I’ll never Fall!

trip fall

 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

I went running in the woods in Tourne Park in Mountain Lakes recently.  The trail is narrow and rocky at many points, so I was extra careful with my footing in those places. When I reached a part that was a little wider and clearer I thought: “Good, I don’t need to be as careful here; I can let my mind wander. No problem.”

Suddenly I stumbled and fell forward and ended up flat on my face! I was tripped up by a hidden root.

My lips, hands, and knees hurt.

Inspecting my body, the only blood was from some scrapes on my knees. I was glad that falling on a trail is softer than falling in a road!

Only briefly deterred, I resumed my running.

Later, after my wife helped me clean my wounds, I reflected on vigilance.  Often, we are good at being vigilant when we know we should be watchful—say during a time of worry, stress and temptation.  But it’s easy to feel complacent when everything is going great; and to be less prayerful and alert.  That is the dangerous time when temptation trips us like a hidden root and we stumble!

How can we keep from stumbling?

We may think that standing firm depends primarily on keeping our guard up to the best of our ability. It depends on us. But the book of Jude says we need to rely on Jesus, who “is able to keep you from stumbling” (Jude 1:24)

We receive the power and ability to stand firm from the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Then, and only then, we get to enter Jesus’ glorious presence without fault and with great joy (Jude 1:25a and 1:24)

We would not dare to say this out loud: “I’m so mature and experienced—I’d never fall into sin like _____did — that could never happen to me.” But isn’t it easy for that smugly complacent and superior attitude to secretly sneak in — and then we start to act proudly with an overconfident attitude?

So, my fall in the woods leads to today’s warning: It’s precisely when I feel my most confident in life, that I most need to call on the name of the One who will keep me from falling on my face!

 

 

Unexpected Medal

silver medal shrunk

I ran a 5K race one morning near St. Clare’s Hospital in Denville last month. I like the age group competition in these races.  My days of being at the front of the pack are long in the past, so it’s fun to have rivalries with those who are my own (advanced) age.

After the race, I was disappointed.  I ran 2 ½ minutes slower than last year; last year I got no medal; so, I knew I had no chance to get a medal this year. I left before the winners were announced.

That afternoon, I looked up the results online. To my shock, I got the silver medal in my age group! (A friend who did stay for the awards later gave me my medal which you see in the picture.)

What an ironic outcome: my training was much weaker this year; yet I got a medal despite all that. So, the medal was quite a surprise and an unexpected gift.

Doesn’t that sound like grace? We get an unexpected free gift, as opposed to something we work so hard for and think we can earn!

Romans 6:23 ESV describes the best free gift.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And another of my favorite grace verses is:                                                                                                                       For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

At the race, I certainly could not boast about how hard and well trained my effort was. Or how I kicked the butt of some tough competitors in my age group. (Nope, a couple of them did not even enter the race that day.) So, the medal was an unexpected gift.

I can’t take credit for anything good I have ever done that could possibly get me into a favorable place with Jesus. Salvation through Jesus is a far better unexpected gift!

 

Wise Idiots

How do you like meeting someone who likes to let you know how wise they are? They are so far above the follies of ordinary folks; they never screw up. When they talk, do you want to roll your eyes because they sound so unreal, or do you start to take them seriously and feel inferior because you aren’t totally together like they are?

To answer this let’s explore what true wisdom is…

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you. (Proverbs 4:6)

In today’s Proverbs verse wisdom is personified as a woman. Note, though, how much the description parallels Jesus. In the revised verse below, see what happens when you swap He for she, and Jesus for wisdom:

 Do not forsake Jesus, and he will protect you;
    love him, and he will watch over you.

Solomon, who wrote most of the book of Proverbs, started with a precocious grasp of how valuable wisdom is—he asked for it above all other requests as he began his reign as king. But he went backwards — spending years doing foolish things—-being into polygamy big time, accumulating riches, etc. So as an old man, as Solomon reflected and wrote Proverbs, he would know ways that he had been an idiot (or a fool as the Bible puts it) …Now, in view of his past follies, he could give an authentic warning against falling into his same trap.

