Friday, November 27, 2015

What Are You Looking For?

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.                             --Jude 20-21
As I write this post, tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. Most people will at least think about the things they are thankful for, and some will share that list around a table loaded with food. But, if we’re honest, most people are not very grateful the other 364 days of the year. Why is that? I believe it is because they are looking for something they will never find.

Some are looking for wealth. They work 60-plus hours per week, squirrel away what they don’t spend on luxuries, and hope that someday they can retire to a life of leisure. Some are looking for love. They go online seeking dates or marriage, or maybe they go out to the clubs, hoping to meet Mr. Right. Some even stay with Mr. Wrong, simply because they do not want to be alone. Others don’t really know what they are looking for, but they know that they are not content, and they won’t be until they figure it out, find it, and get it.

The problem here is not that no one ever gets what they are looking for. The problem is that they are not looking for the one thing that can bring them the contentment they crave: The mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. As our passage above tells us, we are to be looking for the mercy of Christ unto eternal life.

As believers, what is the reason that we are not motivated to look for that mercy? Because we have not done the things listed in the words right before this. We have not built ourselves up on our most holy faith because we are too busy building ourselves up on false hopes for good health, plenty of money, or the love and esteem of others. We have not taken the time to pray, and when we do it is rarely in the Holy Spirit, because that takes time. Time just to be still before the throne of God and center our minds and hearts on Him. No, our prayers are too often quick and perfunctory, just hitting the bullet points and counting on God to take care of the rest.

My dear ones, how can we keep ourselves in the love of God if we do not take the time to do these things? The answer is, we cannot. Oh, we are kept eternally in His love. If the Lord has saved you, then nothing can ever take that love away. But we miss the multiplication of His love when we don’t take the time just to be with Him. So, this Thanksgiving, my challenge is this: Instead of thinking on what you are thankful for, ask yourself why you are not a more grateful person in general? What are you looking for? How does it compare to the mercy of God unto salvation? My prayer is that, as you begin to meditate on the wonderful mercy of God, you will find the contentment you are seeking.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Heavenly Holidays

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. Colossians 3:1-2, NLT

The holiday season is here, dear reader. Do you feel it? Those of us who struggle with chronic pain, joint disease, or disability sometimes dread this time of year. Many of our friends look forward to all of the shopping, food preparation, and social opportunities. But for some of us, this time of year brings up more dread and anxiety than gleeful anticipation. It’s not that we don’t desire to celebrate the birth of Christ, be with our families, and enjoy the festivities. What brings the dread are the questions: Will I be able to do all that cooking this year? What if I can’t get to the mall to get that perfect gift for my loved one? How much pain will I have to endure over the next couple of months, as I try to measure up to the expectations of the season?

These are all valid concerns, and you may have others of your own that are specific to your particular health challenges. But the bottom line is this: Christmas can be a beautiful celebration of the birth of our Wonderful Savior, or it can be an exercise in futility as we try to accomplish impossible tasks that He never called us to do. So, what should our goals be for the season, as we consider all that we’d like to do, and all that we can do?

The answer is in Colossians 3:1&2. We have been raised to new life in Christ, Amen? So, what does He call us to set our sights on? Things above. He wants us to dwell on Him in all of his beauty, glory, and honor. He wants us to think on our true home in heaven. Shopping, food preparation, and parties are not our reality, my dear sister. Christ and heaven are! This is the very reason for this grand holiday in the first place. What better thing could we be dwelling on at Christmastime than Christ, heaven, and the realities of our true home?

Let’s think differently about Christmas this year. When dread arises from thinking about the chores of Christmas, let’s take it captive and replace it with new, heavenly thoughts. If you’re dreading putting up decorations, close your eyes and think of the streets of gold and the rainbow throne of God. Imagine your jeweled crown that you will throw at the feet of Jesus on that Great Day. No earthly light display could ever match that. Dwell on these things, praise God for them, and then call a friend to come over and help you choose just a few things, then hang them up as you talk about the blessings God has brought to you this year.

