Friday, July 31, 2015

I Would Spare You Regret

I know I've written about this sort of thing before, but it's been a few years, and I need the review myself.

I would spare you my regrets.

My greatest regrets have come from the times when I've traded away love, or joy, or obedience, or humility, or hope, or trust.  And what have I usually traded them for?

Control.  The power to make something unpleasant stop, or to make something pleasant start.  

But as hard as it is for us to believe in the midst of painful, scary, or frustrating situations, the fact is that the fruits and gifts of the Spirit are worth infinitely more than control (or the illusion of control).

Love, obedience, joy and all the rest... these were purchased for us at the cost of the unimaginable agonies of Calvary. What will you and I trade those things for? How cheaply will you and I sell them off today... maybe even this hour?

God forbid!

Whenever you are reading this, please stop and pray.  Thank the Lord for His peace, love, hope, joy, and all the rest.  And prayerfully determine, by His grace, that in this hour you will not trade away so cheaply what He purchased with His blood.  Purpose not to attempt this in your own strength (that's impossible), but to be mindful of what's at stake, and to prayerfully cling to Him in whatever the hour may bring.

And then, the next hour, do it again by His grace.

The following suggestion will not apply to everyone. But in my own case I've found it helpful to install an app* on my phone that makes a little noise at the top of every hour. (I have it set not to disturb me during sleeping hours.) I use that little noise as a reminder to thank the Lord for the previous hour, and to confess any sins committed. I acknowledge His lordship over the coming hour, and my responsibility to honor and obey Him in it.  And so, when I fall into bed at the end of the day, I don't find myself struggling to orient my heart to Him, as I would if I'd ignored Him all day in favor of pursuing my own agendas.

And I come to Him without regrets.

I emphatically do NOT recommend such hourly reminders for anyone who would find them unpleasant. No one likes to be nagged. But if such a reminder would be a pleasure and a help to your heart, as it is to mine, then go for it!

But whatever you do, don't trade away priceless gifts for things which will only leave you sorry.

*There are many such apps available.  This happens to be the one I use.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Are You Merciful? Is Your Mercy Biblical?

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Mercy is a wonderful quality, commanded by God, demonstrated by Him in its utmost degree, and lauded by humanity.

But like every good thing, mercy can lose its power for good when it's wrested from its Biblical moorings.  So I must ask:

Is your mercy biblical?

There's a certain logic to biblical mercy, and since lots of folks like bullet-points, I'll use them here to show the flow of that logic.

  • Basic Tenet of the historical Christian faith:  Christ saves only those who come to Him in faith and repentance.  
  • Therefore, merciful Christians want to lead people to repentance and faith in Christ.  And, since they themselves also came to Christ in faith and repentance, and not with any merit of their own, they can (and must) lead others humbly.  Sinner to sinner.
  • Therefore, merciful Christians cannot celebrate sin, for salvation is impossible without repentance, and sin cannot be both celebrated and repented of.  "Love does not rejoice in sin" (1 Corinthians 13:6).  The non-biblical "mercy" that celebrates sin may make life more comfortable in some respects, but it merely pads the seats on the Titanic.  The disaster is coming, with inevitably tragic losses to those on board.  The biblically-merciful Christian loves and warns and pleads in the face of sin.  He does not, cannot celebrate it.
  • Biblically-merciful Christians know that every sinner's greatest need is the Gospel...the same Gospel that saved his own sinful soul.  While he doesn't hesitate to call any sin "sin," he refuses to make any peripheral sin the focus.  The biblically-merciful Christian learns from the example of the Apostle Paul, who encountered in ancient Corinth a moral atmosphere worse than our own.  And yet Paul was determined to meet that immoral culture with the Gospel alone (1 Co. 2:2).  When some Corinthians repented of their rebellion against God and received the Holy Spirit, then they began to change from the inside-out (See 1 Co. 6:9-11, especially noting v.11).  So the biblically-merciful Christian is Gospel focused.
So please, Christian, check your heart.  
  • Are you calling your mercy "biblical" but undercutting others' hope for salvation by hiding their need for repentance?
  • Which do you value more:  lost souls or cultural power?  In other words, are you more excited about evangelism, or about "winning our country back"?
  • Do you value lost souls more than personal comfort?  Do you grieve for the lost souls in the gay pride parade as they glory in their shame...or do you grieve more for yourself that you have to see it?
May I humbly suggest that, if you and I don't value the souls more than our power and comfort, then we'd better not open our mouths on moral issues until we repent.  We won't be qualified unless we repent, and we'll do the Kingdom and our lost neighbors more harm than good.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Keep Your Eyes On The... Leftovers?