True wisdom means I am learning to see that the Lord is wise — and to see how easy it is for me to be an idiot! (And how wonderful it is that when I do mess up and act like an idiot, our Lord mercifully forgives me of my idiocy when I repent).

Look at this verse—is it a threat or a promise?

 For your ways are in full view of the Lord,
    and he examines all your paths. (Proverbs 5:21)

If  I am seriously following Jesus, then the verse is a wonderful promise that
he will lovingly watch over me. On any given day: which of my choices were crappy and wasteful? Which were sound? It’s the kindness of Jesus that shows this to me.

Jesus woos me, as opposed to saying, “You better obey or be crushed.” His attitude is not harsh, even though his discipline can temporarily sting. By nature, I don’t enjoy being contradicted, yet I am learning to be more welcoming of Christ’s correction.

Because when Jesus gives me a course correction: This cretin has less crud and more of Christ!

christ is wisdom personified

Did you take the right fork?

  Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. (Psalm 25:4)

paths-2

What a wonderful path in that pastoral scene! It’s a delightful walk, and it would be obvious if we started to wonder off the path into the brambles.

Not so obvious was when my wife and I were hiking with another couple through the woods in Harriman Park in New York State and got seriously off course. We had no idea that we were taking the wrong path when we came to the fork. By the time we came to a clearing which overlooked the New York Thruway, we realized we were miles from where we were supposed to be.  Eventually, though, we got back —- without a searching party having to be sent out.

Today we’ll talk about a trap for our Christian walk that is similar — where you think you are on the right path—you are not deliberately disobeying —- but you have made a wrong turn.

Today’s menace is called moralism.  It’s the idea that the Bible is mainly a list of moral principles and rules that it depends on our own best efforts to follow. When these efforts appear to be going well, we start to think that this shows how wise and good we are being, instead of how amazingly sustaining and empowering the Lord is!

We subtly give ourselves the credit for how well we are doing—we are such experts at doing the right thing!  And a feeling starts to sneak in that we are just a little special, being a little superior to those who are not doing quite as well as we are.

Moralism also has the opposite danger: when we realize we are not so good at following the principles and rules after all; and we know darn well that we are falling far short — then, instead of feeling superior, we start to feel like a piece of filth.

True wisdom, empowered by the Lord, enables us to keep clear of the twin pitfalls of moralism. This wisdom knows to focus on the Lord and who the Lord is before we try to follow his paths.

Our Lord:  Awesome, majestic, holy, just, loving, powerful. Totally worthy of our worship! If we have an encounter with almighty God — and with his son Jesus— and with his Spirit which he has sent to live in us—then we know that we are empowered to live wisely before him.

What loving compassion our almighty Lord has, who knows how often we mess up by wandering off his path. He offers us repentance — we can turn away from being too arrogant or from being too beat up.

Any time I wander into in the brambles, I just need reminding of this truth:

 I can’t even begin to live out the principles in the Bible, without first having a persistent prayerful personal encounter with the Lord that calls on his power.


Does God Do Amazing Things Today?

 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (Joshua 3:5)

Joshua and the battle of Jericho is a famous Bible story, where finally Jericho’s “walls came tumblin’ down”. Today’s verse is just before that battle. It raises two questions: What does it mean to consecrate ourselves? And what amazing things should we expect from God today?

The word “consecrate” means to be set apart, dedicated to God. Joshua’s fighters were not to charge into battle spiritually unprepared. Before they entered battle, they were told to consecrate themselves to God as per their Law.

We are called to be consecrated too.  Since we do not live under the Old Testament regulations, we need to ask ourselves: What does consecration mean in the 21st century? Does it mean that we should totally separate ourselves from our society–perhaps by going to live in an underground Christian bunker in Montana or a Christian commune in the wilderness of Vermont?

No, consecration for us means something else.   It does mean to be set apart, but, surprisingly, the setting apart can somehow occur even living in the middle of our crazed 21st century culture. Somehow, we are living in this 21st century world but we’re not of it.