Are you scheduled to host the family meal this year, and dreading all the work? Stop, and think on the banqueting hall in heaven, where you will enjoy food and fellowship with the Lord and all his children, in perfect harmony and cooperation forever. Praise the Lord and thank Him for the ways he has provided so abundantly for you this year. Then, begin calling your relatives, humbly asking each to bring a dish or come early to help this year. I know this is not easy, but putting pride to death and asking for help is a wonderfully sanctifying exercise, and the rewards are great.

This season of celebrating the birth of our Savior does not have to be a season of dread and despair. We can change our thinking, and remember that our Lord has not called us to decorate, cook, shop, and entertain because He was born. He wants us to think on Him, praise him, and honor him because He was born and died to give us new life. Let’s demonstrate that new life starting today by setting our minds on Him, on Heaven, and on the reality of our true home!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Two Are Better

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.
                                                                                             (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NLT)

Have you ever fallen? Ever slipped on the ice or tripped over your own feet, and gone all the way down? Maybe you were injured, or maybe you were just embarrassed. Either way, it is never a good thing to fall, especially if there is no one there to help you up, or ask if you’re ok; no one to take your arm and help support you if you’re limping, or call for more help if needed; no one to help make sure that, in your injured state, you don’t fall again. You just sort of get up, dust yourself off, and move on if you can.

How about in your walk with the Lord? Ever fallen there? Have you ever determined in your heart to put to death some private sin or troublesome habit, only to give in to it the very next day or hour? Perhaps the reason you fell is because you were walking alone. As the passage above tells us, someone who falls alone is in real trouble.

Let’s say you have struggled with some sinful anger. You’ve never really acted on it, but in your heart you are angry and bitter because of something that happened to you or a loved one. If no one knows about this anger, you can get away with nurturing and feeding it for the rest of your life. You could fume and simmer over a real or perceived injustice forever, justifying your anger in your heart. This kind of sinful anger is almost impossible to root out without some kind of accountability.

This is the reason that two are better than one. They can help each other succeed in putting sin to death. If you tell your friend about your desire to put your sinful anger to death, then she can help you do that. She can pray for you, check in with you regularly to see how you’re doing, and admonish you when you begin to slip back down into that sin. Likewise, she can share her struggles openly with you, and you can help to keep her accountable.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine walking this Christian life alone. My determination to be obedient can be so weak and frail at times. Life is hard, and it is so easy to give in to sinful desires and thoughts. It is also very easy to become so accustomed to your sin that you just throw up your hands and say, “Well, I guess I’m just going to be sinning this way and repenting for the rest of my life!” These words actually came out of my mouth the other day as I met with my accountability person. I hadn’t realized how flippant I’d become about this particular sin. It was one of those that we in Christian circles have come to call “acceptable” sins. These are the ones that nearly everyone struggles with, and collectively it seems we’ve decided that we’re just going to have to live with them. My dear friend pointed out that sin is sin, and we must grieve over every sin, repenting in our heart and walking in obedience.

So, what company do you have on your walk today, my friend? Someone who will help you avoid the slippery slope of “acceptable sins” and keep to the path of righteousness? If you are walking this difficult path alone, you could be headed, as Solomon says, for real trouble. I’d like to challenge you right now to find a friend who will hold you accountable, and whom you can encourage, too. Together, you can help each other succeed in bringing honor to God as you travel this Christian road to glory. Hallelujah! What a journey! What a Savior!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

All The Trees

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat… (Genesis 2:15-17)

As I study Genesis 2, it seems to me that God is quite generous in what he offered Adam. He told him that he was free to eat from all the trees in His beautiful garden. There must have been all kinds of fruit, and since sin had not entered the world yet, it must have all been perfect—without spot, rot, or worm. Imagine the abundance! What a great and generous God Adam served! How he must have praised Him, and how thankful he must have been for His love and provision!

As if all the abundance of the garden wasn’t enough, God then added all the living creatures, offering all of them to Adam to have dominion over, and to rule. Then, the crowning blessing—he gave him a wife! How blessed Adam must have felt, and how happy! But we all know what comes next, right? The serpent enters the picture and tempts Adam’s wife, Eve. The account in Genesis 3 tells us that the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field. His goal was to make Eve doubt God’s goodness.

But let’s backtrack a minute here. Pause with me and imagine that you are Eve, standing in the midst of the Garden of Eden. It is a glorious sight. There are many trees, and you have access to all of them—except that one. Then comes the serpent: “Has God really said that you can’t eat of any tree in the garden?” Eve replies that of course that’s not the case. We can eat from any of the trees except that one in the middle.

