Category: How We Grow

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!

The Real Cure for a Dirty Mouth

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

teacher-go-wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap

Were you ever thrilled that someone became a Christian and stopped cussing?

Great, they don’t use any of George Carlin’s 7 forbidden words any more.

But which is easier—to stop cussing or to become someone who knows how to build people up?

Don’t you hate it when you’ve been gone a couple days and you open your refrigerator and you are overwhelmed by the stench of rotten fish? The Greek word for “unwholesome” in today’s verse is Saprós, which means putrid and rotten. But if you think about it, you realize that we can say stuff that is putrid and rotten without using any cuss words. We can use clean language while simultaneously ripping someone to shreds with gossip and slander.

So, what is the opposite of this kind of trash talk? Do we wash our mouths out with soap?  By washing our mouths out with soap, I mean we might be able by sheer force of willpower, to hold ourselves back from using those cuss words. After all, people in church expect us to clean up our act. But this wouldn’t automatically lead to edifying and encouraging talk. What we really need to see is:

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)

I like that we are captives of Christ. Without being Christ’s captive, we really are just washing our mouths out with soap. But it’s different when, empowered and captivated by Jesus, we refuse to let crudeness, viciousness or slander come out of our mouths, and instead replace it with being a sweet aroma—what a wonderful opposite to the smell of stinking fish!

Time to Change Your Dirty Clothes

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; (Ephesians 4:22)

honey3

Recently, roofing crews showed up to do 25-year replacement of some of the roofs in our development. I saw a flatbed truck arrive, and on it were 6 porta potties and a vacuum unit to pump out what gets deposited in porta potties after they have been used.

The potty pump got me thinking about a similar process in our own lives. When Scripture talks about “putting off our old self” it is like getting what belongs to our old self pumped out.

We are quite unable to achieve this pumping on our own. Scripture teaches that we need a helper. It’s the Holy Spirit, who is a supernatural cleaning agent—indeed, scripture talks about the Spirit cleansing us of unrighteousness.

But even better than the cleanup, is that God gives us something wonderful to replace the slop with.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12)

Keep in mind that this clothing is also the work of the Spirit. The Spirit provides us with Christ’s compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

I’d like to return to today’s picture one more time, because there’s a scriptural parallel to the expression “not same truck”. Mainly, our earthly nature and what replaces it, our new self, cannot co-exist.

For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:4b)

We are saved by Christ from the penalty of sin once and for all, but the process of putting off and putting on is not once and for all. No, it’s a daily lifestyle. Just as the pump needs to repeatedly come back to the construction site, we need to repeatedly be cleansed. And every day we can put on some more of Jesus. This is not complete for us until the day when the Lord returns or calls us home!

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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)

images

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.

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.

cbird - crop snapshot

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!