Three Times

Rooster Crowing cropped

Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! (John 13:38)

You’re probably familiar with the story of Peter denying Jesus three times and then the rooster crows. And probably you have heard that that is because Peter had not yet received the Holy Spirit to make him courageous and bold. And that, since we do have the Holy Spirit now, that means we rarely, if ever, betray Jesus or sin against him. Right?

Not really! Even now, when I walk in victory, I overestimate how well I can lay down my life to follow Jesus. I start to think of the ways I will never sin again. Unfortunately, in a sense it is inevitable that I sin today. That does not mean I plan to! But rather, in some way, I will miss all of God’s best for me today.

There are two extremes which are so easy to fall into. One is patting myself on the back for not sinning and walking in such victory. And the other extreme is feeling all beat up when I do sin.

 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

At first glance, these verses look like a contradiction. But not really. “Will not sin” refers to our old lifestyle before we knew Jesus where we sinned continually and never felt the need to repent.  That is over with. We are free from that.

But that does not mean we never sin. So, happily, when I do sin I have an advocate: the Lord Jesus.

Keep in mind that our freedom from sin is a process. The key is to know that we are on the pilgrim’s path. Then we can avoid bouncing between the extremes of either being puffed up with overconfidence or wallowing in the muck of despondency and defeat.

Lord, we thank you that you grow us as we persevere in following you.

Calmed and Quieted

  I do not concern myself with great matters
     or things too wonderful for me.
  But I have calmed and quieted myself,
     I am like a weaned child with its mother;
     like a weaned child I am content. (Psalm 131:1b-2)

I have recently read some heated arguments amongst Christians about Genesis versus Science.

One book I recently read gave me a spiritual headache. It claimed to have found “the” answer to the connection between Adam, Genesis, and science. Why did it give me a headache? Because the authors insisted that they had found the right answer at last… and that perhaps anyone who did not see it their exact way was just a little bit ignorant.

But here’s a thought about the right answer.

If God wanted Genesis to provide a detailed science textbook explaining how exactly he did what he did, couldn’t he have provided it? Does he owe us an explanation of how he did what he did? That brings to mind God’s challenge to Job:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
     Tell me, if you understand.
  Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
     Who stretched a measuring line across it? (Job 34:4-5)

Here’s what I see as indisputable about the creation account in Genesis:

What God did: He created.

Why God did it: To show his glory and call a people to himself through his Son Jesus.

Isn’t it refreshing to just rest in awe of what God did and not worry about how He did it?

That’s why today I will not attempt to give you a final explanation of how science and Genesis are connected.

I will simply accept that some of this is just beyond me, but still very wonderful. And that leads to the result in the second verse of today’s Psalm: contentment.

I experienced the Psalmist’s path to contentment in recent prayer times as I prayed through different issues. This peace is a gift from the Spirit that we all receive if we ask. When we “let” God keep his secrets, and trust that he does tell us what we need to know, then – what a wonderful result: we truly become more calmed, quieted and content.

True Kindness

I went to a Care and Kindness conference in May. I attended workshops on a variety of topics, including showing care towards people with addictions, people who are at the end of life, etc.  Brand new to me was Music Therapy. How would people care by using it? I knew how scripture says David soothed King Saul by playing the lyre; and I learned how music therapy, carefully planned to meet an individual’s needs, can reach and care for otherwise unreachable people.

But today’s post is inspired by a writing workshop where we were asked to quickly write something about kindness and our own story. So, what follows is what I wrote that day, with the benefit of having some extra time to reflect on it.

  • A dictionary definition of kindness says, “The quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” But did you know that kindness is a key attribute of God? Scripture frequently uses the Hebrew word hesed, which is often translated “kindness” or “lovingkindness.”
  • An old friend I had not seen for a few years gave me a warm greeting hug. I saw hesed come alive. It was amplified by my knowledge of his character over 20 years. When he extends kindness to anyone there’s a genuineness to it.
  • Kindness is a way of showing and applying God’s loving grace in our daily lives. How could I say I am serious about God’s love and simultaneously be unkind? Or even if I avoid being unkind, how could I be deficient in radiating out kindness towards those God brings into my life?

The distinction between a show of kindness and real kindness becomes clear when we see that kindness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  (Ephesians 5:22-23a.)

  • Note that a kind person is not squishy and sentimental, but rather they can have a spine of steel when needed. Jesus was the kindest man who ever walked the face of the earth, yet could be angry at the right times.
  • Expressing true kindness is central to caring ministry, and I wish to grow to radiate it out better. But receiving kindness is also vital: a conviction, refreshed daily, that I am truly loved and accepted by a caring, kind God—and enjoying the blessing of having friends that know how to express kindness.

I wouldn’t build a golden calf..or would I?

the-golden-calf-idol

“You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. (Nehemiah 9:13)

What does it mean to keep the commands? Should we even care?

As New Testament Christians, since we are in an age of grace in Jesus, it is easy to look at the Old Testament and say oh, it’s just a bunch of legalistic rules and regulations. I don’t have to worry about obeying.

But in today’s passage Nehemiah is giving his people a reminder of something that happened for them many centuries earlier. He reflects on who God is, and what God did, back in the times described in the book of Exodus. Obedience is connected to what God is really like: God is just, God is right, and God is good. Obedience gives us a taste of all three of these wonderful qualities of God.