This is the turning point for Eve. The Serpent has come to make her doubt the goodness of God. He wants her to believe that God is withholding something good from her. She begins to look at the tree differently. Suddenly, the fact that she can’t have it begins to be a problem. Now, there are a lot of things we could say about this moment, but I’d like us to focus on just one fact: God has given Adam and Eve everything they need, without ever having to eat from this tree. Yet, the fruit of this tree is the one thing that she begins to want. She sees it, and she wants it. She is now discontent, and will not be able to rest until she has the fruit of that tree on her lips.

Eve has good reason, in her human mind, to want the fruit of that tree. She can see that it is good for food, that it is pleasant to the eyes, and that it will make her wise. She can think of no reason why she should not eat of it.  Maybe she thinks it’s not fair that she can’t have it. Maybe she thinks, if God really loved her, he would not keep this one thing from her. As she focuses on the tree in the middle of the garden, she loses sight of the others. She is no longer grateful for those trees. She is no longer praising God for his generosity, but instead she is grumbling against God for his withholding of this good thing.

My friend, are you like Eve? In your suffering and pain, has God given you a garden of blessings? Has He comforted you, sustained you, and guided you? Has He freely given you His Word, heard your prayers, and counted your tears? If you belong to the Lord, the answer to those questions is yes. Yet, you long for the one thing to which, at least for now, he has said no. You desire healing and pain relief, and that is simply not happening.

Oh, dear one, do you see all the trees in the garden? Think back, and dwell on the many blessings the Lord has brought into your life, even in your suffering. You know that they are there, even if they have become obscured by your longing for the forbidden tree. One thing is sure: As long as you are looking at and longing for that forbidden fruit, the produce of the other trees will seem pale and tasteless. You will be stuck in self-pity and distrust of God and His goodness. My fellow sufferer, it does not have to be this way!

Begin now to lift up your head and look around at the other trees in the garden, to which God has said, “Taste, enjoy, and eat as much as you want!” He has blessed you abundantly, and you will see that when you take your eyes off that one tree and begin to walk around the garden of His goodness, plucking the fruit and enjoying its sweetness. The farther you get away from that forbidden tree, the broader will be your perspective to see how very many blessings are in your garden.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Let My People Go

I have read the account in Exodus of Moses’ dealings with Pharaoh many times. The story is very familiar to me by now—Moses asks Pharaoh to let the people go, and Pharaoh says no. This is followed by plagues, false repentance, and another refusal. The cycle repeats itself until finally, after the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh relents, only to change his mind again almost immediately. The story is so familiar, I no longer expect to see anything new in it.

But during my most recent encounter with this passage, the Lord alerted me to a different perspective on this, which brought new application for me. The message Moses delivers from God is not simply, “Let my people go.” It is, “Let my people go that they may serve me.” Each time we read, “Let my people go,” it is followed by, “that they may serve me.” So God was not just demanding release from bondage. He was telling the purpose for which he wanted them released. It was not primarily for their freedom, or their comfort, or relief of their burdens. It was so that they could serve Him.

So what’s the application for us? It is this: We cannot truly serve God if we are in bondage to anything else. For example, if we are stuck in self-pity because of our pain, we cannot serve God.  If we are envious of the seemingly carefree lives of our neighbors, we cannot serve God. If we are consumed with worry, fear, and anxiety, we cannot serve God. Oh, we may do things in service to Him, but that is not the same thing. If we are serving outwardly, but inwardly nursing sinful thoughts, our service is worth about as much as the straw the Hebrew slaves gathered to make their bricks, even as they seethed in anger at Moses for causing all their troubles.  We cannot serve and worship God at the same time we are serving and worshipping self.

How about you, friend? Are you in bondage today? Who or what are you serving instead of God? I know that you desire to be released from bondage, but what is the reason for your desire? Are you just weary of pain, tired of depression or exhausted from the sleeplessness of anxiety and worry? Consider a better reason to be released from bondage: That you may serve Him! I will close with the words of Joshua, as he exhorted the Israelites in chapter 24, to choose whom they would serve:

"So fear the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone."