Building a Wise Life

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt.”  James 1:5-6a

Google the word “wisdom” and you will get more than 50 million hits.  A quick check on a Bible website shows almost 400 times the Scriptures speak of wisdom or being wise.  A Christian book distribution website lists over 2,000 current resources that promote wisdom.   There is a lot being said about wisdom – so why are we still doing so many foolish things?   I offer two thoughts I believe hold some answers, and they both follow Jesus’ teaching found in Matthew 7:24-27.

This is the parable of the wise and foolish builders.  We all know that a sturdy house needs a strong and sure foundation.  You can use the best materials to construct the house, but without the foundation, the building is susceptible to the shifting ground beneath it.  My son, who works in electrical construction, tells me that there are two components to a building’s foundation: concrete reinforced with rebar.

Jesus said “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt. 7:24). Likewise, He says, “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (Matt. 7:26). Jesus is saying that there are two components to the wise life: His words – the whole of the Bible – combined with obedience. Together they become the sure foundation for the life of a Christian.

I love the Word of God.  It is my light and my life, my passion and my calling.  I study it all day long as a seminary student, and I teach the Bible in multiple weekly Bible study classes.  I am convinced to the marrow of my bones that the Bible is true, right and perfect, and is the complete revelation of the God of creation to man.  But I used to think if just studied the Bible enough, poured over it every day and memorized verses, I would be wise.  But for so long, I failed to put those words into practice in my life.  I wondered, how can I know so much Scripture and do the foolish things I do?  The Bible gives much wisdom about finances, yet I was always broke and drowning in debt.  God has volumes to say about relationships, but I did not have good relationships with my family, friends or co-workers.  The Scriptures are replete with constructive advice for avoiding sin, still I stayed in the sludge pit constantly.  Why?  Because, while I knew a lot of Bible verses, I wasn’t applying my life to what I knew.  I wasn’t following those Biblical principles for financial management or healthy relationships.  I didn’t look for the way out of temptation, but followed it straight into sin.  The words of Jesus – the Bible – is the rebar, and obedience is the cement in the wise Christian life.

Here again we look to James who says “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, and . . . goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (James 1:23, 24, emphasis mine). You see, the Bible is the living, breathing, spoken Word of God, inspired by His own Spirit.  God does not speak merely to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed.  The first, and most important ingredient in the wise life is to hear the Word of the Lord – without it we have nothing to center our lives on; the second ingredient is obedience to the Word, otherwise we are just foolish people with our heads full of words that have no practical application to our lives.  Look at the other part of James’ teaching: “The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25, emphasis mine).

That is the truth behind our key verse today.  If we ask God for wisdom, He will give us wisdom – generally through His Word.  But if we receive His wisdom and don’t put it into practice – because of doubt or our own desires, we will be “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6b). We will do foolish things, and our lives will fall with a great crash.  The Bible is very practical to our daily lives.  There is nothing we will encounter in life that the Bible does not address, either directly or implicitly.  There are “do’s and do not’s” and there are teachings that guide us in the best way to live.  But they will just be words on a page to us unless we walk in obedience and submission to the God who created us and who loves us.

Is there a particular area of defeat in your life?  Look up Scriptures that address that area and ask God to help you put those words into practice.  Read and study the Word of God every day and consider how to bring your life in line with what He says.  You may need to make some changes and choices, but the blessings that come from walking in God’s truth are enormous.  Build a wise life on the Word of God and obedience to Him.  Then when “the rain comes down, and the streams rise, and the winds blow and beat against your house, it will not fall, because it has its foundation on the rock” (Matt. 7:25b, adaptions mine).

Holy Father, please give me wisdom from Your Word, and help me to put it into practice every day.  Storm clouds are building over the sea Lord; I need Your strong and sure foundation.  Amen.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

There is no one like the God of Jeshurun (Israel), who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in His majesty.” Deuteronomy 33:26

I grew up on fairy tales and stories of damsels in distress and spent much of my early life dreaming of my knight in shining armor. It’s such a romantic thought. I would be kidnapped and held captive by someone who was just mean and evil and wanted to defeat everything good. My situation would be so dire, but then, here would come my beloved hero, to defeat the enemy and rescue me. I would be swept up on his white stallion and we would ride off – of course into the sunset – to begin our “happily-ever-after” life together. Even as I grew older and left fairy tales behind, I still looked for that one guy who would right all the wrongs and make everything wonderful. I figured out that, no matter how wonderful he is, no man will every measure up to that expectation.

