Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Man in the Mirror

2Co 13:5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? (KJV)

Many of you are familiar with the myth of Narcissus. He's the young man who sees his own reflection for the first time and falls madly in love with himself (so much so, that he never leaves the pool of water where he sees his reflection and dies there). The Christian life calls for self-examination. We're going to talk about that briefly today.

Self-examination can be challenging because we are not always qualified to evaluate our own hearts. Here are just a few scriptures which indicate that: Font size
Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
Pro 16:2 All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits.

The bible says that we really don't know our hearts. This is ironic, because I often hear the phrase "God knows my heart". This is typically a spiritual way of saying that we aren't going to do the right thing, but our intentions are good. We often judge others by their actions, but judge ourselves based on intention. The truth is that many times we are not aware of "why" we do things. The Lord is able to show us the purity of our motivations (or the lack thereof).

There is also the challenge of what I call "the comparison trap". We like to measure ourselves by looking at others (typically those who are not meeting the bare minimum requirements) and comparing ourselves to them. Sometimes we are like the Pharisee who prayed "I thank thee that I am not as other men are......extortioners, unjust, adulterers, .....or even as this publican." (Luke 18:11). We can always find someone who is doing a little worse than we are. Paul says that using others (even other Christians) as a means of comparison is not wise (II Cor 10:12).

So how do we undertake such a daunting task? Prayerfully, and with holy awe (Psalm 4:4. Psalm 26:2, Psalm 139:23-24)- with diligent search (Lam 3:40)- and an attitude to obey (Psalm 119:59). The Word of God will reveal our heart and its intentions (Heb 4:12). So take a moment today and look at the man in the mirror. You may or may not like what you see. But you owe it to yourself to see if you are truly "in the faith". Very few people would buy a new home without an inspection. And who among us would purchase a new car without taking a test drive? Should we be any less diligent in eternal matters?

There are benefits to self-examination. Paul said that self-examination can help us to avoid temporal judgment (I Cor 11:31). We will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, but many of us face needless chastisement in this life because we fail to "judge ourselves". John says that our prayer lives will flourish when our hearts are free from condemnation (I John 3:20-22).

Until next time....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What's special about 24?

You thought this post was going to be about Jack Bauer right? Sorry to disappoint you my friends. The number 24 is significant to today's entry because it signifies a special year. The story of Abraham in the bible is one that inspires faith. As a matter of fact, his story personifies what it means to be justified by faith. Abram's (who would later be named Abraham) story begins at the young old age of 75 (Gen 12:4). God appears to him and makes him a promise that he will be the beginnings of a great nation. Abram's great desire was to have a child of his own (Gen 15:2). God promises him that he will have a child, and Abraham believes! (Gen 15:6).

But like all of us, Abram also has his questions about how the promise of God will actually come about. There's a lot of story I'm leaving out (huge understatement here), but for sake of time, I'm going to pick up 24 years after Abram/Abraham's initial encounter with the Lord. By this time, Abraham and Sarah have come up with what I affectionately call "plan B". Using their own deductive reasoning skills, they figure that they will help things along, and thus Ishmael is born. I wonder how many times we have tried to "help things along" in our own lives, and out of our impatience we have birthed an Ishmael of sorts.

Now Abraham is 99 yrs old, and the Lord appears to him again (Gen 17:1). God reaffirms his initial promise to Abraham, talks about the covenant of circumcision, and changes Sarai's name to Sarah (I would love to blog some time about the Lord's habit of changing names, but we'll keep moving for now). Then God speaks those words to Abraham which he had longed to hear:

Gen 17:21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.

From God's perspective, 24 years are just a vapor. From man's perspective, 24 years can feel like an eternity. Even though Abraham laughed when he received this good news (Gen 17:17), it was most certainly a laugh of joy and awe, because Paul tells us in Romans that Abraham did not stagger at the promise of God (Romans 4:20). But I wonder how often Abraham was mocked during those 24 years. How many times was he the object of ridicule and scorn?

Waiting for the promise(s) of God can be so difficult. As the days, weeks, months, and even years go by- we are often tempted to lose heart. Many of us have settled for a "second best" alternative, because what God has promised us seems just too good to be true. The longer we have to wait, the more weary in well-doing we can become. One thing I want to point to your attention is this phrase "at this set time" in Gen 17:21 that I posted above. We are usually willing to theologically agree that God knows the end from the beginning. But I find that on a practical level, we feel that the same logic does not apply. When God appeared to Abram at age 75, I believe that he knew that the process was going to take roughly 25 years. I'm not so sure that Abram knew that though.

Many of us are waiting today. We're waiting for our lives to take a turn for the better; for health to improve, finances to recover, marriages to be restored, fractured relationships to be mended. Maybe we don't have a "thus saith the Lord" promise like Abraham to fall back on, but we do have the promises contained in His Word. They are promises of peace, of joy, of restoration and wholeness. God came to Abraham in year 24 and told him that He was still going to do exactly what He promised He would do in the first place. I don't know how long you've been waiting, but I wanted to tell you that the same is true for you and I.

Gal 6:9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (ESV)

Until next time...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Direct Your Heart Into the Love of God

2Th 3:5 And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. (KJV)

We recently concluded our study of Paul's letters to the Thessalonian church. Paul encouraged the believers, corrected their theology, gave them practical commitments, and prayed for them. One of Paul's desires was that their hearts would be directed into the love of God. Why is this so important?

I believe one of the fundamental temptations we will face is to doubt God's love for us in any given set of circumstances. Jude says we are to keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21). This is not so much trying to earn God's favor as it is meditating upon what God has already done for us in Christ and abiding in Him. After all, John says that we love God because He first loved us (I John 4:19). Paul reminds the Roman believers that Christ loved us even when we were opposed to Him (Romans 5:8-10).

