Category: How We Grow

God Is Our Refuge

God is your refuge

You may have learned the definition of metaphor as a direct comparison without using like or as, and seen examples of it in novels and poems. You may be surprised that someone could write a whole book about metaphors (or read one!) But yes, I read Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.

Parts of the book went to one of two extremes: either very obvious or very technical.  But, while not a Christian book, the book made one amazing claim that relates to our own Christian lives: we each have our own personal metaphors that can impact how we live!

Yes, our personal metaphors are story lines that we believe about our lives, and whether we realize it or not, we are living out these stories. Some of these stories can be quite worthwhile and biblical; and others quite destructive, unbiblical, and horrible.

Do you ever complain about your job?

My attitude when working on my last job was “Oh, I’m a Christian; I don’t complain.” I started my last year at the job with a very nice metaphor: My job is an endurance race that I will finish well……But without realizing it, I exchanged that good metaphor for a crummy one —

Yes, after I retired, the Lord used the metaphor book to show the metaphor that was really in my heart that last year: “My job is a prison”.  If I had seen that real attitude earlier and repented of it, then I would have had more joy in my last year at work!

Scripture provides great antidotes for crummy metaphors. Here’s an example of how that works. The crummy metaphor is: “My life is a wilderness.”

Remember, the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness—until Moses finally led them to the promised land. Similarly, our own life without Jesus is a wilderness.  But Jesus, the greater Moses, leads us out of the wilderness ….

And when he leads us out of the wilderness, that leads straight to today’s metaphor from Psalm 46:1:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
When we leave our wilderness, God is the place of refuge in today’s picture.

Here’s another example:  If you think “I am a victim”, then Jesus says you can replace that with “I am a light”.

I could go on, but can you think of a destructive metaphor you have that can be traded in for a worthwhile and helpful one? To choose to walk in this new metaphor would influence how you live.

And note well: It’s the power of the Spirit that allows us to live our new metaphor, giving it far more impact than a mere self-help slogan.

 

Jesus Is Enough

jesus is enough

Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 18:5)

This Leviticus verse is a typical Old Testament command.  Very direct. But doable? Unfortunately, throughout the Old Testament, people’s obedience was too poor to be able to live up to this directive. They would try and fail. Try and fail. Over and over.

But there is one great Old Testament character, Abraham, who shows us a different and better way :

 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6,9)

This truth started with Abraham 4,000 years ago. Then 2,000 years later, Paul showed how we can get that same credit. We get it through faith in Jesus Christ—if I believe God through Christ, that gives me a turbocharged deposit of righteousness credited to my own account.

That free deposit is the exact opposite of the default mode that I work in: a voice inside me asks whether I am doing “enough” good deeds. How easy it is to drift into the bogus view that being a Christian means that we must do more and more and more and more—- rather than having simple faith. When I get caught up in the “more and more” mentality, sometimes it is so exhausting that I am tempted to say, “Why bother?”

Paul knew how impossible it is to keep the commands on our own. We must die to our futile attempts at law keeping.

 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God (Galatians 2:19)

If “do more and more and more” Christianity is my law, I must die to that law so that Christ may live in me.

Then, I can discern what it means to live by faith in exactly the body, time, and environment that I have been placed into. I can then walk in the freedom of being set free to do good things because of the faith Christ has given to me and the power of Christ working in me.

What a delightful difference – – – instead of struggling to do “enough” good deeds as a slave to the law, I can now cheerfully do just the good that Christ tells me to.

Living by grace instead of law is a wonderful way to live! Today, dwell on this beautiful paradox: we are simultaneously personally bankrupt and fully empowered to have an abundant life through Christ.

Desires of My Heart

Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
(Psalm 37:4)

Kid-in-Candy-Store-200x140

You mean I can get anything I want?
Like a kid in a candy store?
Or like the old Janis Joplin song: Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Yes and no.

First, we need to consider a warning from the book of James.

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you
quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:2-3)

Wow, what James says here sounds so negative. Does this mean I should never ask for something for myself?  That anything I ask for myself is automatically selfish? I need a way out of this trap!

Thankfully, God has made a way—it’s shown by what the prophet Ezekiel says.

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. (Ezekiel 36:26)

Good news: The Lord in whom we delight, is a Lord who loves us and loves to change us.

So, as I take delight in the Lord, the very things I desire begin to change.  As I delight in the Lord he changes the desires of my heart to align with what he wants…then I ask for them…and then he gives them to me.

It’s this new heart, that is not filled with envy and quarreling and fighting, that does ask for the right things with the right motives!

So back to the original question—does God like to give us stuff? Yes, you can see him liking to give a good vacation. Or to provide a runner like me with some injury-free running. Definitely it is more likely to be a yes if we ask from soft heart… the Lord may yet say no, but…our new heart knows we are on the right track walking with him as we ask. We delight when the answer is “yes” and are content if it’s “no”.

Today’s takeaway: Our new heart of flesh asks for the right things and our new heart is at peace with God’s answer.

 

 

 

 

Praising in Spite of the Slop

pig eating slop

LORD, our Lord,
     how majestic is your name in all the earth ! (Psalm 8:1)

The pig food above stands for all the slop that permeates our world.

And since we live in a fallen world, it’s easy to see many things that fall short. Some may be quite trivial, but others are life-threatening —King David faced many threats to his life, and even resorted to hiding in caves.

But in Psalm 8 David does something very curious. As David praised, he overlooked the slop. His enemies were actively, and viciously plotting against him.  Yet throughout this entire Psalm he proclaimed God’s majesty.

