Faith’s Other Side

What’s bright is not always beneficial.

In today’s Our Daily Bread devotional, Mart DeHaan wrote about trusting God, and included a short poem by that famous Greek author, Anonymous.

Trust when your skies are darkening,
Trust when your light grows dim,
Trust when the shadows gather,
Trust and look up to Him.

Sometimes our faith gets turned on end when God seems to work against us, rather than for us. If in those difficult times we want to, as Apostle Paul wrote, “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” we have to check out the the faith-coin’s other side. If you haven’t guessed that hidden message, read Anononymous’ poem again. That’s right; it’s trust!

You’ll find trust easy to grasp when your world is progressing swimmingly, but you may find it more illusive when you feel like you’re up to your eyeballs in piranha. So, what’s the key to flipping that faith-coin? The psalmist knew the secret:

It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
That I may learn Your statutes.
(Psalm 119:71)

Find your “statutes” in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. I’m not talking about the Ten Commandments and other laws found in the Torah, but the godly principles that apply to us as directly as they did to God’s people Israel. That verse from Psalm 119 spells out God’s purpose in allowing affliction in your life; if you have founded it on the Rock, affliction drives you to His Word for faith-building. If faith were a building, trust would be the roof that keeps you dry and safe in the worst storms. As long as I’m pushing metaphors to the limit, 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 gives you a Bill of Materials for your house.

Oh, you may think the pounding rain, the gale-force winds, the torrential flood, and the thunder and lightening will get to you, but as faith brings trust, trust brings, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, (that) will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

Utopia

Map of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia

Project Utopia; A Human Concept

Everyone hopes for a better place. Since 1516, when Sir Thomas More published his novel, Utopia, we’ve known what to call it. Many sociological and political movers and shakers in the six intervening centuries have tried to establish their own, “unique,” utopias, but every attempt went the way of all earthly paradises. One problem stands in the way of such ideal places: the dreaded “S” word, or the “D” word, and they aren’t the popular profanities that start with those letters. Sin, and the depravity that follows it, always intervene with even the best-laid human plans, programs and institutions, when we leave God out of the picture.

You may have noticed the bad reputation that religion is earning, even our beloved Christianity. That’s because even many religions or sects that claim to embrace Christ’s teachings and Spirit, don’t. Instead, they are the products of human pride and ambition, rather than of Christ’s Great Commission. and the love that He commands in His Word. Oh, they may have begun with the purest motives ever, but we … that’s you and I … too often let our carnality take over. A (literally) dead giveaway is when we set goals and targets for our ministries that aren’t strictly Scriptural. Those might include targeting a mean income for a church’s constituency, establishing “seeker-friendly” programs, and vetting perspective members by their appearance, style or occupation. But, of course your church doesn’t do that, does it?

A Religious Utopia (at least for those who pass the plate)

I said everyone hopes for a better place, because when we don’t have hope, despair takes over our lives. The New King James Version New Testament lists sixty-three instances of “hope,” fifty-three of which are in the epistles. God obviously considers hope an important idea. You’ll find the best known of those passages in Romans, chapter eight:

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.

Christ-followers live in the only reliable hope of a “utopia,” and that is not a place, but a relationship with the only One who is able to deliver far more than we could ever hope for. Never stop seeking that “Utopia.”

C.S. Lewis on Effort

Uncle Jack has always had a way of eliciting controversy; religious liberals accuse him of being too conservative, and religious conservatives accuse him of being too liberal. He brings out the extreme range of opinion among Christians. While I disagree with him on some theological points, I’ve found much more agreement with his Scripture applications. His statement on effort, from Words to Live By, is a case in point.

Many things—such as loving, going to sleep, or behaving unaffectedly—are done worst when we try hardest to do them.

So true, but Lewis didn’t mention the self-control required to do those things without trying.

Did I hear you say, “That’s nuts!”? Well, it’s not nuts. The only way to develop positive behaviors so you do them automatically is by developing the appropriate habits, and that takes self-control.

What motivates those positive habit formations? God’s Holy Spirit, working through frequent exposure to, study of, and meditation on his Word. That is the very first godly habit, and all the others flow from it. When God opens your eyes to the awful wonder of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for your sins, and the depth of his love for you—personally—that motivated him to submit to that torture, you will want to let him speak to you through his Word. God will show you that he is love, and as Jesus demonstrated his love by dying on the cross for you, so you will want to demonstrate your love for him by crucifying your own desires for self-gratification, and obeying him even when you don’t feel like it.

I Abhor Myself (Job 42:5-6)

MTJames:

Be sure to see the end of this repost. The song in the YouTube video is a powerful reminder of God’s excellent faithfulness.

