Monday, March 18, 2019

Inside Out

 

[Photo of children with their inside clothes on the outside]


Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a
Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed:
“God, I thank you that I am not like other
people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or
even like this tax collector. I fast twice a
week and give a tenth of all I get.”

But the tax collector stood at a
distance. He would not even look up to
heaven, but beat his breast and said,
“God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

I tell you that this man, rather than the other,
went home justified before God. For all those
who exalt themselves will be humbled, and
those who humble themselves will be exalted.
—Luke 18:10-14

Often in the dreary days of winter, or when the school year winds down, teachers and administrators create school-wide activities to bring some excitement to their students. They try “hat day,” or “mis-match day,” or “school colors day.” One such of these special days that I remember we called “Inside Out Day.” Everyone dressed with their clothes inside out.

I got to thinking: What if we wore our personal sins on the outside, instead of hiding them as if those personal sins represent our fraying seams and tags? If we dressed this way all the time, would that make us consider more clearly the way that God sees our sins?

More than fifty years ago, our Houghton College chaplain often said we came to church showing our “respectable exteriors.” We wore our best suits and shoes, showed everyone our smiles, and sang using our heartiest voices. What if everyone could see us on the inside, just as God does? He knows very well our hidden faults and our sins too dreadful and embarrassing to admit.

The parable Jesus told about the tax collector and Pharisee—a religious leader in the temple—illustrates this condition of heart. Jesus wants us to see that we live much of the time like the Pharisee did: respectable, confident in our holy living, and looking down on those we know who have major sin problems. Jesus asked which of the two men He actually justified. He wants us to humbly and willingly show our hidden sins to Him and to bow before Him seeking for His mercy, grace, and forgiving love.

During this Season of Lent, let us make a point of looking at the “wrong side” of our image—the side God alone sees and waits for us to confess to Him. If we need to take a day and wear something inside out, allow it to remind us of God’s all-seeing eyes and His readiness to cleanse us from our sins and dress us in the fullness of His righteousness!

 

 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Behold the Lamb!

 

[Painting of a lamb and the cross]


The next day John saw Jesus coming toward
him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world!”
—John 1:29

References to Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” come up often in the New Testament Scriptures—from His baptism by John, all the way to Revelation, the last book of the Bible. Most often the image of the Lamb refers to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and His disposition as He made that sacrifice.

The challenge for us, who follow the Lamb during this Season of Lent, comes when we humbly acknowledge how far we fall from His standard.

The British evangelist and author, Roy Hession, refers to an address he heard in London in the 1940’s by a Mr. Marshall Shallis, who spoke of Jesus as:1

  1. The simple Lamb—helpless and dependent.

  2. The shorn Lamb—of His rights, His reputation, His position.

  3. The silent Lamb—never defending Himself or explaining Himself.

  4. The spotless Lamb—no resentment, no grudges, no bitterness.

  5. The substitute Lamb—carrying our sins, the scapegoat for us, scarred and humble.

If we make it our goal to be like Jesus, we need to consider how the Holy Spirit continually urges us to allow Him to accomplish more of these characteristics of the Lamb in us. We should accept the challenge during this Season of Lent to join in meditating on the love that led Jesus to become the Lamb for us. Then, let us listen as the Holy Spirit urges us to ask what qualities He would like to see blossom in our lives.

______________________

1 Hession, Roy, The Calvary Road. London: Christian Literature Crusade, 1950. Pp. 60-64.

 

 

Monday, March 4, 2019

Rending

 

[Photo of a man against a wall with his back to the camera]


“Rend your heart and not your garments. Return
to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and
compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in
love, and he relents from sending calamity.”
—Joel 2:13

In Bible times, rending, or ripping, your garments signaled a deep emotion: grief, anger, penitence, etc. The devout individual would use this act also as a symbol of deep repentance for sin when he or she cried out to the Lord. Yet, this act, over time, became an ostentatious symbol that belied a different inner reality.

The prophets of the Old Testament, and Jesus in the New Testament writings, warned against “playing to the crowd” by acting in holy ways without the inward changes the outward signs represented. As the prophet Joel warned in the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, God looks at the hard, humbling work in the heart and ignores the outward pretentions.

What kind of things do we do in our culture to represent repentance, or a turn around, in our spiritual lives?

Many people will attend Ash Wednesday services this week and wear the sign of the cross on their foreheads to demonstrate their heart intentions. But, quite likely, some will go through the motions and never truly deal with the sins they retain in their hearts.