Does this mean that David lived in a la-la state of denial, pretending the slop of evil and sin did not exist?  No, in Psalm 11 David does mention the slop. He asks questions like, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (verse 3) However, even while being acutely aware of the slop, David’s overarching theme is:

“In the Lord I take refuge” (Psalm11:1a) despite the mishaps and slop.

For us today: do we agree that God is majestic in all the earth, despite things going on that appear  to contradict that truth?  If yes, then we are starting to see what it means to walk by faith:

 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:)
 For we live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

In context, both verses say we should have a hope of eternity in our lives. We look forward to the time when God removes all the slop. Then, we shall see all we hoped for. In the meantime, we trust, knowing how God’s in control even when we can’t see it.

Are we able, like David, to spend times in unadulterated praise? As the song 1says, “Let’s for – get about our – selves  And magnify the Lord and worship Him”.

  1.  https://www.jamesarthurreed.org/public/chord-sheets/We%20Have%20Come%20Into%20His%20House.pdf

 

Judge Not?? [Part 2]

angry-judge

The Apostle Paul issues a rebuke because a guy is sleeping with his stepmother. He says:

I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. (1 Corinthians 5:3b)

And then we read what Paul says in Colossians 3:5:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

We might say “What gives Paul the right to judge like this? Is he on a holier-than-thou high horse, superior to everyone?”

Well, first off, he is aware that he, too, is a sinner:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus 
came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15)

Taking being a sinner seriously would surely act as a constraint on Paul being self-righteous. Since Paul knows he is the chief of sinners, he is not quick to judge, but…. he does judge.

How does Paul judge?

Look at this verse from the Amplified version which captures Paul’s heart 
well:
Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you 
who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] 
should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of 
superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, 
lest you should be tempted also. (Galatians 6: 1)

Why does Paul judge?

Paul desires anyone who falls into sin to turn and grow to be more like Jesus. See the result:

so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Takeaway for us:

  • Before we rebuke we need to examine our own heart
  • We rebuke in order to see someone increasingly filled with the love of Christ.

Looking Towards 2018

Barnabas 150x150

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.  He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. (Acts 11:22-24)

You know when you take a walk on a familiar path and you give a double take and say “Oh, I never noticed that before?” That can happen while reading the Bible, too. Recently I saw something new in a very familiar passage.

In today’s passage we read about Barnabas and about people becoming believers. What’s new is to see there is a connection between us being filled with the Holy Spirit and faith, and people being brought to the Lord.

It’s easy to view coming to belief in Christ as believing the right facts and assenting to some propositions. When people assent to these propositions, perhaps by praying the sinners’ prayer or coming forward in an altar call, they are “in”. But doesn’t Jesus affect the grand totality of who we are? The facts of the gospel should not be detached from the overall change in us that Jesus does. He grabs our mind, heart, will, and emotions.

Barnabas lived as if the gospel were the most beautiful thing in the world. He must have been a joy to be around, as they called him the Encourager. When people who met him would ask him what was behind his attitude, he could reply with the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus.  So, Barnabas united the facts of the gospel and the life of the gospel.

Unfortunately for us, though, there can be a gap between the facts of the gospel and the gospel as we live it out. Sometimes the gospel is not the most beautiful thing in the world for us.

Here is quote from Jesus:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind (Luke 10:27a)

When we ask Jesus to build that kind of love into us, knowing that we sure can’t build it on our own, the gospel in our lives becomes increasingly beautiful.  The gap between the facts of the gospel and the gospel as we live it starts to disappear.

May we invite our King to live more fully in us in 2018!

 

Dare to Be a Daniel?

lion-yawn

I recently spent 2 weeks reading the book of Daniel in my personal devotions.

Daniel seems to be an unblemished Bible hero, meaning that none of his specific sins or character weaknesses are ever mentioned. At first, I thought this made the character of Daniel seem rather unreal to me. I mean, I like how the Old Testament has so many guys who are portrayed as real, warts and all. Think of David with his adultery, Jacob with his trickery, Abraham with his lying, etc.

And since Daniel is regarded as the opposite of those flawed heroes, this leads to a heroic hymn like “Dare to Be A Daniel”:

Hold the Gospel banner high!
On to vict’ry grand!
Satan and his hosts defy,
And shout for Daniel’s band. 

Reflecting on this lionhearted song, I want to first give a warning and then an encouragement. My warning is of this danger: thinking that Daniel is just a good moral example for us; we should be brave like Daniel; we should copy him. We can triumphantly be just like him; indeed, something is very wrong with us if we are not this kind of shining example.

That’s sure hard to live up to, isn’t it!

But let’s move on to the encouragement: Daniel did have sin. And he confessed it.

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill— (Daniel 9:20)

Now, the rare and special strength of Daniel is that he confessed his sins quickly, before they got a chance to mess him up badly. In other words, what if David had quickly confessed the sin of lusting after Bathsheba, long before drifting into adultery with her and then murder to get rid of her husband?

So, Daniel shows us that if we do get entangled in a sin, there is repentance and forgiveness for it. And as Christians we understand the source of our forgiveness and power to live well is Jesus Christ. His forgiveness is there for us even if, like David, we have messed up big time.

Daring to be a Daniel includes knowing the ways we are weak and blow it, and having a repentant heart. With a humble, Spirit-filled perspective as a starting point, we avoid simply telling ourselves and others that we need to try harder to behave better.

Amazingly, by seeing how weak we are, we can begin to draw on the power and example, not just of Daniel, but of our Lord Jesus Christ.