Our Daily Bread, on Human Chess

Doesn’t the angry-looking little man above just rankle you? Even just a bit? Chances are, you see him as a bill-collector and nothing more. But maybe he’s just a kindly old grand dad who hates his job, from which he’s planning to retire next week, if people like you don’t give him a heart attack before then.

Bill Crowder, in today’s ODB, made a strong statement against Christ-followers using people. Even those of us who try to emulate our Savior sometimes fall into the trap of marginalizing those with whom we routinely do business, especially undesirable kinds of business.

I’m sure none who read this have to deal with tax auditors, bill collectors, or even difficult service people, but if you ever do, how would you relate to them? Would you deal with them in a friendly manner? Or would you treat them as functionaries, looking through them to the purpose you wish to accomplish.

This isn’t simply a theoretical principle for me, as I am in the midst of negotiations with my landlord regarding some issues of my own doing. I feel like avoiding confrontation, ignoring her as is my passive-aggressive tendency. But if I am to obey my Savior’s mandate to love my enemy—even though she isn’t my enemy—I must treat her with careful consideration. Honestly, this is hard for me, even though I like to project the image of a, “nice guy.”

We must remember that a person with duties and feelings resides behind every job-doer; whether he or she has to issue a traffic citation, a summons, or an eviction notice, that is a soul that needs to know Jesus’ love, and you or I may be the only Jesus they have ever met.

1 John 4:7-11 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.

Does that describe you and me? Or are we just playing games with the people for whom Jesus died?

The Weeping Prophet

So, here’s the story: Last night I went to bed with hopes of falling asleep without delay, but as I lay there communing with my Creator, I began praying for heart-holiness, both for myself and for His church. As often happens when I pray for Christ-likeness, I began weeping, and the more I contemplated the contrast between Christ and myself, the more my tears flowed. I heard myself sobbing, both from grief and gratitude; I felt a sense of the Holy Spirit’s grief about my soulish stubbornness, and unbearable gratitude for God’s grace despite my failure to apprehend the victory I have in Christ Jesus.

Then, this morning’s Our Daily Bread devotional cited Lamentations 3:1-6, 16-25, where the weeping prophet Jeremiah mourned Jerusalem’s destruction and the Jews’ subsequent captivity. So in typical fashion, I lumped both experiences into a single conceptual stew.

God is disciplining His church in much the same way that He disciplined His people Israel, albeit with His New Covenant grace.

  • As Jeremiah cried out warnings about Israel’s wandering ways, God’s New Testament writers warn His church about our own carnality.
  • As Israel ignored the prophet’s warnings, most of today’s church lie comfortably in our worldly affluence, enjoying our Sunday religious lift while snoring through our godly preachers’ warnings.
  • As Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, popular culture is destroying the institutional church.
  • As Babylon carried Israel’s intelligentsia into captivity, the world system is co-opting the church’s theologians.
  • As Babylon absorbed Israel into its own culture, the world system is defiling God’s church through our preoccupation with its entertainments, its trendy styles, and its pursuit of youthful image.

Though we have much reason to grieve, we have far more reason to rejoice; none of this surprises our omniscient God, and His plan for our triumph over the world system is, and always has been, in place. Yes, I still mourn for those of His church who will never awaken from their slumber, but I rejoice for the faithful remnant who heed His warnings, becoming incorruptible salt and prevailing light for this stale and dark world. Like God’s people Israel, the church’s exile is only temporary, and we have the Great Hope of our eternal homecoming, where our tears will cease and we will commune with our Lord Jesus face-to-face.

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)

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.

Retrospective Christianity

Who would think that I, as into tech-stuff as I am, would pitch hindsight for our walk of faith?

David McCasland, of Our Daily Bread, suggests that, “God’s guidance in the past gives courage for the future.” And he supported his thesis with Jeremiah 6:13-20, where the prophet decried his people’s greed and false dealing, religious flippancy and lack of shame. He could have been addressing many in today’s church (but not me, of course).

Lest God would be forced to punish and overthrow them:

16 Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Does that mean we need to go back to the Mosaic Law and abide by all the statutes and ordinances? If you think so, you haven’t studied God’s New Covenant, delivered through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus’ blood freed us from the law’s tyranny so we could walk in newness of life—God’s divine life.

Does that mean we should walk in nostalgia, worshiping the “good old days?” Remember, longing for the past is the most curious sort of lust and idolatry, in that its hunger and thirst can never be quenched. Besides, it can make you unresponsive to today’s needs that God wants to address through you.

