Category: The Christian Life

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)

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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!

Mandatory volunteering?

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

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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 !

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.

When darkness comes and you don’t know why

All this came upon us,
   though we had not forgotten you;
   we had not been false to your covenant.
Our hearts had not turned back;
   our feet had not strayed from your path. (Psalm 44:17-18)

I often go on a morning run. Sometimes I can’t do this until later in the morning. But I am not able to have coffee until my run is complete. So, as my day begins caffeine free, I can feel a little sluggish or unmotivated or even have shockingly negative feelings and attitudes..… Then I need to pray and be reminded that God is still a caring God even if I don’t strongly feel God’s care.

Today, in Psalm 44, the Psalmist has an important message for us. It’s to reflect on all that we know is good about God, that we know is true outside of what we are  feeling.

On a bad day, it’s human nature to want to dwell on our struggle first. “I feel so bad. Why me?”  But that is not at all what the Psalmist does. No, he begins with proclaiming many good things about who God is. What God has done. And how praiseworthy God is.

In the first 8 verses, he talks about how it’s God who gave and gives the victory over enemies —it was God’s power doing it because he loved them. This section reaches a great climax in verse 8:

In God we make our boast all day long,
 and we will praise your name forever.

Unlike what I often do, it is then and only then, after a full acknowledgement of God’s power and past help, that you hear the Psalmist’s lament.  Only now does he pour out the sadness in his heart.

But now you have rejected and humbled us;
    you no longer go out with our armies. (verse 9) 

He is finally saying, “Hey, what did we do wrong? We are walking strong in loving obedience to you, Lord.  We’re not being rebellious! What happened?”

 All this came upon us,
 though we had not forgotten you;
 we had not been false to your covenant. (verse 17)

The low point of the Psalm is reached in verse 19:

 But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
    you covered us over with deep darkness.

Isn’t this the hardest time to trust the Lord? We’re feeling so far from him. It may be due to trying circumstances in our life, or opposition we are facing. Or we feel far from him for no apparent reason.

Sometimes this darkness even happens when we know we are spending lots of time and energy working especially hard for the Lord; we may be seized by a feeling of futility, wondering whether God is using our lives to cause any good results in other people’s lives.

Whatever the cause, we’ve entered an emotional state where we feel far away from God …. we long and plead for his closeness to be restored.

So, the Psalmist arrives at a beautiful conclusion: no matter how dark things appear, this darkness is only a temporary state of affairs.    

 Rise up and help us;
 rescue us because of your unfailing love. (verse 26)

I conclude today with three prayers for us to bring before the Lord:

  • Show us more of your unfailing love.
  • Let your unfailing love give us hope even in times of oppression and depression.
  • Show us that your promise of rescue is true, even when we don’t feel that it’s true.