Once we determine to be set apart for God where we are living, just what are the amazing things God will do among us?  In the case of Joshua and Jericho, God acted in a spectacular and miraculous way — but let me suggest that amazing things happen when God works in us in an ordinary way. It’s everyday daily living — going to work, running errands, studying, playing — but filled with a special empowerment from our King Jesus to live for his purposes and to grow to be more like him.

Now, what happens when this kind of consecrated living starts to spread throughout the church? As we each grow in consecration— we become part of a wider move of God — which leads to revival. Here is J.I. Packer’s definition of revival:

“God’s quickening visitation of his people, touching their hearts and deepening his work of grace in their lives.”

And Matthew Henry tells us,
“When God intends great mercy for His people, the first thing He does is to set them a praying.”

As we hunger to see God’s grace expand and spread, let’s join in with Henry’s suggestion and pray “Lord have mercy, grant us revival.”

God is Love…. Is God only Love?

In love a throne will be established;
    in faithfulness a man will sit on it—
    one from the house of David—
one who in judging seeks justice
    and speeds the cause of righteousness (Isaiah 16:5)

Today’s Old Testament passage is a prophetic preview by Isaiah of what Jesus is really like.   First and foremost, and very thankfully for us, his throne is established in love. That is huge, because of how we often mess up—-it’s Christ’s love that overlooks our many foul-ups. I’m thankful for that – I know how often I mess up.

But Jesus is not only love. Because, at the same time, Jesus is also righteous and just—qualities that are almost as important as God’s love. As I encounter the enthroned Jesus, he wants me to be not only loving but empowered to live a righteous and just life. If God were only love, we could do what was right in our own eyes and God would say “No problem …. whatever”.

Scripture says that God does not overlook what is unjust and unrighteous. But, really, aren’t we the same?  When we see something that is not just, don’t we want it set right?  Even a child knows when to say, “No fair!”

A bamboozling big bank bigshot is too big to jail, but a dishonest underling is sent to prison for a long time. A whistleblower gets fired for exposing how their company is ripping off people. What injustices! If God were only love, these types of rip-offs would never be set right.

But we have a God who does want to set things right! And as we follow the Lord, then in our own areas of influence, we keep pursuing righteousness and justice empowered by love. Living that way, we can overcome evil significantly, but not yet totally.

Scripture teaches that the day will come when God will say “No more.” A world where righteousness and justice fully prevail will arrive.  Imagine that day — no more rip-offs, no more deception, no more favoritism. God will get rid of the garbage.  We look in hope to that promised day when all evil will be wiped out forever.

 

 
 
 

 

 

Jumping Through the Window

sneaking-out

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.  Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.  Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:1-5)

When I was a student at Rutgers, Muhammad Ali once came to give a talk in Records Hall. The Hall quickly filled; then the entrances were guarded, and no one more could enter. However, one enterprising young man slithered through an open side window, jumped in and landed on the floor. Unfortunately for him, he was grabbed by a dean, who asked him, “Is that how you usually enter a building?” and promptly escorted him back outside….

Now, the usual moral of this kind of story would be something like “If someone was that excited about just seeing Ali, you should be at least that excited about Jesus!” But I think that kind of exhortation is counter-productive. It might pump someone up for a little while, filling them with an excitement for “All that I will do for Jesus” — but that would peter out and would not lead to lasting change.

Let’s consider what Jesus says in today’s passage. See what he compliments the men for: not for what these guys did, but for their faith. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus did not say, “Since you guys worked so hard—sure I’ll heal the guy! You guys earned it! You have my approval—big time!”  No, it was their faith that led the friends to do the hard work of lowering the guy down.

We do know that Faith without works is dead (James 2:17)
But don’t forget:  the works themselves earn you squat.

So, today, we do not  think that our being pumped up and doing extra stuff will get us extra points from Jesus. Instead, we ask God to give us greater faith. Then, our good deeds will be based on our trust in a Savior who already fully accepts us.