Bust the Dam Open

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians  12:9)

We traveled to Scotland and saw this Scottish mist hanging over Loch Ness.                             In the foreground, and to your right, was an old Scottish castle.

scot mist

Imagine trying to gather that Scottish mist and build a new castle out of it. That’s what it’s like to try to use what is inside of ourselves to build up our own faith.

During a podcast on Ephesians 1, Bryan Chapell said some powerful things about how faith can increase. He explained how futile it is to try to conjure faith on our own when our faith is suffering a blockage.

How does blocked faith get released? We start by thinking that it’s mainly our responsibility. If only we could figure out what kind of thing inside of us needs to change.  But –  here’s the secret – we are in desperate need of something outside of us.

Think of a stream that until very recently has been blockaded by a beaver dam. If I were downstream from the dam while it was blocked I would be quite dry.  If I tried to dig a deeper channel on that side of the dam it would do no good.

Yet, just upstream is a huge reserve.

What is the remedy? I need someone to come and bust open the dam.………Look at the picture below: someone has exploded some breeches in the dam!

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See the sluices of water coming through now? This is a picture of what happens when there is a grace breakthrough in our lives.

It symbolizes how we are ineffective unless God does something to fix the problem. God, acting by grace, opens a channel of grace into the foundation of our hearts. That’s not faith we build up– instead we say “I can’t do it! You have to do it!”

A bad circumstance? A trial? Something happens that makes no sense? A common reaction: “If I am strong enough, then I can bear it.” Not true! I need to see God’s power.

Once we have our grace breakthrough, we might think that grace and faith means God must fix the circumstance. Sometimes he does. But even more important is what our response is, how we react even if God does not fix the circumstance. So, a huge paradox of increased faith is that I see my own insufficiency —- and once I see that I get filled up with even more grace! Then I appreciate more deeply how his grace is sufficient for me.

 

  1. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/help-me-teach-the-bible-bryan-chapell-on-ephesians

 

Mandatory volunteering?

Definition of a volunteer: “a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task.”

volunteer

Ezekiel 36:26 is a powerful and often-quoted verse “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

But recently I was struck by the next verse “And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (NIV) But the ESV translation says, “cause you” instead of move you.

And what is the difference?

The Hebrew word translated “move” or “cause” in this verse (אֶתֵּן) is so general that both are acceptable translations. However, the dictionary definitions of move imply that something is stirred up inside of me and prompts me.  Indeed, we can look at when Jesus was filled with compassion.

But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. (Matt 9:36 NKJV)

The Greek word translated “moved with compassion” means to be moved in the inward parts, such as heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys—you could call it a gut level reaction.

The word “cause” seems to be more emotionally neutral. The “cause” may be from an inspiring source or from a coercive source.

Once I had a job which included mandatory volunteering. This meant that part of my performance evaluation depended on my level of volunteering. Sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? Can anyone be forced to be a volunteer?

When we volunteer to serve the Lord and keep his decrees it is consent freely given. We surely do not think that God is giving us an ultimatum to do it…. or else his evaluation of us will fall! So, I like how the word “move” implies that the Spirit stirs something up inside of me, propelling me to act from a heart of flesh.  God loves my obedience, but it isn’t forced. Inside my new heart of flesh, the Spirit puts the wanting to please God.  The Spirit gives me new desires and the power to act on them.

So, both God’s Spirit and a demanding boss might cause me to volunteer. But only God’s Spirit and not the strict boss can move me to volunteer!

So, I conclude with a prayer, “Lord, may I grow better at seeing how beautiful your ways are, and learn to respond to you more and more wholeheartedly, not from fear of a bad evaluation, but through the power of your Spirit working inside of me.”

Lord, How Come THAT Happened?

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16)

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I read a good book Paul Miller wrote about the book of Ruth called “A Loving Life.” Miller shows that a study of the book of Ruth can shed light on what Christian love really means.

Throughout the book, Miller exposes and deflates the obstacles that stand in the way of Christian love. Today, I’ll delve into just one obstacle he mentions: when we disagree with what God is doing in our lives. Today’s Miller quote is “We have to hang in there with the story that God has permitted in our lives.”