That is until I met the One Man who did. No, it’s not my husband, though he is a great guy. My beloved hero is Jesus Christ. And the scenario is not just my fantasy fairy tale; it’s really true, for me and for you. It’s true for every person that lives today, that ever lived, and that is yet to live.

There really is someone who is completely evil. His name is Satan, the Devil, Beelzebub, and he is the enemy of the One who is pure and good – God, the Heavenly Father. God created a perfect world (Genesis 1:1) and then perfectly created two beings in His image: man and woman – we know them as Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:7). Satan slid his way into this perfect place and took them captive to sin, and because of sin, to death (Genesis 3:1-6). This curse of death and sin has been passed down to every human being (Romans 5:12). We are all held against our will by Satan. You may find that strange given how humanity has chosen sin for thousands of years, but our true will – the soul which God placed in man at creation – longs for Him. But our feet are in the stocks, even as we roam the earth, bound by the enemy of God. Why us? Why does Satan attack man? Because we are God’s beloved creation, made in His image, and what God loves, Satan hates.

How it moved God’s great heart with compassion, to see us, His beloved creation bound in chains of sin and unable to rescue ourselves. So He sent us a Hero, a Knight in shining armor. He sent us a Savior, His own and only Son. In what is only a God-miracle, He set His glory aside and poured His divinity into a mortal shell. The perfect Son of God became the perfect Man, Jesus. He came, not on a great steed, but in a young woman’s womb. He came, not to brandish a sword and kill a mortal enemy, but to carry a cross up a hill and crush the head of the enemy of our souls (Genesis 3:15). He came to take on every sin of every person in every age – He came to bear your sin and mine (Romans 6:10). He suffered. He bled. He died a cruel and torturous death for one reason: because He loves you and me. He came to set us free.

He came to give us life –the life we were created for, before Satan and sin took us captive. This life is ours once again, because Jesus did not stay in the grave. God raised Him from the dead, and He is alive today (Ephesians 1:20). His death set us free from the curse of sin (Romans 8:1-2). His resurrection gives us life, eternal life, forever life (1 John 5:11). That “happy-ever-after”? It is a promise, not a fairy tale. Heaven awaits, the place of pure perfection, our forever home (John 14:2). One day, Jesus will come again to earth. He will come to finish the battle of good vs. evil. He will bring His enemy, our enemy, to his final destruction. And guess how He will come? Yep, on a white horse (Revelation 19:11). He will come as the Rider who is Faithful and True – the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And He will right every wrong, and put an end forever to evil.

This is not just a great fairy tale, though the world tries to claim it is. This is the true reality. This is the over-arching picture of God’s plan. He created us. He loves us. He saw us captive to sin and death and evil, and He sent His own Son to rescue us. I hope this is real for you. I hope you have received this gift of freedom and life that God has offered to you. For those without Jesus, the final fate of Satan in their eternal fate as well. The promise of forgiveness and redemption and eternal life is only for those who have received Jesus Christ as their Savior. If you do not know Jesus, please examine the evidence in the Scriptures I’ve highlighted. Ask Him to show you the truth. And pray the prayer at the close of this devotional. Please let me know if you do. I want to rejoice with you. If you already know Jesus, pray a word of thanks for what He has done for you.

This is real life. This is the only question that matters: What will you do with Jesus?

Dear God, I know that I am held captive by sin and my fate is death. I believe that Your Son, Jesus Christ, died to set me free from sin and death. I receive this wonderful freedom and the promise of eternal life. Thank you God, for saving me. Teach me to love you and walk in Your ways all my days. Amen.

Lord, Send a Revival!

Please forgive me for the length of this post, but this is a word God has burned into my heart for several years and I cannot contain it any longer.  Please read this in a sprit of prayer.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  2 Chronicles 7:14

I am deeply concerned about my country, the United States of America.  I love America, I am grateful for the freedoms and the opportunities we enjoy here.  I love my country, but I am grieved by the depravity and sinfulness that has taken hold in America.  We live in an age when men “call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).  I love my country, but I am heartbroken over the direction our nation is heading.  But the truth is, I don’t believe all the blame lies in our nation’s leading men and women.  I believe much of the blame can be cast at the feet of the church in America.