When I attended high school many years ago, those of us who loved the Lord would carry our Bibles on top of our books. But, I also watched as teenage attractions led some to try to please someone of the opposite gender by playing the part of a devoted Christian and also carry a Bible on top of their books without actually ever allowing God to make a sincere change in their hearts and behaviors.

Some people join churches where the “important” people attend to “see and be seen.” This, too, illustrates “rending the garment and not the heart.”

Charles Spurgeon reminds us:1

Heart-rending is divinely wrought and solemnly felt. It is a secret grief which is personally experienced, not in mere form but as a deep, soul-moving work of the Holy Spirit upon the inmost heart of each believer… It is powerfully humiliating, and completely sin-purging; but then it is sweetly preparative for those gracious consolations which proud unhumbled spirits are unable to receive.

I am reminded of the beautiful recitative and aria in the oratorio Elijah by Mendelssohn. The texts for this solo come from the verse in Joel, which I quoted, and also from Job 23:3:

“Oh that I knew where I might find him, that I might even come before his presence.”

Mendelssohn continues by quoting from Deuteronomy 4:29-31:

“But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul… for the Lord your God is a merciful God.”

Let us watch the video clip that follows and allow God to speak to our inner beings, as we soon begin this Season of Lent:


[Graphic of a play video icon]


______________________

1 Spurgeon, Charles H. Morning and Evening. McLean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Co., Public Domain. p. 706.

 

 

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Tent Peg

 

[Photo of a tent peg]


“From Judah will come the
cornerstone, from him the tent peg.”
—Zechariah 10:4

The nation of Israel certainly knew about tent pegs. In their forty years of wandering the desert, and until the “permanent” temple in Jerusalem was built, they worshipped in a large tent or tabernacle.

In the Book of Exodus, we read that these tent pegs were crafted of bronze. They were mentioned throughout that Book and into the Book of Numbers. These tent pegs had a significant purpose in maintaining the stability of the tabernacle.

We all have our tent pegs. Our tent pegs consist of those things we have crafted, or more likely received as a gift of God’s grace, that help us feel stable in the unfolding of our daily lives.

As a child, I felt secure because I had loving Christian parents and large Christian extended family. I lived in the same house until I left for college. I went to the same church, to the same school, and so forth, all through those years.

As an adult, I may not think I rely so heavily anymore on “earthly” tent pegs, but I guess that I do. I get stability from my home, my husband, my family, my church, my friends, and more.

Furthermore, each of us has likely suffered loss of something we have relied upon as a “tent peg.” The circumstances of our lives have caused us to lose something or someone we held dear that provided stability in our lives.

Sometimes, as God did with the Israelites, He asks us to pull up our tent pegs because He has a new venture for us. We may be thrust into a new situation that feels so new and unstable to us. Yet, God wants to show us that He is the unchangeable tent peg of our lives on which we need to rely. He provides the rock-solid stability upon which we need to depend.

Though the Psalmist used somewhat different images, in Psalm 46:1-7 we read the same sentiment:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Whether you want to think of God as a refuge and a fortress in the storm when everything falls around you, or the stable tent peg that keeps the tent upright and stable, we do our best when we rely on Him, rather than on those earthly tent pegs of which we tend to expect too much.

 

 

Monday, February 18, 2019

"I'll Be Okay!"

 

[Photo of stem cell collection]


Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied
to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar,
we do not need to defend ourselves before
you in this matter. If we are thrown into
the blazing furnace, the God we serve is
able to save us from it, and he will rescue
us from your hand, O king. 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 3:16-18

The three Hebrew men had determined to serve the Lord. They had trusted Him to act in their behalf according to His powerful will. The king had ordered everyone in the Persian kingdom to bow before the large golden image he had erected of himself. Those who disobeyed would be thrown into the fiery furnace. These three refused to bow to anyone or anything except to their God.

This story from ancient times reminds me of the trial-by-fire my younger sister went through. Five years ago, she received the staggering diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of the blood plasma cells. She certainly did not know if the long, painful process ahead would mean life or death for her. When she told her weeping grandchildren of the diagnosis, she comforted them with these words: “I’ll be okay. And, even if I’m not, I’ll be okay.”

Mixed with all the distressful and discouraging days she went through were also days of hope and seeming progress toward a restoration to full health. During all of the months of not knowing what would happen, she remained stalwart in her faith and never waivered from a solid trust in God that drove her to remark: “I’ll be okay.”