Basically, he’s saying that love won’t grow if we avoid dealing with what we don’t like about our lives. The two chief ways we avoid are to become embittered about our lives or to use escapism to get away from our lives.

Presently, I don’t have any major complaints about my life, yet I still can disagree with God’s story for the day. I often prefer a path that’s easier to walk on than the one that God gives to me. I admit, I have grumpiness with God when things do not go my way ……this can even be over something that is pretty minor—-say a computer issue arises that keeps me from doing my work on my timetable.

Then I become just embittered enough that I am not growing in my ability to show love. That kind of grumpiness can be subtle. I mean I’m not fighting with people or anything…. And sometimes I am not even consciously aware of complaining, and, instead, watch an extra hour of TV…. Some TV is fine, but what happens when I start to binge and add an extra hour of it….or two…or three???

Miller shows how Ruth’s life is a kind of sneak preview of what true Christian love is like. She makes quite a sacrifice, deviating from the path that would have been easier for her, to simply remain in her homeland. Instead, she leaves her own land to go with Naomi to a foreign place. Yet there is such liberty in what she does—-Ruth’s declaration of “where you go I will go” to Naomi surely does not have the grudging quality of “oh all right; guess I have to be a martyr; I will do it”.  Ruth was a Gentile, yet she had an amazing inpouring of grace from God and even became part of Christ’s geneaology.

Her story is a wonderful picture of what we are called do in our lives in grace in Christ.

Miller argues, and I agree, that often it’s Ruth’s kind of deviation from the easy path that we would prefer to take that can mold us, shape us, and change us more into the image of Christ.

I may like to think that I am the author of my own story, but that is wrong. Because God is the real author. When God says that my own story needs a rewrite, do I resist its author?

Prayer: Lord, when things don’t go my way, may I grow in quickly giving up escapism and bitterness, and grow in accepting what you are permitting in my life.

What a Hope and Future Really Means

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

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As a new Christian, did you have a rosy view of your new Christian life? I know I did. And Jeremiah 29:11 was one of the first verses I heard as a new Christian. It was easy to think that meant that from now on I would always prosper and never get harmed.

It took a while to realize I was misunderstanding God’s promises. God’s promises did not mean I was magically protected from broken relationships and being fired from a job.

Today’s verse comes from a letter that Jeremiah wrote to the Jews who were carried away into exile, away from their home in the promised land. These Jews longed to go back home, and many despaired, thinking they never could go back. So, the context of this verse is Jeremiah preaching during calamity. Deep in exile they are told that God will take care of them to give them hope and a future.

So, the promise gives us encouragement of God’s sustaining presence during life’s trials rather than a promise that we will avoid all trials.

How easy it is to overestimate how much God will perfect now, and underestimate how much he will do later. Even when we have been Christians for quite a few years, it is still easy to grow impatient and want the change now.

So, broken relationships, being fired from a job, and having loved ones die are inevitable parts of this life. But today’s verse is an antidote to entering despair or escapism. We have something in common with those Jews. Like them, we Christians now are living in exile from our true home.

The book of Hebrews expresses that truth beautifully, as Christians going through tough times were encouraged to keep persevering and holding on to their faith.  They too were encouraged to look to a future hope:

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come (Hebrews 13 :14)

What an encouragement for us today, anytime we struggle with the gap between what’s going on now and the fullness of all that God has promised will happen !

Take Back the Country?

Found a thought I wrote in my personal journal last summer that I would like to expand into a blog post for you. Here’s the beginning of what I wrote last July….

“This week as I write we are blessed by bright blue skies, very low humidity, and temperatures that will barely reach 80 ˚F. Pleasantly different from the stifling heat waves we often get in July here in New Jersey……”

At that time, I was writing some devotions on the Parable of the Sower, but I glanced at some other parables and was struck by how Jesus often says, “The Kingdom of God is like……”  Several of these “like” parables show the way the kingdom of God is often hidden and yet has a quiet power. A great example of this is the Parable of the Leaven.

Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”   (Matthew 13:33)

Sometimes I hear people complain “We used to have a Christian country…..but not any more”. I won’t try to settle the argument here of how Christian we used to be, but right now it sure does seem that Christian influence in our culture is decreasing rather than increasing.

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What is our response? In the U.S., what is the connection between Christianity and the red white and blue? Does scripture encourage us to try to dominate the culture? Or does it challenge us to exert a more effective behind-the-scenes influence in our families, jobs, and neighborhoods?

Consider Paul’s request:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Corinthians 2:1-4)

Does Paul urge us “To live lives that are filled with anger and protest at our corrupt culture?”

No! Look at how prayer is directed here.  Are we praying to take over? Not at all, we are praying that we may be able to live a peaceful quiet life in godliness and holiness.  And what is the result? A Christian takeover? No, somehow the lives we live should allow people to get to know the truth and to get saved.

Ironically, there’s a way in which being less of a “Christian country” can be an encouragement to us. For then, we have something in common with the very first Christians. They were not getting into fights with the power players who were running society, but they impressed many outsiders with the love and courage they showed in their lives.

 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)

Maybe we should think of these believers who lived in a pagan country the next time we start to rant, embittered at all the things going on in our country that we do not like.  Might our country change in a rant-free way, from the bottom up, through the influence of many changed lives, people getting saved and then living quietly but powerfully for the Lord?

Crazed Robin Continually Crashing

We had an unfortunate aftermath after our window cleaning business friend did a great job at cleaning our windows. A crazed Robin, caught in motion in the picture, kept flying into our window.

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The steady clunk clunk clunk became quite annoying so we hoped the bird might knock itself silly and stop. But he did not!

From a birder friend and the internet, we learned that the bird sees his reflection and thinks it’s a rival male bird who’s going to mess around with Mrs. Bird and their Nest.

How many hundreds of times would the bird hit the window and not learn anything? There’s no limit because the bird is programmed to react this way.

I started to think “What a stupid birdbrain!” But then I reflected on how many times might we sin and knock our silly heads and not learn?

70 times 7??

How can we be so foolish like the bird?  Are we programmed to sin?

(a) Is there hope if we have sinned as many times as the bird hit our window?

(b) Is there a remedy to keep us from knocking ourselves silly?

Scripture does provide us with an answer and hope for these questions.

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)

Of course, as Christians we have made up our mind that we do not want to sin. But, any attempts we make to get rid of sin on our own are as effective as the bird’s futile attempt to get rid of his rival by pecking at our window!

What can break our pattern?  What would work?  The answer: We need to be cleansed.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

Our forgiveness from the penalty of sin by Jesus is once and for all, but the cleansing  from sin is an ongoing process. We continue  to walk in the light, we continue  to have fellowship with each other, and we continue  to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Because of all this, over time, I can’t say we never crash into the window, but by grace those painful collisions are happening less and less often!

You talking to me?

Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. (Luke 12:1b-3)

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It’s easy for me to read today’s verses and say “Ha! Jesus is talking about the Pharisees. I am no Pharisee! But, I can sure think of some other people that do need to hear this!”

However, a good rule of Bible interpretation is that rarely, if ever, does scripture give us the luxury of relaxing with a self-satisfied smirk as we bask in the feeling of security that our own moral superiority gives us!

So, I need to back off and ask the question that Travis Bickle did in Taxi Driver “You talking to me?” And to that question I might add: “You mean my secret stuff?”

Yes, there is no thought, action or attitude I have that God does not hear or know about.

Now, that truth used to seem rather ominous to me: that one day I would be confronted with a videotape of all I thought I could get away with! But there’s been a change in how I look at it. I no longer want to push the edge of what I can get away with before it gets recorded on the tape.  This is partly due to fear and awe of God, but even more from sensing something wonderful about how God’s love works.

Psalm 139 sums this up beautifully:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.     (verses23-24)

This Psalm shows that God is highly benevolent and loving, not a gotcha judge. Indeed, he loves us too much to let us stay where we are at, so he wants to lovingly correct when we have thoughts, feelings and actions that don’t match his will.

So, while it can be painful, I am learning to welcome it when God disciplines and corrects me.