Jesus feeds the 5,000 

John 6:5-9
Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”

It's a really good thing that I wasn't one of the disciples there that day.  If I had been, the Bible would have had one more facepalm-inducing groaner of a story.  It would have read something like this:

"But Betsy, being faint with hunger, and being of little faith and great self-centeredness, snatched the loaves and fishes away from Andrew and devoured them herself, reasoning that she would need lots of sustenance for herself first, if she was to be expected to feed everyone else."
Milennia of Christians would shake their heads as they read my story. "How could she be that dense and selfish?"

How indeed?  How have I reached the ripe old age of fifty without learning to consistently trust that God will meet my needs when I minister to others? When will I learn that He takes care of those who obey his command to think of others first?

But notice the timing of God's provision.  The disciples got basketfulls of leftovers to eat... after they served food to everyone else.  I don't mean to imply that that's always how He does things, but it does make me wonder:  How many blessings have I missed because I waited for God to do a miracle before I was willing to act...while He was waiting for me to step out in obedient faith?

It's harder to step out when you don't see the provision first.  Put yourself in the disciples' dusty sandals. Can you imagine how difficult that must have been at first, listening to your own stomach growling while you portioned out food to others?  

I've been serving alongside You, Lord!  These people are just moochers.  I've given up everything for You, but what have they given up?  Not lunch, that's for sure.  No,  I'm the one who has to give that up!

There was no wine on hand, but if I'd been there, there would have been plenty of whine!

I wonder what Jesus would have done if I'd devoured the loaves and fishes.  He probably would have created food from scratch and had us serve it.  But when it came time for the disciples to enjoy the leftovers, I wonder if there would have been a basket for me.  Or would Jesus have looked into my eyes with loving rebuke and said, "You preferred what you could snatch greedily for yourself, and I let you have it.  But that's all.  The other disciples who weren't greedy get the miraculous provision that only I can give.  And what I can give is always more satisfying than whatever you can snatch for yourself."

Maybe not. He's so much more gracious than we expect Him to be. But getting nothing more than my stolen, faithless meal is what I would have deserved.

But the Lord is gracious in more than just feeding empty bellies. He feeds empty souls and enlightens darkened minds, too.  And I can only hope that He would have worked a miracle in my heart if I'd been there that day.  I can hope that, by His grace, the rumblings of my stomach would slowly have been drowned out by a song of awe-filled praise as I saw His miracle flowing through my fingers.  I can hope that my once-grasping hands would have begun to delight in giving and giving and giving; in being part of the wonder of His lavish grace.

The good news for me and you is that He still teaches the same lessons today. He still wants us to understand that He enriches us so that we can be generous (2 Co 9:11).  He still commands us to look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others (Php 2:4).  He still promises to supply all our needs (Php. 4:19).

And He doesn't just teach us about physical provision for physical needs.  Perhaps more importantly, His provision is the only hope we have for not sinning when our emotions are hit hard.  When our personal bank of compassion and/or forgiveness is running dry, but we still need to give.

As I've been writing this, I've also been made aware of someone's terrible behavior which caused great undeserved pain to good people.  Again.  It's a pattern with this particular person, and he happens to be someone for whom I bear some responsibility.

I feel my soul starting to grasp again.  Not for bread or fish, but for other things I feel desperately in need of.  

  • Power.
  • Control.
  • Some way to get through to him!
  • Some way to make him feel how much I despise his behavior.
  • Some way to compose the proper words of wrath that will (despite James 1:20) somehow produce the righteousness of God.

Why am I desperate to grasp these things?  Because I don't see miraculous provision yet.  I don't have what it takes to fix this person, and so far, God hasn't fixed him either.  

Since writing the above paragraph, I've had a chance to talk to that hurtful person.  I told him I didn't know what to say, but that he and I both know how capable I am of saying sinful, hurtful things, and that I don't want to do that.  I've told him I'm praying and keeping my mouth shut until I know how to say something edifying (Eph. 4:29-32).  And I've reminded him that such restraint is exactly what I so often tell him to practice.  I admitted that I needed to do a better job of modeling, of practicing what I preach.

