keep in mind, then, that it is in having the Shepherd as our Savior and Friend that we find rest, contentment, peace, and happiness. Let’s enjoy and appreciate the important things and stop wishing for more. Because if we have a close relationship with our God, that is all we need –and all our heart needs. He can and He will, if we ask Him to, daily fill up our hearts with joy. Then we will learn for ourselves the wonderful truth of 1 Tim. 6:6: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”
In experiencing that, is our satisfaction and lasting happiness.
December 25, 2010
Last night we went to some relatives’ church for a lovely candlelight service. One thing mentioned in the sermon was the experiment done by the Washington Post on January 12, 2007 when Joshua Bell played his violin incognito in a metro station. Only a handful stopped their hurried lives to appreciate his performance, though that same week good seats had gone for $100 each in a packed auditorium. Furthermore, at the station not only was world-renown Joshua using the music of the famous Bach, but the violin he played was his Gibson Stradivarius –worth over 3.5 million dollars.
What does this story have to do with Christmas? They’re both about perception, insight, and a treasure hidden behind that which appears to be plain, ordinary, and undistinguished. Isn’t this how our Savior –the Creator of the universe– showed up in His world? And how He walked among us? For he appeared to be a common baby born of lowly parents, His life and Gospel seemed unorthodox, His death crude but customary for criminals, and His resurrection deemed unbelievable.
But not to everyone. A handful –then, and down through the centuries– have seen it otherwise. They have perceived the Truth and have found the Treasure… –this Treasure whose worth is infinitely far more than 3 and a half million dollars, and whose value to own and belong to exceeds description. For some –a few of us– did stop to listen, to believe, to bow down before, to follow, to obey, to love… For we knew we needed, so desperately, a Ransomer –One who would rescue us from the misery, the plight, the hopelessness…. And we heard a sound, we saw a Light, we stopped to listen and ponder, we looked up, we believed, we trusted… We found fellowship, communion, strength, comfort, and love. And we grew in love –more love… more trust, faith, fortitude, peace, and joy. And all because of the priceless Treasure –the King of Kings who condescended to come, disguised as a nobody, to a lost humanity to deliver any who would stop and pay attention.
But, you say, we can’t even see Him now! He’s invisible and therefore difficult to love and fellowship with! I remember it was actually February of 2007 when I too cried out to the Lord about this with deep heartache. In fact, I was joyfully worshipping in the shop to some very beautiful worship music, and suddenly I felt such a longing to be with the Lord, to see His face, to really hear His voice, that I cried aloud, “Lord! But You’re invisible!” And then I just wept. “Lord, why do You have to be invisible?” (I’ve got plenty of tears right now remembering this.) It’s not that I wanted to die; it’s just that I wanted so badly to be with Him –to not have a veil between us…
Guess what? He did not leave me comfortless. He spoke to my spirit clearly. He said, “You know all those people at the nursing home who you see, talk to, and love on? That’s Me.”
I was quiet a moment, thinking, and then said, “What? …Really? I mean, I know the verses about ‘in as much as you’ve done unto the least of these, you’ve done unto Me.'” (See Matt. 25:37-40 & Luke 10:25-37) And though I was tempted to protest that it wasn’t the same, that it just wasn’t really Him, the realization of this –that somehow, in some spiritually miraculous way– others –all the ones He puts across our path to minister to– are indeed Him. I immediately, in my mind’s eye, saw the face of one of my favorite friends at the nursing home… saw her unkept hair, thought of her spit-fire personality, remembered her helplessness as she lay in bed year after year… So I did, in those few moments, understand what the Lord was telling me. And my spirit longed to love Doris just as I would my Best Friend, my Savior… In fact, as if she were Him. And because of this experience, plus several more similar which I had that year, I increasingly learned about that Love which Jesus spoke so often about. Like in John 17:26 when He says to the Father, “I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Hmmmm…. –the love the Father has for His Son is immense. And in knowing the Father through Christ, we can participate in that Great Love. For with Christ’s Spirit in us, this Love is lavished upon us and into us. For this Love is a Person –the Person of God, the Trinity. (See John 14:23) So added to that love which God has for the world (John 3:16) –that is, His creatures– we have dwelling within us a Love that is heightened, amplified, and made abundantly alive –powerful, intense, and really quite indescribable.
So again –what does all this have to do with Christmas? Well, just as Jesus was actually the Majestic Creator-God incognito, so also does our Savior walk incognito among us daily. He does so in those who belong to Him, but also in “the least of these” –meaning any human made in the image of God.
In realizing this, may we all then, in every encounter and transaction we make, look at and treat each person, not as some common stranger, but as if he or she were Jesus –our Shepherd whom we can’t wait to see… –our King whom we honor, cherish, and adore… –our Treasure, whom we’ve stopped to recognize, is priceless.