Time passed. The doctors harvested her stem cells, subjected her to horrific chemotherapy to kill all the cancer cells, and transplanted her harvested stem cells back into her body. For a short time, it appeared this therapy had worked. Then, the devastating news told her the cancer was back with a ferocity that startled everyone. As she lost her battle with cancer, she gained new strength to submit her life to the wisdom and care of her Heavenly Father. And soon, He welcomed her to her heavenly home.

Plenty of Christians have suffered loss and terrible life circumstances without losing their faith. Yet others, when life’s trials come, seem to lose their connection to the sure foundation we have in Christ Jesus our Lord. Some, finding themselves disappointed with God, create a new god and even re-frame the tenets of Christianity to transform the historic faith into one more of their liking.

In contrast to those who seemingly abandon their faith, when Christian businessman, Horatio G. Spafford, lost all four of his daughters in a sinking ship in the Atlantic Ocean, he wrote the words to a beloved gospel hymn, that begins with these words:1

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well. It is well with my soul.”

Refrain: It is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Casting all our cares and concerns on God allows Him to work His will powerfully in us, regardless of the earthly outcome of our circumstances. Whether God comes to the rescue, as He did for the Hebrew men, or chooses that which we fear most, as He did with my sister, may He always be praised! And, may we be comforted and given strong assurance that His will for us is always, always perfect beyond our ability to comprehend.

______________________

1 Spafford, Horatio G. “It is Well with My Soul.” Public Domain.

 

 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Welcome

 

[Photo of a Welcome mat at a doorway]


“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are
heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
—Matthew 11:28 KJV

I know that plenty of children do not find their fathers approachable—especially when connecting with their dads means reporting on some bad news. Having borne the brunt of numerous angry, abusive responses, they shy away from intimate relationships with their fathers.

This phenomenon is not limited to childhood. Even approaching people with whom we work, or with whom we volunteer, or to whom we are related can bring the same kind of reticence. If the individuals we intend to approach have rebuffed us in the past, we may stew a bit before we try to connect with them.

I think of two Bible stories that clearly demonstrate this kind of fear:

  • In certain chapters of Scripture—Genesis 27 - 33—we read the stories of Jacob and his first-born brother Esau. Due to Jacob’s deceptions, he received the blessing of his father instead of Esau. This resulted in anger and hatred from Esau and a plan to kill his brother. Jacob eventually moved to Hiran, to get away from his brother and with the intent of finding a wife.

    After leaving Hiran many years later, richer and blessed with sons and daughters, he struggled when he considered whether or not to arrange a meeting with Esau again after all the intervening years. Jacob prayed and wrestled with God all night before the confrontation with Esau the next day.

    God heard his prayers and Esau greeted Jacob with a warm welcome. However, because Jacob feared that his brother would seem unapproachable, Jacob suffered great fear of that meeting.

  • As recorded in the Book of Esther, the queen feared the king because of the edict he had issued that no one could come into his presence without his invitation. Anyone violating this decree would be killed. But, Queen Esther had agreed to approach the king on behalf of her people, the Jews. So, Queen Esther prayed and fasted, asking God to preserve her as she approached the king. God heard and answered her prayers.

Our God does not treat us in such a way that we need to fear coming to Him with our requests. A. W. Tozer writes:1

God never changes moods or cools off in His affections or loses enthusiasm. His attitude toward sin is now the same as it was when He drove out the sinful man from the eastward garden, and His attitude toward the sinner the same as when He stretched forth His hands and cried, “Come unto me.”…He is always receptive to misery and need, as well as to love and faith. He does not keep office hours nor set aside periods when He will see no one.

When it comes to approaching God in our times of need, His welcome mat will always greet us. Yes, He welcomes us, just as He did in both Old Testament times and in New Testament times—as He welcomed the children in Mark 10:13-16. And, in various other passages of Scripture, just as He welcomed the beggars and sick.

We must never consider that we are interrupting God to come to Him. We must never consider that our needs are too small for Him to meet. Instead, we must accept His gracious welcome and know that He never changes.

______________________

1 Tozer, A. W. The Knowledge of the Holy. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1961. p. 53.

 

 

Monday, February 4, 2019

I'm late! I'm late!

 

[Graphic of the White Rabbit]


“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.
No time to say, ‘Hello, Goodbye.’
I’m late, I’m late.
I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.
No time to say, ‘Hello, Goodbye.’
I’m late, I’m late.”
—The White Rabbit

Nearly everyone recognizes the scene in the story from Lewis Carroll’s (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) delightful book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in which the White Rabbit, in a panic, races down the road and into the rabbit hole. Alice, in bewilderment follows him down the hole, and experiences all the adventures in Wonderland.

