No Coincidence

I’ve felt a bit down of late, to the extent that I’ve asked God to take me home. I would like to say that such feelings aren’t self-pity, as I hate that dynamic because it denies denies God. Trouble is, I can’t say that, so I suffer shame in addition to my depression, steering me toward the vicious maelstrom that would suck me into emotion’s depths.

The enemy of our souls is often our emotions’ lord, manipulating them, and thus our will, away from godliness and the edification that it holds for us. God, however, never abandons his own to Satan’s wiles, but through “coincidences,” buoys us up when we most need it.

Today’s “coincidence” took the form of Crosswalk dot com’s daily feed, Streams in the Desert. Here’s the portion that ministered to me:

Have you asked to be made like your Lord? Have you longed for the fruit of the Spirit, and have you prayed for sweetness and gentleness and love? Then fear not the stormy tempest that is at this moment sweeping through your life. A blessing is in the storm, and there will be the rich fruitage in the “afterward.”
–Henry Ward Beecher 

That’s the sort of “coincidence” that makes me love my Savior God ever more deeply. I’m confident that He has some wonderful purpose for allowing my bouts with depression to continue. When all is revealed I will marvel at His supernatural wisdom and love toward me, and spend eternity thanking and praising Him for it.

Where Is Your Closest Idol?

An idol is anything you place between yourself and God. It’s something to which you pray and offer sacrifices. The Bible speaks of idols manufactured of wood, stone, silver and gold, but it doesn’t limit them to those materials. Idols can be of flesh and blood. Instead of the dumb idols of heathen religions, we hold idols such as money, possessions, property, vocations, recreation, power, and even loved ones, if we place a higher priority on them than on God. But possessing idols doesn’t stop there; if we spend more time primping before our mirrors than offering our heartfelt praise and petitions to the only living God, we have an idol. If the TV demands more of our time than ministering to our families, or helping others in need, we have an idol. The same could be said of gaming, shopping, or even working. If that is the case we may just have idols.

How can we pray and offer sacrifices to all those things? If we gain gratification from them in exchange for time offered to them, they may be our idols.

Please don’t think I’m trying to guilt trip you. I’m not suggesting that you have to live as a monk, constantly praying and reading your Bible. Not at all! I’m simply urging you to keep worldly pursuits and spiritual pursuits in balance. For instance, after a day’s work in the New Life Center thrift store … my sore feet prove it … I looked forward to just vegging with Netflix, but after watching one program I felt led to read today’s Our Daily Bread, which suggested this topic.

Am I “Saint James” for doing that? Hardly! I simply enjoyed a moment’s lucidity, motivated, I’m sure, by God’s Holy Spirit. He wanted to speak to me through the devotional which, in turn, motivated me to write this piece, preaching to myself all the while. I don’t know how to type with fingers pointed back at myself, but I’m trying (figuratively).

Don’t think that praying and offering sacrifices to yourself is always positive. I well know that engaging in negative self-talk, instead of asking God for positive change, can be a prayer of sorts. I also know that flagellating yourself emotionally can produce a perverse sort of self-gratification. I know because I spent many years doing just that, even after I offered my life to God through Jesus. Nothing can be a greater joy-kill than negative self-talk.

Our most devastating idols are the ones closest to us, because they make seeing beyond them well nigh impossible. Please, pray for God to open your eyes to all the idols in your life, then ask Him to give you the grace to strike them down. Only then will you gain power over them. God worked through prayer in the Old Testament, and He can work for you now.

This World Is Not My Home …

… I’m just a passin’ through.

I love the old country gospel songs, even the twang that goes with them. I thought of this one at Walmart this afternoon, when I couldn’t bring myself to leave my trash in the shopping cart after using it.

You may wonder why that’s such a big thang. Man, I was tempted most fiercely to do it. I mean, the afternoon sun was hot and I was sweating bullets already; I didn’t need that walk over to the garbage can with a few pieces of plastic wrap. They have “associates” who need the job security, don’t they?