But Nehemiah understands quite well that we do not automatically obey.

 “But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. (Nehemiah 9:16)

They deserved to be left alone by God. But, amazingly, we hear,

…… But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies. Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness (Nehemiah 9:17b-19,emphasis mine)

But, what if we rebel and make an image of a golden calf and worship it?  As modern 21st century people we say “Who, me?  I wouldn’t make a calf. I’m not like those primitive people.”

But think about this: Jesus says, “He who loves me…keeps my commands.” Doesn’t the calf stand for anything we treasure more than keeping Christ’s commands? Aren’t we worshiping that thing more than Christ?

Nehemiah gives us a wonderful preview of God’s forgiveness for us in Christ.  Because of God’s great compassion he does not abandon us in the wilderness even when we make an idol; instead he sent Christ to rescue us.

Through Christ giving us the Spirit, we can reflect God’s justice, righteousness, goodness—-and love. And because God’s love outweighs his anger, Christ always keeps the door of repentance open.

Father, we thank you that you do provide rescue for us in the person of Jesus, that because of your great compassion you do not abandon us.

Is Balance Boring ?

Child Stone Wall Balancing Walking Balance Kid

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.  (1 Timothy 4:16)

There’s a debate going on in Christian circles nowadays. Some say that all there is to Christianity is to just “act like Jesus” and everything will be fine. You can believe what you want. But those on the opposite side say that you just need to believe the right doctrines, what you do does not matter at all.

But today’s passage says that both deeds and doctrine need to come into play.

If we’re overly reliant on deeds, two bad things can happen. One error is a feeling of “Sure, I’m in with Jesus –and since I am, I have no worries at all about what I do – I’m good. I can do whatever I want.”

In the second deeds error, we see how our good deeds fall far short – and feel we can never do enough. Recently, I got a personal taste of that.  I read a blog post which basically said doctrine does not matter, you should be doing tons and tons of good deeds. But that post discouraged me. Not only did I think that my good deeds fall far short, but I also felt like my love for doctrine is a waste of time. My wife and I both felt we were being subjected to a satanic attack as she had her own doubts that her talented writing was “not good enough.”

On the other hand, when we over-focus on doctrine, we insist that being a good Christian simply means believing the right facts. Then, we end up being the “frozen chosen”, with a serious shortage of love and good deeds.

What is the solution?  Let’s look at Proverbs 4

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
     fix your gaze directly before you.
  Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
     and be steadfast in all your ways.
  Do not turn to the right or the left;
     keep your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:25-27)

The boy in today’s picture faces a consequence if he turns to the right or the left. He will fall. He needs to have a balance. So do we: Our balance is that when we believe correctly about Jesus, we believe the doctrines of grace, which tell us that nothing we can do can make Christ love us more. That leads right to the correct view of deeds:  we do good deeds with an attitude of gratitude for what Christ has done. Now we have the right balance between deed and creed.

This way of keeping our balance is not boring at all —what we believe is in sync with what we do, we are filled with the Spirit, we don’t turn to the left or right, and we are walking steadfast with our Lord!

 

You’ve Saved the Best Till Now

And the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:9-10)

You have just enjoyed a pleasant meal out at a restaurant. You think you are all done and ready for your check when the server appears with an exquisite, fancy, tasty dessert. She announces “Courtesy of the chef. This dessert is on the house”.

Your surprise and delight with the dessert is only a tiny taste of what Jesus wants to do.

In the John 2 narrative the water jugs represent tradition, the law, the old way of doing things. The jugs were part of the purification rituals under the old Jewish law.  But by obeying Jesus the servants were putting these traditional objects into a new use.

The miracle: Jesus has turned the water into wine.

The significance: The wine represents the new covenant in Jesus Christ.

Think again of what you have counted on for fulfillment that left you empty. Keep in mind that Jesus may or may not change the circumstances around the emptiness but he WILL give a new way of experiencing them.  Christ, being the new wine, gives a replacement that goes beyond anything we can try on our own. Dwell on what the Psalmist says in 34:8 “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”

What is the area of your life where you want to taste and see that the Lord is good? Where do you need a supernatural attitude adjustment?

Give thanks that Jesus gives the new wine and ask Him to transform that area of your life.

Do Whatever He Tells You

blindfold

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. (John 2:5-7) 

Did you ever play a blindfold team building game?  In one version, you need to find a book that is hidden somewhere in a room. You put on a blindfold and your unblindfolded teammate tells you where to turn and reach until you find the book. Basically, you need to “Do whatever he tells you.”

In the blindfold game, when you find the book was it mainly because of your own effort?

In today’s verses, the water in the jugs becomes wine. The servants did whatever Jesus told them but who was responsible for the transformation into wine?  Of course, the answer was Jesus.  But do you think that following Jesus means doing your very best to keep the rules? Do you think it means you must try harder and harder?

Sure, Jesus tells us to obey, and we should. But we often act as if the results all depend on us. We can fall into two opposite traps. The first is to think “It worked! I am Super Christian!” And the second is to think “This is not working! I am such a failure! I must figure out what I am doing wrong.”

Often the feeling that it all depends on us is why our joy and fulfillment are gone and we are empty. Today we see that Jesus is telling us to obey, but the fulfillment in our Christian life is all from him.

Do you get stuck thinking that fulfillment depends on your own effort? Ask Jesus to show you how it really does depend on Him!