I must confess, I am rather like the White Rabbit. I hate to arrive late, and don’t like anything to get in my way when I’m heading for an appointment. We can probably all name a handful of people in our churches who would also fit that description. We also know which friends will almost always come late to a worship service, or a meeting.

While I believe that to make a habit of arriving late shows rude behavior, I need to also realize that insisting on getting somewhere on time, no matter what kind of interruption comes up, can show potential disobedience to the Holy Spirit. Let me illustrate this latter point using Jesus as an example.

One day Jesus was interrupted by a sickly woman as He hurried off to heal a little girl. (Luke 8:40-56). Instead of ignoring her, or brushing her aside, even telling her He’d come back to listen to her, He stopped, heard her plea and healed her.

Another day, Jesus and a crowd of followers left Jericho together on the way to Jerusalem. Jesus knew His days were numbered before the crucifixion as He headed out to Jerusalem. Some Scriptures say that He had set His face steadfastly toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). On the way, He encountered a blind man, Bartimaeus. Jesus stopped, cared for, and healed the man. (Mark 10:46-52.)

On still another occasion, when Jesus taught about loving our neighbors, He used the story of the Priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). This story serves as an illustration of Christian love, the kind that Jesus would want His disciples to possess. I presume each man in the story had something important for which he traveled this road. Perhaps each was concerned about safety for himself on this road known for its bandits.

Nevertheless, the busy Priest and Levite (God’s holy men) avoided the interruption presented by an injured man by walking on the other side of the road. Instead of helping, they purposely walked away from this wounded man, who hadn’t been fortunate enough to travel in safety. The Samaritan, however, went near and took the time to listen, tend to, and help the man in an extraordinary way. Jesus used him as an illustration as the one who pleased God.

The Lesson for me today: I must get out of my “zone” of the importance of arriving on time if it causes me to disregard anyone God might put in my way. This person, this interruption, may just be the most important thing I will do all day, or all week.

Please join me in this prayer:

Lord, make us all aware of how we use the time You have given us. Let us be careful to arrive on time as often as we can. But, remind us to look for the ways You might be leading us to minister to others, regardless of how much time it might take.

 

 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Infinite

 

[Photo of the measuring of the circumference of a baby's head]


“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom
and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his
judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”
—Romans 11:33

We humans get stuck on measurements. We describe our world that way. We compare and make sense of things with numbers. From the measuring rod and the scale or tape measure in the delivery room to our obsession with our weight and an obituary giving our age at death, we describe and understand ourselves by the numbers.

Yet, numbers alone do not apply to God. In fact, He simply cannot be measured. He is limitless in His being, in His power, in His understanding, and in His love.

I like the way that A. W. Tozer explains it:1

Is it not plain that all this [measurement] does not and cannot apply to God? It is the way we see the works of His hands, but not the way we see Him. He is above all this, outside of it, beyond it. Our concepts of measurement embrace mountains and men, atoms and stars, gravity, energy, numbers, speed, but never God. We cannot speak of measure or amount or size or weight and at the same time be speaking of God, for these tell of degrees and there are no degrees in God. All that He is He is without growth or addition or development. Nothing in God is less or more, or large or small. He is what He is in Himself, without qualifying thought or word. He is simply God.

This understanding of our God, calls for worship of Him and a renewal of our faith. The One who has called us to Himself can capably care for us. He can see us, understand us, have compassion for us, and send help to us when we have no stores of our own.

We may be out of wine at a wedding. But, with Him in the room, we have all the resources we need to fulfill our responsibilities. (See the Parable in John 2:1-11.)

______________________

1 Tozer, A. W. The Knowledge of the Holy. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 1961. Pp. 45-46.

 

 

Monday, January 21, 2019

All Things Hold Together

 

[Photo of a woman struggling to assemble a chair]


“He is before all things, and in
him all things hold together.”
—Colossians 1:17

God has gifted some people with the ability to put things together well and to even maintain them in proper working order. For me, things rarely work as I envision them. And, they certainly would not hold together through years of use and misuse.

Do you ever wonder how God keeps the runners’ legs from falling off in an Olympic race? Or, how He keeps a person’s heart from exploding when he or she gets overly excited? What about the way He can keep a child’s “feet on the ground” at Christmas time?

The Scripture verse above tells us that not only does God create everything, He also holds all things together!

I used to teach the song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” at this time every year. I did so because history tells us that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. loved this particular spiritual. The song also certainly touches on the sovereign power of our God in holding everything in our world together.

Sometimes it feels like our personal “worlds” will surely blow apart. In response to such feelings, God speaks through the Psalmist Asaph in Psalm 75:3 and tells us:

“When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm.”

Ahh! What an assurance that verse brings. We can likewise say:

“When my world quakes, it is God who holds its pillars firm.”

We should say that sentence over and over until we realize that the Sovereign Lord holds us in His hands! Because He does so, we will not fall apart.

 

 

Monday, January 14, 2019

A Spoonful of Sugar

 

[Artist's rendering of a mom and two children]


“For men are not cast off by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show
compassion, so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to the children of men.”
—Lamentations 3:31-33

You have undoubtedly seen the Disney character, Mary Poppins, in the movie with that name, trying to get the Banks children to clean the messy nursery. She finally sings a song to them with the lyrics: “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”

An account records1 that after a struggle to come up with a song for the movie, lyricist Robert Sherman went home one evening to find that his children had just taken the Sabin polio vaccine. In asking if it hurt, his son explained that he had felt no pain because the nurse had given him the vaccine on a tiny sugar cube. This gave Sherman the inspiration he needed for the lyrics to the now-famous song.

When they suffer various problems and afflictions in their lives, I truly believe that God devises all kinds of “sugar” for His children. Though our troubles cause us great pain and anguish, God still sends His grace to help us bear the suffering. Our God pours into us as much—or even more—mercy as He may pour into us His discipline.

When I read the Old Testament Book of Judges, it always amazes me. Over and over again, God gives Israel a judge with His Word for them to follow. Once the judge dies, they begin to increase their sin and things go awry again.

The author of the Book of Judges records the length of time the children of Israel have to deal with their disobedience Then, God calls another judge. Each time, I read the words, “So the land had peace for ?? years,” I take particular note that the years of peace always exceed the years that they suffered war and turmoil.2

As we look back over the years of our lives, and as we move forward into the future, we must search for the grace that God sends us during our trials. We then must write the instances of His grace down! This little exercise will encourage us to see that God really does care, that He walks with us, and that He has gifts beyond our imagination to help us through the pain.

The Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, says it this way:3

He [God] will not over-afflict. He mixes mercy with all our afflictions. If he gives us wormwood to drink, he will mix it with honey. In every cloud a child of God may see a rainbow of mercy shining.

______________________

1 Sherman, Robert. A Spoonful of Sugar Online Disney Wiki.
2 For example: Judges 3:11, 3:30, 5:31, 8:28
3 Watson, Thomas, as quoted in Rushing, Richard, editor. Voices. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009. p. 228.

 

 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Priorities

 

[Photo of woman praying]


“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.”
—Matthew 6:33

With what do you concern yourself the most? I can honestly say I spend most thought on those things that I can do nothing about except to pray. Jesus knew we tend to suffer most over things it would actually take a miracle of His grace to resolve.

In His Sermon of the Mount, Jesus used as His illustration the worries about food and clothing—something we would all commonly worry about if we didn’t have them. But, rather than telling His disciples to pray about those things, or giving them solutions to those potential problems, He tells us to put our minds first on His kingdom requirements and on the righteousness He expects of us.

Sometimes, in order to get our lives straightened around after a deeply embedded sin and its consequences, we think most about the consequences. Instead, Jesus turns this idea on its head and tells us to first take care of the sin problem. He is the very embodiment of righteousness. And, He has graciously made a way, through His death on the cross, to make us righteous, too. He speaks peace with the words, “I will take care of the other problems.”

Do we put His Kingdom first? Are we anxious about living righteously in our New Year? In each new day? At the beginning of a new venture? When we are faced with troubles?

I was interested to see that in James 5:13-16, where the Apostle teaches us about praying for a sick member of a congregation, he admonishes those praying to confess their sins one to another. Would we consider that important when a man’s or woman’s life hangs in the balance? Certainly God does.

As we begin another new year, whatever worries we may have, if we start by first dedicating ourselves to His kingdom work and His righteous requirements for our lives, we can remain assured that God has the power to act in our behalf. I love the way that Charles Spurgeon addresses this verse:1

What a promise this is! Food, raiment, home, and so forth, God undertakes to add to you while you seek Him. You mind His business, and He will mind yours. If you want paper and string, you get them given in when you buy more important goods; and just so all that we need of earthly things we shall have thrown in with the kingdom.

______________________

1 Spurgeon, Charles H. Faith’s Checkbook. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980. p. 150.