If you’re wondering what plastic wrap in a shopping cart has to do with that old gospel song, I’ll tell you with a question. If you were visiting someone, would you leave your garbage in their car, or on their couch or table? Would you leave it laying around at church? Only if you were an absolute clod would you do that.

What is this world to you? If it were your own home you could fill it with waist-deep trash and nobody could say a thing, though what others would think of you is another story. But it’s not your home. According to God’s Word you and I are only sojourners:

2 Corinthians 5:6-9 ESV (6) So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, (7) for we walk by faith, not by sight. (8) Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (9) So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Assuming you were a Christ-professing clod showing disrespect of others’ homes or your workplace, or even your local Walmart, what would that say about your Savior? Say, you pick up a product here, find a better buy over there, and just leave your first choice where you picked up the second. Why, that’s great! You’ve just ensured someone’s job security, but please keep your mouth shut about your faith while doing it.

Better yet, think carefully about what you do, whether or not it glorifies your Savior. Even in private, think about what you do, as what you do in private tells who, and whose, you really are.

Lord, Make Me a Francis

Randy Kilgore recounted the touching story of his last meeting with his friend, mentor and father in the faith, Francis Allen. I encourage you to click the link and read it, if you haven’t already done so.

Though I never met Francis Allen, I think of him as a model of Christ-likeness in his willingness to exhort others, to “round off some rough edges” of those he loved in Christ. But first, I must allow God to use a “Francis” to round off my rough edges.

I think a more apt image of myself, and any Christian-in-the-rough, would be that of a natural diamond, freshly dug from the earth. After having the mud washed away, it appears as a garden variety, crystalline stone. Only when the gem cutter makes the first, tentative cuts will its potential beauty and value appear. Along with that, however, will appear many imperfections deep within. The cutter will study the rough diamond to discover the true gem hidden there.

Finally, after much careful deliberation, he will firmly clamp the rough stone, line up a laser or a diamond saw (comprised of many microscopic diamond chips), and begin the laborious process of cutting away all of its impurities. When the cutter finishes the first cuts, he will examine the stone even more carefully, visualizing the final, multifaceted gem still hidden within the glittering stone.

The cut stone must still endure the grinding and polishing wheels that will form the facets necessary for the finished gem to most brilliantly reflect the light shined upon it. This is the most exacting aspect of the gem-cutter’s trade, for any error will ruin the stone, requiring the cutter to create a smaller, less valuable gem.

I’m sure you can appreciate the spiritual applications of the gem cutting process. Each step has an equivalent in our spiritual growth. My question is, do you have a Francis Allen in your life to serve as a tool for the Master Gem Cutter? If not, find one, or you will never reflect God’s light in all its brilliance and beauty.

C.S. Lewis on Being Called

“Please, what task, Sir?” said Jill.

“The task for which I called you and him here out of your own world.”

This puzzled Jill very much. “It’s mistaking me for someone else,” she thought. She didn’t dare to tell the Lion this, though she felt things would get into a dreadful muddle unless she did.

“Speak your thought, Human Child,” said the Lion.

“I was wondering—I mean—could there be some mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb, you know. It was we who asked to come here. Scrubb said we were to call to—to Somebody—it was a name I wouldn’t know—and perhaps the Somebody would let us in. And we did, and then we found the door open.”

“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.

“Then you are Somebody, Sir?” said Jill.

“I am.”

From The Silver Chair

When I read this story to my daughters a long time ago I failed to explain its significance to them. Uncle Jack had a knack (rhyme not intended) for presenting complex theological ideas in charming and simple ways. Though I disagree with Lewis on many points of doctrine, where I find agreement, their profundity amazes me, and this passage presents the work of God’s Holy Spirit spot on. And I love the way Uncle Jack slipped God’s divine Name (I AM) into the dialogue so naturally.