Living retrospectively means we learn from the past to prepare for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And we have so many ways of doing that: Of course, the Bible is where we start, as it tells us of God’s historical dealings with his people through his commands, and his responses to their depravity. Then we must learn from past saints, both those who lived by faith under the Old Covenant, and those who lived by faith in Christ (not only canonized saints, but all those sanctified by faith in Jesus), who devoted their lives to rightly dividing the Word of truth. And finally we must learn from the faithful saints of today, the elders who have proved their spiritual zeal for their Savior.

Living retrospectively also means we must learn from our own victories and defeats, with joy in the hope of the ultimate victory that Jesus won for us at such great cost.

If that means we have to look back with blinders, like a race horse that tends to get distracted and stumble, put on those spiritual blinders so you will neither long for past depravity, nor submit to condemnation for what is already under Jesus’ blood.

In your retrospection, never live for the past. Learn from it.

Pitfalls

On Monday, June second, Our Daily Bread presented, “The Careful Walk,” in which Dave Branon built on Ephesians 5:15 to show that we must be careful where we step in life.

For Christians, this material world is enemy territory, ruled by the prince of the power of the air. We should be among the most circumspect of people, for as long as we walk in these mortal bodies we’re the enemy’s target. One of his best strategies is to use his darkness (lies) to confuse us; as he is the father of lies, he’s so good at it that he blinds even the most careful of Christ-followers occasionally.

The best defense against darkness is a great flashlight with batteries that never wear out. God was good enough to provide us with both a lamp for our feet and a light for our path, all in one.

Today’s warfare threatens us with land mines, IEDs, snipers, and biological weapons, but the first century threat was arrows and swords. That’s why Apostle Paul told us to don God’s whole armor, that we might stand against the devil’s schemes.

So we see three essential aspects of survival in our enemy’s territory: Carefully assemble and put on the armor God has provided, walk circumspectly, and don’t forget to use God’s inexhaustible flashlight when your next step seems a bit shadowy. Or use it anyway, as natural light is often not as good as it seems. Climbing out of life’s pits can be really hard.

Of Shepherds and Sheep

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John 10:14-15 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

At the time of Jesus, Jewish shepherds kept their flocks in communal sheepfolds—normally stone-walled enclosures. These sheepfolds would house many flocks overnight. In the morning, the shepherd was allowed to enter the sheepfold. As he walked and called among the mixed flocks, only his own sheep would respond to him. Hearing and recognizing the shepherd’s voice, his sheep would follow him out of the sheepfold to the pasture. (Our Daily Bread)

This obviously speaks of the sheep’s response, developed by months or years of operant conditioning, as the shepherd consistently leads them to food and water when he calls them by name. It prompts them to run from thieves and predators because they are not that one shepherd the sheep trust. It functions the same way in the church; those who know Jesus, and through him the Father, will be far less likely to fall for false teachers, or the lies they propagate.

The old platitude, “to know him is to love him,” applies to Christians’ relationship with God. His Holy Spirit guides the process, beginning with conviction of our sin—it only takes one—and that “mustard seed” of faith that can grow to move our mountains of self-will toward his purposes. Knowing the Good Shepherd intimately, and enjoying his love and protection, is really a beautiful thing.

I Deserve More!

Does my title sound perhaps a smidge self-centered? Even greedy? Not really; no one in their right mind would want what I deserve.

Joe Stowell, writing for Our Daily Bread, titled his piece for today, “More Than We Deserve.” Oddly, considering my own title for this post, I agree with him completely. We’re just attacking the issue from different sides.

Brother Stowell looked at deserving from the perspective of blessing, while my perspective for this post is that of punishment, or at the very least, reaping what I’ve sown. In fact, God’s infinite grace shields me from a world of hurt, and nothing that I am or can do exempts me from eternal separation from him. But instead, he offered me reconciliation, relationship, and fellowship through his Son Jesus.

If you think you deserve more of anything but hardship and heartache, get off your pedestal. You might want to take your eyes off yourself, and take another look at God’s Word, the Bible.

“Sweet Fragrance”

Our Daily Bread chose “Sweet Fragrance” for its topic, with reference to 2 Corinthians 2:15.

Triumphal Procession

(14) But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (15) For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, (16) to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

Cindy Hess Kasper’s pivotal statement was, “So, what if our lives were a fragrance that attracted people to God?” Back to verse 15: “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” Our work—our commission—is to glorify God both to the tender and to the calloused. To the spiritually corrupt who proudly stand as the walking dead, our gospel, our holiness, is the stench of death. But to life-seekers who are tender, our gospel is the aroma of life, and our holiness demonstrates what that true life looks like.

So, we should not be surprised when some greet our gospel-overtures with revulsion, even hostility. But God perceives our efforts as the “sweet fragrance” of our love for the lost, regardless how we perceive the results.