I suggested that he pray about his sin.  And then I got back to work, trying to serve in quiet trust while praying for help.  Trying to do what Jesus says to do.  Because that's how the disciples fed the multitudes.  They obeyed with what little they had, and watched Jesus do the rest.

Unlike the demands of that ancient mountainside picnic, my needs relative to this particular person's challenges will probably last for many years.  I probably won't see a definitive solution today.  So it's my job to obey, to try to serve in love, to walk according to the light that I have, and to trust God's timing, day in and day out, for as long as it takes.  

I need to trust Him that whatever he gives me today is sufficient for today, even if it doesn't feel like it.

And if my heart is bent on loving, serving, and obeying, I'll be ready for more concrete guidance and provision when/if it comes.  But if I harden my heart and insist on futilely grasping for power in sinful wrath, how will Christ bless anyone through me?

Lord, I've got nothing.  In my flesh dwells no good thing.  But by Your grace, may I serve, may I give, and may I hold out for Your leftovers, knowing that Your leftovers are more soul-satisfying than self's greediest fare.

P.S.  Thank You, Lord, for the edifying conversation that you made possible later.  Thank You that You kept a hand over my mouth earlier, so I wouldn't spout off something which might have prevented that later conversation from happening.  You are so good!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Hidden Danger of Individualism

"Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us." (Heb 11:35b-40)
What might be so precious to God that He might delay the fulfillment of His promises in order to achieve it?  Why would even the faithful martyrs have to die without seeing certain promises fulfilled?

According to the passage above, God has "something better" in mind for all of us; for the Universal Church all through the ages.

"That they should not be made perfect apart from us."

What does that mean?

God has existed eternally as One God in Three Persons, a union that Christians call the Trinity.  Because of His trinitarian nature, He has always known the bliss of perfect love and fellowship.  And He wants us to enjoy that kind of bliss, too.  He's wired it into us to hunger for oneness with each other and with Him...though with our sinful natures, we cannot achieve it very well on this earth.

But God invites us into an ever-growing fellowship with Him and with one another, and He planned our salvation before the foundation of the world so that we could enter into such fellowship at great cost to Himself.  Jesus prayed eloquently that we, the people of His church, would be one, as He and the Father are one (John 17:11).

Do you feel any kinship with the martyrs of old?  Do you consider yourself as part of one body with them?  Do you even feel any kinship with the martyrs of today around the world, our brothers and sisters?  Are you inspired by them as the "great cloud of witnesses" bearing testimony that Christ is worth whatever we lose in this life?

If not, you're probably a modern Western individualist.  And so am I.  And as such, you and I want to see promises fulfilled NOW.  What good is a promise if I don't see it fulfilled in my life!

God says it is "something better for us" if we wait for some of His promises to be fulfilled when we're all together, when the church as one body stands before Him in glory.  A great consummation.  A holy celebration.

Do you believe that?  Do I?

Could it be that the "fellowship of His sufferings" which Paul prized so highly (Php 3:10) is not just fellowship with Christ, but fellowship with all the members of His body who have suffered throughout all time?

Because of our individualistic mindsets, we miss a great source of patience, hope, and fellowship.  We fail to see that some of the promises may wait until after our deaths, but that doesn't make them any less precious.  We may see some promises only from afar; in fact, they may not have earthly fulfillment until multiple generations have come and gone (Heb 11:13).  But unlike the heroes of old, our faith staggers when we don't see fulfillment almost as quickly as we see our meals prepared by our microwaves.  We lose heart and become discouraged because what doesn't happen for me seems worthless to me.

"By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites (something which would not happen for nearly 500 years), and gave directions concerning his bones" (Heb 11:22, parenthetical comment added by me).

We can't see past our own noses, much less past our own lifetimes.  "If it's not here in time for ME, it's too late!"

When we begin to get a glimpse of the grand scale of God's design, of His plan, of His Kingdom purposes, it will free us from so much of our impatience and doubt.

"Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it."  (Ps. 22:30-31)
Do you have a heart for future generations which you'll never see?  Do I?  Or is it all about us, "right here, right now?"

"And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us."

They were made to wait, and it was for our good (both theirs and ours), so that we can one day celebrate together at the fulfillment of all things, in a blissful fellowship like only the Trinity knew before.

It really isn't all about me.  Or about you.  And when we begin to get the long view, may it free us from the tyranny of self.

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