We fail to appreciate God’s work in and around us because we don’t possess spiritual eyes; all we have is faith in what we can’t see, but is more real than what we see with our fleshly eyes. This mustard seed faith summons God’s power to move human hearts and minds from carnal-orientation to spirit-orientation, a move that, by comparison, makes tossing a mountain into the ocean seem like kicking a stone along a path.

Just know, dear friend, that God’s answers to prayer are more often spiritual than material in nature, and when the spiritual answer just doesn’t cut it, you are not of His mind.

Mom’s Colored Maid

Mom’s colored maid

Whoa there, egalitarian*! I hail from a solid Catholic/Democrat family. You have to understand that Political Correctness hadn’t yet been born in the ’50s and ’60s. People of color were just beginning to strive for basic human rights, and I applaud their sacrificial efforts. Truthfully, I am also a person of color: Pink, with blue undertones (According to the makeup expert I used to work with.).

Mom’s “colored maid” was a portable dishwasher painted in coppertone—no, not the tanning lotion—and equipt with a detailed set of instructions for its proper use. What brings me to this distant memory is the dirty dishes I found in my apartment’s dishwasher, after the wash cycle had finished. Their state contrasts starkly with the photos of sparkling clean dishes illustrated in the promotional material that dishwasher and detergent manufacturers publish to sell their wares. The problem? My housemate failed to follow the instructions faithfully. You know, the one about rinsing everything thoroughly before placing it into the dishwasher. And conversely, never try to wash items encrusted with dried-on food in the dishwasher, if you hope to have them come out sparkly-clean, as per the promotional material.

Perhaps you’ve guessed that this post isn’t about sanitizing dishes. It’s about following our Manufacturer’s instructions, such that our souls will come out of this life sparkly-clean.

Jesus and His letter-writing apostles gave us perfectly clear instructions as to how we must conduct ourselves to please His Father, and live with Him in life eternal. If you want to meet Jesus sparkling clean, you must follow His User Manual to the best of your ability; shortcuts will leave you encrusted with dried-on sin, unfit for His use.

Now that sounds pretty severe, I’ll admit. Without God’s loving grace, none of us would have a marshmallow’s chance in a dishwasher of joining our Savior in eternity. Please don’t risk missing out by taking God’s grace for granted. You’ll never be perfect in your body of flesh, but to be satisfied with your imperfection means you just don’t get it.

Any questions? Read 1 Peter 1:13-16 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (14) As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, (15) but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, (16) since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44)

Baseline Christianity

Our Daily Bread came through again. This time with a reminder from Scripture of how we are to behave as followers of Christ.

Two senses: 1, Minimal behavior standards; 2, As in baseball, the path we must follow.

Tit 3:1-8 ESV
(1) Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,
(2) to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
(3) For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
(4) But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
(5) he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
(6) whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
(7) so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
(8) The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

(1) Ungodly leaders can never take control without God’s permission, so whether or not we agree with our authority figures, we are obligated to obey them. The exception to that principle only applies when said authorities direct us to violate God’s clearly expressed teachings. Be careful, though, challenging the authorities requires godly discernment, and will be costly.

(2) Apostle James wrote, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26) But he also had much to say about the tongue’s evil potential in chapter three. People will rub us the wrong way, but God gives us no choice but to speak well of everyone, or keep our mouths shut.

(3) No one is a worse sinner than we were before we gave ourselves to Jesus. Oh, we may have done less heinous things, but sin is sin in God’s eyes.

(4-7) This speaks for itself; how can I improve on God’s Word? So, here’s another passage that reinforces this idea:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

(8) These divine directives aren’t optional. If we are truly saved, we will sincerely try to obey God’s Word. The idea of carnal Christians is a myth perpetrated by false teachers, catering to false believers. Those following Peter Pan religion, refusing to grow up in the Lord, are deceiving themselves. As we strive to follow Christ, we will make mistakes, even thoroughly blowing it occasionally, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t trying.

If you are following Christ to the best of your ability, don’t let the enemy heap condemnation on you when you slip up. Apostle Paul said, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Romans 8:1-2) Just remember, if you weren’t saved you wouldn’t feel grief when you wander off the baseline.

Pray consistently. Learn from God’s Word. Stay close to your Savior, and you’ll turn your base hit into an eternal home run.

Sweet and Bitter

da Vinci’s concept of Jesus’ agony.

Matthew’s gospel, chapter twenty-seven, reports Jesus’ torment and torture at the Roman soldiers’ hands. The executioners gave their prisoners wine before nailing them to the cross beam and hoisting them into the vertical position, but in Jesus’ case they mixed gall with the wine to make it intolerably bitter. Why did they take that extra step to make him even more miserable?

Every aspect of Jesus’ torture and death has symbolic implications, and sweet wine mixed with gall is not an exception. While the wine’s alcohol might have offered some small relief from crucifixion’s agony, Jesus’ tormentors wanted to show Him no compassion at all, so they made the wine impossible to drink. I think Jesus wouldn’t have drunk the wine even without the gall, as he wanted to fully experience the pain and humiliation of crucifixion and the sin it represented. Also, taking even that small amount of bitter gall into his mouth symbolized His tasting sin’s bitterness.

That thought brings me to another application of sweetness versus bitterness: harmony versus discord. We find those qualities in every area of life, from music to culinary arts. Everyone prefers harmonious to discordant sounds, architectural lines, artistic works, flavors and human relationships, to name just a few categories we encounter daily. After all, every relationship will involve some combination of those two qualities. God created Man to relate to Him harmoniously, but to make it a voluntary relationship gave His creation one simple choice: obey or disobey.

Well, we know how that worked out. Eve, and then Adam, chose to disobey God, ultimately sending Him to suffer and die to end sin’s dominion over us, and then to be resurrected from the grave, giving His eternal life to everyone who accepts that sacrifice for themselves. The world’s stereotype of God as the scowling, bearded old Judge peaking over a cloud’s edge to catch us doing something wrong couldn’t be further from the truth. The Bible is full of accounts of God’s patience with His people Israel, all leading up to His ultimate redemptive act.

God created nothing but harmony. We introduced discord into the world, and God longs to restore that harmonious relationship with each and every human being.

UNASHAMED BECAUSE OF MERCY

Big Daddy Weave produced a song called Overwhelmed that included the lyrics, “And God, I run into Your arms, unashamed because of mercy …” I am eternally thankful for that saving mercy, but I can’t honestly say I’m unashamed; forgiven, but not unashamed. That begs the question of why I am ashamed, and for what.

Answering the “for what” part of that question would involve a lifetime of soul-searching and confession, but telling you why is relatively easy. I am ashamed because I’m not convinced that my life faithfully represents my Savior’s love and holiness.

Oh yes, by the world’s standard I’m suitably religious and moral. Most, in fact, consider me a nice guy, but in my quest to be Christ to my world I am an utter failure.

Does God judge me for my humanness? He already did, and that judgment fell on His Son, my Messiah Jesus Christ. (Romans 8)

AM I A GRASSHOPPER?

I am a prince, a son of the King! I have the Spirit of the eternal God living in me! His Word tells me that I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!

Why, then, do I quake with fear in the face of bitter (even not so bitter) opposition? My fear tells me that I might get it wrong, that my mind will go blank, that they might not like me, that I am not able to go up against them for they are too strong for me, that they are all giants, that they are the Nephilim, and I become like a grasshopper in my own sight, and also in theirs.

Surely those are good reasons for avoiding confrontation with those of the world—or at least good excuses.

If we go to God’s Word, to Numbers 13:25-14:35, we see God’s answer to such excuses. Only after Moses’ entreaty did God grant life to His people Israel, along with forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

If you feel like you’re wandering in the spiritual wilderness, maybe you see yourself  as a grasshopper, compared to those of the world system. Pray that God will transform you into a Caleb, who sees only the prize and the promise. Then repent of your fearfulness. God will bless your desire to please Him.