The Thessalonian church was under persecution (2 Thess 1:4-5). Adding to the problem was that they had received some misinformation concerning the end times and the coming of the Lord. So much so, that some had become shaken out of their wits (2 Thess 2:2). Paul corrected their misunderstanding(s) of eschatology and reminded them of his prior teachings to them (both in person and by epistle/letter). He requests their prayers for God's Word to continue to flourish (run swiftly). He then expresses his desire that their hearts would be directed into the love of God.

One of the oldest texts of the bible (Job) reveals one of Satan's chief strategies. We have the gift of hindsight, but Job had no such luxury. He is left with all sorts of unanswered questions about the nature of his sufferings, meanwhile he receives little support from his "friends". Looking back, we can see that the devil wanted Job to question and curse the integrity of God. I could be wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion that his strategy has changed very little. We too, must resist the temptation to doubt God's love in the midst of difficult circumstances.

I'm so glad that Paul penned Romans chapter 8 under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for a variety of reasons. But in light of today's blog, I'm particularly glad that Paul reminds us that nothing we face in this life separates us from God's love. Paul goes through a number of worst-case scenarios (tribulation, distress, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, etc.) that we might possibly face and asks a question: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?". I like that Paul personifies these things (by saying "Who" not "what"). Trials are personal. They hurt!!!

And then Paul gives us the answer we're all longing to hear:

Rom 8:37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. (KJV)

Paul's prayer for the Ephesians is that they would "comprehend with all the saints" (notice the element of community here- no Christian is the Lone Ranger) the length, width, depth, and height of the unfathomable love of God! (Eph 3:18-19). Perhaps you are in a difficult place right now, just like Job. You look to the left, to the right, but there seems to be no answers (Job 23:8-9). Sometimes there are no easy answers. Sometimes we feel as if we are groping through the dark, trying to make sense of it all. But one thing I know for certain- none of these things separate us from the love of God!

Direct your heart into the love of God and your perspective will begin to change; even if your circumstances don't immediately change.

Until next encouraged!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Taking the Dog By the Ears

Prov 26:17 He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears. (NKJ)

I thought since it was Friday, I would take a break from the normal way of doing things and post something a little more lighthearted. Here are my two dogs (Toby on the left, Callie on the right) waking up from an afternoon nap. I have always been a dog lover. The first years of my marriage were the only times that I didn't own a dog. Our place of residence was not exactly conducive to owning a pet. Not long after we moved to our current location (a more rural area), we adopted a few pups. The kids absolutely love them, and they love the kids.

My Jack Russell Terrier mix (Toby) was the first one to be adopted. The kids instantly fell in love with him because he was small, cute, and extremely playful. But I quickly warned them that even though he was a small dog, they needed to handle him gently. You don't have to be an expert in animal behaviors to know that dogs typically don't like to be pulled by the ears. If you do, you're just asking for trouble! Today's verse from the bible paints a word picture for all who would attempt to meddle in other people's affairs. Sometimes people will invite you into their lives and allow you into their stories- this is not what I'm talking about today.

To become a busybody in other people's matters and plunge into their affairs uninvited, is to invite trouble. And pulling the ears of a dog is ill-advised too! Give him a treat instead!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

When My Spirit Was Overwhelmed Within Me

Psa 142:1 (Maschil of David; A Prayer when he was in the cave). I cried unto the LORD with my voice; with my voice unto the LORD did I make my supplication. Psa 142:2 I poured out my complaint before him; I showed before him my trouble.
Psa 142:3 When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me. Psa 142:4 I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul. Psa 142:5 I cried unto thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.
Psa 142:6 Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low: deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I. Psa 142:7 Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me.

I love the brutal honesty of the Psalms. Yes, the Psalms are quoted many times in the New Testament. Yes, they contain Messianic prophecies. Yes, they contain beautiful hymns of praise and anthems of thanksgiving. But I also appreciate the candor of the Psalms. We get to read along as the writer pours out his complaint to his Creator. We get to peer over his shoulder as he tries to make sense of life's deepest trials and probing questions. The Psalms remind us that walking with God is not always a stroll through a stained-glass cathedral. Sometimes life gets messy!

I really don't know why it is- but it seems the cliche' is true "when it rains, it pours". Our spirits are also overwhelmed at times because of all the curve balls life seems to throw our way. It is at this point that we decide if we will be refined, or descend into bitterness. The latter is always easier, but the first is always better (I resisted the temptation to say "you can get bitter or better".....or did I really?). This process of refinement begins by acknowledging that God knows our path (vs. 3). This is crucial because at this point of being overwhelmed, true friends can often be in short supply (vs.4). But because God knows exactly where we are, and cares for us so intimately- we can come to Him with great confidence.

We too, must "pour out our complaints" before God and cry out to Him for deliverance. Pride will only hinder the process (vs. 6). It's ok to admit that you can't handle it all by yourself. God has promised to resist the proud, but He has also promised to give grace to the humble (James 4:6). From my own perspective, it is often humbling to admit I have difficulties coping with the challenges of life. It is much easier to project a facade which gives the impression that I am always in total control. Truthfully, there are times when my heart is overwhelmed within me. There are times when there are no simple answers, and when the choice(s) set before you can be filled with uncertainty.

Our relationship with God is not static, it is dynamic. Subsequently, life is all about change. Some good; some bad. To avoid becoming a casualty in this great spiritual conflict we call life, we must lean wholly on God and trust His integrity. If your heart is overwhelmed right now, I know there is someone who would like to hear from you. And He's only a prayer away!

Until next time.....