Originally posted on The Vine Vigil:

Have you read the Book of Job?  I’ve read it dozens of times, and the part that always stands out to me is this -

Job 42:5-6

I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee.  forgiveness

Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

Day after day, I fail Him, and day after day, He shows indescribable mercy.  The secret pride, the self complacency, the surreptitious coveting, the sluggishness, O God – please – please –  help me.  And He does.  Again and again and again.  Again and again when I don’t deserve it.  Again and again when I forget Him and allow the cares of this world to consume me.  There He is, so gracious, so merciful, so longsuffering. 

How can He love me – still.  He is so wonderful, my puny vocabulary is insufficient to praise…

View original 129 more words

Isaiah 55:6 Conviction

A New Day

This morning Pastor Luke preached on Jesus’ parable of the ten servants, where their master gave them each one mina, which is thought to be about three-months’ wages, or about $3,800 in today’s economy. That was enough to invest profitably. You know the story of three of those servants; when their master returned, one servant handed him $38,000, one handed him $19,000, but the last servant gave him the original $3,800. You know how that went over with their master. The moral is, “For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (verse 26)

Though many truths reside in that one parable, the one that applied to me was, no one has nothing, so God demands from each of us, regardless how poor we claim to be, some demonstration of our stewardship of His blessings. To say we have nothing to give back to God insults Him terribly, as at very least He gave us His Son Jesus to bear our sin-guilt upon Calvary’s cross. We live because Jesus died in our place, so we owe Him our very lives—that includes all that our lives produce. Yet, even though He is entitled to our all, He asks only that we show faithful stewardship of our lives, which is to love as He loves us.

That message convicted me of my laxness in bearing the fruit of what He planted within me—and that’s even this blog’s theme. But when Pastor Luke provided an opportunity to respond to God’s conviction, I sat still, putting off the business I need to conduct with my Lord.

That’s where Isaiah 55:6 comes in. I found it when I opened my Verse of the Day feed from BibleGateway, and it goes like this: Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near. As soon as I saw it I thought of my bum planted firmly on Cornerstone church’s padded pew. So, this is the lesson I learned: Whenever you or I feel conviction from God, we need to open up our accounts for His examination. Where repentance is due, we must do it with humble sincerity. Where restitution is due, we must pay back what we owe. Where confession and forgiveness is needed, we must confess our sin to those we sinned against and beg their forgiveness. But we can’t take care of divine business on our own. We need God’s help to humble ourselves and do what He asks. That is what Isaiah meant by, Call upon Him while He is near.

Father, I call upon you right now, asking for the strength, the grace, the humility, to act on the wisdom you showed me today. And I ask this in the authority of Jesus’ precious name.

An Offer I Can’t Refuse?

I needed a Bible verse, so I hopped on my mouse and traveled over to BibleGateway.com, found my sought-after Bible verse, and was satisfied. But I found something else as well: Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

I want it! But they want $25.99 (that’s a penny less than $26 if you hadn’t noticed) for the privilege of using it on BibleGateway.

“But it’s really sick,” I explain to Inner Mother, “It works right alongside BibleGateway’s Bible text.”

“You already have Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary to play with,” answers Inner Mother, “Why do you need another one, when you rarely use the one you have?”

“But Moooommm,” I whine, “I already use BibleGateway a lot, and it’d be so convenient …”

Inner Mom just gives me That Look (I don’t envy her view.).

To buy, or not to buy. That is the question (sorry, Shakespeare). Buying stuff is not a noble pursuit, if said stuff only meets the need to possess stuff. I can’t imagine how many times I’ve bought cool stuff, simply because a couple of unassigned bucks happened to reside in my pocket. Where is that cool stuff now? Why, I can’t even remember what it was, let alone where it might be hiding.

God reminds me, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Nuff said?

I Love My Verse of the Day from Bible Gateway

Granted, one Scripture verse isn’t much, but, at least for me, it often opens my creaking thought-door for some wide-ranging tangential ruminations. If you want to start getting it, find it under the Newsletters link on Bible Gateway.

Another daily blessing is Our Daily Bread, one of many devotionals available through Bible Gateway, and available under the same link. Sometimes it comes to my inbox with somewhat mundane spiritual thoughts and applications, but often it bowls me over with its relevance to my life.

Bible Gateway isn’t the most extensive site for Scripture study, but it offers a fantastic range of Bible translations and resources. If you haven’t used it, you really aught to check it out. You can’t have too much exposure to God’s Word.

Today’s Bible passage is Philippians 1:9-10 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ. That’s my prayer for you, as I cover each piece I post on this blog with my prayer for anyone who happens upon it. May God bless you richly as you follow in Christ’s Way.

C.S. Lewis on Self-Insight

34502Though I’ve taken some flack recently over using Lewis’ ideas to illustrate truths, I must continue to do so despite the acknowledged errors in his theology. Following our Lord Christ’s narrow Way does not demand that we follow Him with narrow minds. I’ve discovered errors in my own understanding of theology, and I expect to do so again, and the only way to continue with that program of self-correction is to keep my mind open to God’s Truth. I will always stand squarely on God’s Word as my exclusive source of eternal Truth, but that does not preclude others’ words opening my eyes to Biblical Truth that I have not yet discovered, or better understanding Truth-related concepts. With that disclaimer, here’s Uncle Jack.

Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.

Uncle Jack, in his inimitable style, expressed a concept that I call, “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” When you’re in sin, you can’t see it for what it is, rather like magnifying a photograph to the pixel or grain-level, where the colored dots mean nothing to you. If you’re a serious Christ-follower, a similar phenomenon effects your appreciation of your spiritual life; though you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you can often forget how far behind you’ve left your former life of sin.

That’s why you need faithful brethren close by to encourage you in those bummer times of forgetfulness, to remind you of who you are now, in Christ Jesus. In case that doesn’t ring a bell, it’s called the Church. Remember the exhortation of Hebrews 10:24-25  And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Everyone will live to see, “The Day,” whether it comes for you alone, or for God’s entire church. So, be ready!

I’m a Prepper

Not a bad idea if you live in the LA basin.

Preparations for what many consider the inevitable, “SHTF,” scenario have grabbed a lot of attention lately. New businesses, both Internet-based and fixed locations, have sprung up to cater to the fearful folks’ survival needs. There’s even a new word for those who are trying to squirrel away a stash and an arsenal for that eventuality: Preppers. They used to be called, “survivalists,” but I suppose that’s now old hat.

SHTF situations aren’t at all new, as a certain infamous couple proved when they got booted out of their idyllic home many thousands of years ago. As if that wasn’t bad enough, one of their sons murdered the other early in their ordeal, proving the Law of Survival of the Fittest, though the phrase had to wait for coinage until 1864, when Herbert Spencer published his Principles in Biology.

As a matter of fact, I’ve made all the necessary preparations for a true, Armageddon-style disaster. I have plenty of water (God’s Holy Spirit), a great kit belt (truth), body armor (the breastplate of righteousness), combat boots (the preparation of the gospel of peace), armament (the helmet of salvation and the shield of faith), although I can always use more of that, and food and weaponry (God’s Word, the Sword of the Spirit).

As you may have guessed, my Survival Guide is God’s Word, with special emphasis on Ephesians 6:13-17 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The beauty of that survival plan is I don’t have to worry about buying guns and ammo. In fact, I’m not too concerned about brigands attacking my home and murdering me over a loaf of bread. Jesus said, And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28) That’s the kind of preparation the federal government can’t even buy, or keep you from buying.

So, fear God, not the Feds or violent death. What have you got to loose but a body with an expiration date?

What’s the Hurry?

I’ve often asked that question when “Mr. Wheeler” can’t seem to abide with my speed limit driving, and at the first opportunity, or occasionally before the first opportunity, he streaks around me, just to throw on the breaks at the next traffic signal or turn off at the next intersection. (Thanks for the illustration, Goofy.)

That used to be me, as my Facebook picture shows, so I already know the answer; hurrying originates as procrastination or an over-full schedule, so we leave at the last possible moment, thinking all will be green til we get there. Of course we all know about the best laid plans, etc., but somehow we fail to consider the near-certainty of Murphy’s Law coming into play at exactly the wrong time (which is, after all, how it works). Before long, hurrying becomes a habit, then an addiction.

Medical science tells us that our adrenaline response “evolved” as part of our flight-or-flight instinct. If that’s true, our nearly constant adrenaline flow is unnatural, placing the sort of stress on our bodies that we place on over-amped electric motors or supercharged automotive engines. In short, we can’t last as long if we’re always in a hurry.

My problem with rushing around is it undermines the peace I have in Christ Jesus. We already have the supernatural peace that comes from knowing our eternal destiny, as well as the peace we get from knowing, loving and communicating with God through his Holy Spirit. That’s all quite wonderful, and just part of our reward for following Christ, but our lives are filled with more immediate, even urgent, issues than that. While our peace that passes understand is God’s gift to Christ-followers, we must deliberately apply it to life’s everyday choices if we want to enjoy its maximum benefit.

Apostle Paul dispensed profound wisdom to the church in Philippi, but excerpting just a few words from the following passage would not do it justice:

Philippians 4:4-9 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Verse four asserts a foundational, spiritual principle that Paul repeated for emphasis: We must rejoice always, not only when things are going swimmingly. But know that such rejoicing is only possible when a life is fully given to God through the Lord Jesus. Verse five tells us to drop the “manly” act. Verse six deals succinctly with anxiety. But even with the sure-fire solution that follows, actually allowing God to remove anxiety from our lives takes constant vigilance. And particularly love verses eight and nine, as they challenge me to the max.

This “always” passage gives us a verbal portrait of Jesus, a behavioral target for our constant striving. And the ultimate reward for diligently pursuing Christ-likeness? God’s peace!

So, don’t hurry after your petty, earthly goals, but make your quest for God’s goals your highest priority.
(Note to self: Follow your own advice! ;^)