Please understand, I love church.  I am a church-girl from the cradle-roll in my family’s Baptist church in Copperas Cove, Texas to now teaching Bible classes in several churches in North Florida.  I love the community in church, sitting in a Sunday School class learning together, singing hymns and praise songs with the congregation, and visiting together over a covered-dish meal.  I love to hear the Word of God from the pulpit, and the “Amens” across the sanctuary (and adding a few of my own).  I love church.  But somewhere along the way, churches in this country shifted their focus and their message, and the ripples have touched every aspect of society.  And what we didn’t realize until now is that the effects would be slow in coming, but they would come with a vengeance.

Look with me at a Bible passage that illustrates what I mean.  Please take a few moments and read 2 Samuel 21:1-14, and allow me to give you a little background.

When Israel finally came into Canaan, the Promised Land, God instructed them not to make a treaty with any of the neighboring tribes, but one group, the Gibeonites, put together a deceptive ruse and tricked Israel into making a treaty of peace with them, and they became a “vassal” nation, under the authority – and protection – of Israel.  It was a costly mistake, and a good post for another day.  What’s important here is that the first king of Israel, Saul, had “tried to annihilate them.”  This broke the word of Israel, which God took very seriously.  Fast-forward several years now to the reign of King David.  The passage tells us that a famine hit Israel, and after three long years, David finally inquired of the Lord.  The answer was that God was punishing Israel for Saul’s actions against Gibeon.  Here is one truth you can take to the spiritual bank: “We reap what we sow, more than we sow, and later than we sow.”[1]  The Gibeonites demanded seven of King Saul’s descendants, whom they hung in retribution.

I am not an expert, by any stretch, of how to manage a church.  I don’t pretend to have a lot of answers, but I have become a passionate student of the Word of God and of church history, and I know that somewhere the heart and mission of the church got lost in our attempts to be “all things to all people” and be “culturally relevant.”  Jesus Christ gave the church its mission: “Go and make disciples of all nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19).  The mission of the church is three-fold: make disciples, which comes from proclaiming the message of the Gospel; baptize, which is the outward evidence of an inward decision; and teach them to obey God’s Word, which is a life-long process.  Make no mistake, we need to feed the hungry, to care for the lonely, to protect the oppressed, because these are the things Jesus did when He walked this earth.  But His chief ministry was “to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’” (Matthew 4:19). His mission was to “come into the world as a light” (John 12:46) and “to save [the world]” (John 12:47). This must be the focus of the church, to shine the light of Truth into a dark world, and show the Way to eternal Life (ref. John14:6).

There is no question, society has changed.  What once was an accepted biblical worldview, has become a self-centered perspective – a “what’s in it for me?” philosophy of life.  It has permeated the church and its teachings.  As society became more fixated on the psychology of life, the church’s message shifted as well. “Sermons stressed the Bible’s application to day-to-day life.”[2]  The focus became “right living” without an effort to “right thinking.”  Rather than teaching the undiluted Living Word of the Living God, the Bible is approached in a self-focused way, “What does this passage mean for me?   The church began to see the Bible as a “self-help” tool, rather than the Holy Word of the Divine God.  Slowly, imperceptibly, culture and society began to have more influence in the church than the Word and the Son of God.  Like the frog in the stew pot, the changes came so slowly- a compromise here, a minor re-wording there – the frog didn’t perceive the danger until it became too late.

But I don’t believe it is too late.  I believe there is still hope for the church. I believe the church can be restored.  And when the church once again becomes the Spirit-filled, biblically sound Body of the Lord Jesus Christ, I believe America can be healed.   Look at 2 Samuel 21:14 again: “After that, God answered prayer on behalf of the land.” God can do it again in America, but it will take a spirit of repentance in the church.  It will take Christians humbly confessing how far we have drifted from the center of God’s Word and His will.  It will require us to cry out in repentance and restore the Cross of Christ and the Bible to the heart of the church.  It will mean individual believers taking an honest look in the mirror and confessing our own self-centered lives and apathy towards the things of God.

The day is soon – very soon – coming when God’s people in America will face suffering and persecution, just as we see across the globe.  If the church is going to stand in the face of this persecution, Christians like you and me, must “humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways.” I want my country to know the God I serve, to know the Savior I love, and the peace, hope and purpose that can only be found through Him.  If I want to impact change in my nation, I have to start in my church, and in my own heart.  I am willing.  I am committed to pray, to confess my selfish nature, to encourage a spirit of repentance in my church and to pray for a true revival of God’s Holy Spirit to sweep through like never before.  Will you join me?  Will you humbly seek God’s face in confession and repentance and pray for revival in your church and in churches across the nation?  America will never know God unless the church once again shines His light into the darkness.

I pray, Lord Jesus, send a revival in the church.  Change your church today so that You can use us tomorrow.  I am the church Lord, start in my heart. I confess my sin and selfishness to You.  I confess my attraction to the world and how it has distracted me from Your mission.  I confess my willingness to settle for a “self-help” book rather than the Living Word of the Living God.  Begin a revival in me Lord.  Amen.

[1] Charles F. Stanley, The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, (La Habra: The Lockman Foundation, 2009), 388.

[2] Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language; Third Ed., (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2008), 480.

A Place of Peace and Safety

“You are my hiding place; You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

Psalm 32:7

 For as long as I can recall, even from childhood, I have been searching for a protector.  It seemed that the ones who were in a position to protect me ended up being the ones who hurt me, or just left me vulnerable and alone.  I wanted to know someone heard my fears and would “take up my cause.”  Through my adult years, I’ve more or less learned how to fend for myself.  But still, there is this ache to know that I can let my guard down for just a little while because someone is watching out for me.

So this morning, when I read this verse, it touched that vulnerable place deep in my heart.  I do have a protector.  It is my Heavenly Father.  When my weary heart cries out: “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (Psalm 36:7), I know that He will be my hiding place and I can “take refuge in the shadow of [His] wings” (Psalm 57:1). Nothing can touch me there, no foe can reach me, and no disaster can overtake me because [He] will protect me from trouble.

That is the sweetest word I have heard in a long time.  I am tired, my mind, body and spirit are weary.  My Father knows that and bids me come to that protected hiding place and to “lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). I do not have to climb high mountains or walk through burning deserts to reach my safe place.  I only have to cry out to Him and He will “come quickly to help me” (Psalm 22:19). Then I am to take refuge and rest; to lie down and sleep in peace, knowing that He is on guard, ever vigilant, with His wing tucked securely around me.

There is no greater refuge than this.  There is no greater peace than this.

Are you weary?  Do you also need a protector?  Have all the “safe places” of the world failed you?  Friend, seek the only place of true safety and peace.  Come and find rest in the shadow of His wing.  Let Him “quiet you with His love” (Zephaniah 3:17). Fall asleep amid the sound of Him “rejoicing over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17).

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91:1

 Holy Father, I take refuge under Your wings; cover me with Your feathers, let me rest in the wonderful knowledge that Your faithfulness is my shield.  Oh how I need You. Amen

Just One Little Lie

“David answered the priest and said to him, ‘Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out.  The men’s bodies are holy even on missions that are not holy.  How much more so today!’” 1 Samuel 21:5

 Have you ever told just a little lie?  One little fib that no one will ever discover.  No harm, no foul.  What’s the worst that can happen from one little lie?  I offer you the example of David in Nob.  Please take a few moments and read 1 Samuel 21:1-7.

Allow me to set the scene for you.  David is on the run from King Saul, who because of jealousy, is hunting him down like prey.  He goes to the city of Nob, to the priest, Ahimelech, there in the place of worship.  He is hungry and he knows that the Levites place fresh bread before the Lord as an offering every Sabbath, and the previous week’s bread is then theirs to eat.  He tells the priest that his men, who are camping in another location are hungry and he asks – almost demands – bread.  The priest is uncomfortable with the request, but this is David, the mighty commander of the King’s army.  His victories are the stuff of legend.  So, in an attempt to take some of the sting off of his conscience, he asks David if he and his men have remained pure.  David answers with a resounding yes, they have been sent by the king and theirs is a holy and secret mission.  Of course they have kept themselves pure!  Ahimelech acquiesces and surrenders the consecrated bread to David.

There are two big no-no’s here.  Ahimelech knew that because this bread had been offered to the Lord it is considered holy, and cannot be eaten by anyone except the Levites (think church staff) and must be eaten only in the holy place. (See Leviticus 24:5-9) God did not offer any exceptions.  By not standing on the Levitical law, the priest was wrong.

But David was also wrong, his entire story was a lie.  The Scripture indicates that he was alone, there is no mention of a company of men with him, as he told the priest.  He was not on a secret and holy mission for the king, he was running for his life from the king.  As to his declaration of purity, there is no indication one way or the other, but at this time he is married (to the king’s daughter!)so it is likely he may not be.  But he is far from home and no one knows him here.  What’s the worst that can happen with one little lie?

But someone was there who knew him.  One of the king’s servants, Doeg, was there in the tabernacle, and he witnessed the entire episode.  We don’t know if he realized David was lying, but the implication is that he did, because, knowing the king was hunting David down to kill him, he returned to report that he was in Nob and had gone to the priest there.  Now the little lie that David told morphs into a great tragedy.  1 Samuel 22:9-23 tells the rest of the story.  With Doeg’s report, Saul sends for Ahimelech and his entire family, who were all priests.  The king confronts the priest and accuses him of conspiring with his enemy, David.  Ahimelech pleads his innocence, saying he did not know David was lying.  But Saul ordered the entire company of priests – eighty-five men of God – be put to death.  Because of one little lie.  One man escapes and reports to David the slaughter of the priests, and he realizes he is to blame.  He says “I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family.” (1 Samuel 22:22).

David learned the high cost of a lie.  Perhaps that is why, very shortly after this incident, he wrote, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies” (Psalm 34:13). And near the end of his life he prayed, “I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity” (1 Chronicles 29:17). Proverbs 12:22 says “The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in men who are truthful.”

The God we love and serve is a God of truth. Numbers 23:19 tells us that God cannot lie.  It is completely counter to His perfect nature.  Jesus spoke only truth, and spoke of the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit of God who would reveal truth.  Followers of Christ should be known as people of truth.  In every aspect of our lives, we should be seen as people of integrity and honesty.  If I am known to tell lies, even “little white lies” and “innocent fibs,” how will anyone believe me when I tell them about Jesus?  What does a little lie do to my witness?  Here’s another thought: if my child hears me telling lies to others, will he believe me when I tell him “I love you”?

I am making a personal commitment to be a person of honesty and integrity.  I will follow the example of Christ Jesus who spoke the truth, acted in truth and walked in truth.  Will you make that commitment with me?  Let’s start a “truth revolution” together.

Holy Father, I am Your child, and I want to live like my Father and like my “big brother,” Jesus.  Purify my heart and my lips.  Teach me to be a person of integrity in all I say and do.  Amen.

Real Faith for Real Life

“Take your stand and see this great thing which the Lord will do before your eyes.”  1 Samuel 12:16, NASB

“You just need to have faith.”

“You just have to trust God.”

“Just let go and let God.”

I’m sure you have heard these well-intended statements before, and like me, you’ve probably thought “What does that even mean?” True, we know that when we are in the midst of a storm, dealing with struggles or grief or uncertainty, faith is vital to our survival. But what does “faith” really look like? How do you really trust God?

I believe it is something the contemporary church has forgotten how to do, particularly in countries with “religious freedom,” though that freedom is being eroded. From the days of Adam and Eve, faith has been refined and strengthened through struggles. Job was put through severe trials and he declared, “When He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10)[1]. Abraham’s faith was tested, and he “was called God’s friend” (James 2:23). Moses’ faith was stretched by two million plus whiney Israelites, but God said he “would speak to Moses face to face as a man speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). In studying recently the history of the church, it was the persecuted, the martyrs, and those who were forced to flee for their lives whose faith was the strongest. It is true today, as Christians around the world are being killed for their faith in Jesus Christ.

What does persecution have to do with faith? Everything, because when you lose everything else and your faith is all that is left, you learn to stand strong on the character and the Word of God. Without trials and struggles faith becomes soft and too weak to help us stand. It is in these difficult seasons that our faith, like a muscle, gets “a workout” and becomes stronger.

But back to our original question – What does faith look like? How can we learn to have real faith in a real world?  By focusing our hearts on a real God and our minds on a real Word. Let me give you an example from my own life.

I am in the middle of a difficult season in my life. I am confronted daily with a situation that breaks my heart and there is nothing I can do to change it. God knows I have tried. After several exhausting months, I’ve finally come to the point of understanding: this one is out of my control. All I have left now is my faith in God and His Word.   At first I begged and pleaded with God to make this problem go away. I knew this situation was not God’s will and I told Him so.   As it drug on and took many twists and turns, I began to have physical and emotional health issues from the stress. I was sorely distracted from the work God had called me to and thought about giving up.   Then I realized that is just what the devil was after – to make me abandon the kingdom work and run back into my protective shell. But God (oh, how I love those two words!) began to slowly turn my heart from desperation to dependence.   I started meditating more on God’s character and less on the problem at hand. I began searching the Scriptures so I could pray God’s Word over the matter.   I stopped telling God what I thought He should do and began telling Him that I trusted Him in whatever He chose to do. God gave me a phrase that has become almost a mantra whenever Satan starts to taunt me over the situation: “I have rested the matter in the hands of my Father.”  Mind you, the issue still isn’t resolved, it is ongoing and looks even bleaker than when it first began. The devil continues to hammer away at me, but I run that phrase over and over in my head, and often speak it out loud so that I know the enemy can hear me.  I cannot describe the peace that has come to me since.

That is real faith for real life. It is making the moment by moment determination to keep my focus on God’s power, faithfulness, strength and promises.  It is trusting in Him rather than trying to solve the problem on my own.  It is looking into the Word of God for a word for my soul, and praying His will through His Word. It is coming before Him in raw honesty and allowing Him to soothe my wounded heart and calm my frantic spirit. And most importantly it is holding up my shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16), remembering His character, remembering His Words and choosing to believe that He is with me in the battle; and God never loses a battle.

The early martyrs found the faith they needed the same way, remembering God’s promises, looking to Him for strength and holding out hope – not in a solution to their problems – but in the steadfast character of their God. Like Peter, we must keep our eyes on the Savior in the storm. And thankfully, like Peter, we can trust that He will grab onto us when we lose our focus. He is forever faithful. He is a real God for real life.

Holy Father, platitudes will not sustain my faith, but keeping my mind and heart focused on Your character and Your Word always will. Help me Lord to have real faith in a real God as I live this real life in a real world. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are taken from the New International Version of the Bible.

How to be Perfect

“Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

I never thought of myself as a perfectionist. The truth is, I knew “perfect” was so far out of my league, I didn’t expect it. I was just pleased if my mistakes were few and not too glaring. When I worked as a church secretary I used to say “If there wasn’t a mistake in the bulletin, people would think someone else did it.” I didn’t expect perfection from myself – that is until I started back to school, and perfection became the goal. Not for my sake mind you, for my grades became my expression of gratitude to God for the opportunity to go to seminary. But my friends noticed how discouraged I became when I didn’t get an A on an assignment or missed even one question on a test. I wanted to be perfect – after all, isn’t that what God expects of me? Isn’t that what Jesus said?

Let’s get this right out on the table. God is perfect, and we are not. The Bible is replete with God’s perfection: His works are perfect (Deut. 32:4), His knowledge is perfect (Job 37:16), His ways are perfect (2 Sam. 22:31; Ps. 18:30), His law is perfect (Ps. 19:7; James 1:25), His beauty is perfect (Ps. 50:2), His faithfulness is perfect (Is. 25:1), His peace is perfect (Is. 26:3), His will is perfect (Rom. 12:2), His power is perfect (2 Cor. 12:9); and we can give thanks that He gives perfect gifts (Jas. 1:17), and that His love is perfect (1Joh n 4:18).

But you and I? We are from perfection with no ladder tall enough to reach it. We are flawed, we are weak, we have tempers and attitudes and prejudices; we are selfish and self-centered. We are human, with all that our humanness entails. And we are sinful. God knows all this. So why, then does Jesus tell us “Be perfect.”? Why throw out a command He knows we will never achieve?

There are two points we need to consider in this impossible quest for perfection.

In the Greek, the word “perfect” means “perfect, complete, mature, finished.” Jesus is using both meanings to speak of our lives here on earth – and our lives in heaven. First, He is expressing what James echoes with the same Greek word, teleios, when he says “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4-emphasis added). Modern translators have Jesus saying “perfect” and James saying “mature,” but the word in the Greek is exactly the same. And both are saying that we are to work towards maturity in our Christian lives. Listen to Paul’s words, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” This “perfection” is the life-long process of growing and becoming mature believers, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It is a day-by-day, choice-by-choice walk – the walk of faith. It is also the perfecting work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as He leads and guides us on to this maturity. Knowing that I am “a work in progress” frees me from the burden of perfectionism.

Jesus also uses the word to express our future state, when we are complete – in Him. You see, the root word for “perfect” and “mature” is telos, which means “end result, outcome, goal. This is the work of Christ that achieves the end result of perfection.  The writer of Hebrews expresses it beautifully: “By one sacrifice He (Christ) has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14).   Christ has made us perfect before the Father through His sacrifice on the cross.  This verse also encompasses both expressions of perfection in heaven and the perfecting work in this life.  Want to dig a little deeper? Look again at James 1:4. We examined the word “mature,” but let’s look at the word “complete.” The combined root definitions of “complete” mean “whole, entire” with “share, place, inheritance.” Oh, this is so exciting! We will be made perfect, as Christ is perfect, when we have come into the entirety of our inheritance, our share of eternity – HEAVEN! The perfect place for perfect people!

Jesus is giving us both the perfect way to walk in this life as His followers and the promise of a perfect eternal home as His perfected saints.

So why does Jesus command us to “Be perfect, therefore as your Father in heaven is perfect.”? I think Charles Spurgeon expresses it very well: “The youthful artist as he grasps his newly sharpened pencil can hardly hope to equal Raphael or Michelangelo; but still, if he did not have a noble ideal before his mind, he would only attain to something very mean and ordinary.”

Perfection is the aim, it is the picture God paints in our minds, not as an unrealistic goal, but as a promise and a vision. Certainly we will stumble and fail, and for that He sent us a Savior – a Savior who makes us perfect in every way.

Holy Father, I cannot achieve perfect grades, be a perfect parent or live a perfect life; but I can look to my perfect Savior and know that I am perfect in Him. Amen.

In the World but not of the World

“Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16

Is there any doubt that evil rules the world we live in?  Turn on the television, open a newspaper, log onto the world-wide web and you are face-to-face with the evidence of evil.  You don’t even have to go looking for it anymore.  It’s on billboards as you drive on the highway, flashed in commercials, and reported daily in the news.  Satan rules the world – for now.  So to borrow from Francis Schaeffer- “How Should We Then Live?”

How do we live godly lives in an ungodly world?

Christians tend to have one of two extreme reactions to the world; we either bury our heads in the sand and try to pretend that evil doesn’t exist, or we become radically defensive and try to shout down evil by throwing Bible verses around like grenades.  If you can’t ignore it, try to blow it away.  Time has proven that neither approach works.  To ignore evil just allows it to escalate and become overwhelming.  Taking an aggressive stand has only offended and ostracized the world Jesus died to save.

As in every aspect of life, Jesus has the answer. “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (emphasis added). This is the command He gave to His disciples as He sent them out into the world to be His witnesses.  This is the command we must live by as well.  As I read this verse today, the two contrasting words jumped out at me. That is always my cue to dig a little deeper.  The original Greek definitions for these words shed tremendous light on the command of Jesus.

“Shrewd” is phronimos and means “wise, sensible” and its root meaning is “thinking, understanding.” Jesus was telling them to think and understand and then make a wise and sensible determination.  Do you know that one of Satan’s most effective tools is to dull our minds and then feed us from the world’s banquet table of ideas and philosophies?  Let’s be completely honest – we can become mentally and spiritually lazy – accepting as truth whatever we are told without bothering to examine things for ourselves.  That is one reason I love the story in Acts about the Bereans. “The Bereans…received the message (Paul’s preaching) with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).  We must wake up our dulled minds and think about the messages we are receiving day after day, lay them alongside of the Word of God and see if they are true.  And this is not just for spiritual matters.  The advertising world depends on the fact that we take in their “pitch” without thinking or examining the validity of their message.  Try watching a few commercials sometime with a sharp mind.  We need to be discerning about everything our minds take in.  Because we must live in this world, Jesus tells us to “think and come to a sensible conclusion.”

In contrast to being shrewd, Jesus commands us to be innocent. Akeraios means innocent, pure, not mixed with evil, and has the root meaning “to mix, to be poured.”  His command here is to not allow ourselves to be mixed up with the world’s philosophies and ideas; to not allow them to be poured into our minds and hearts. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were commanded to keep themselves separate from the world around them and not fall into their evil ways nor worship their pagan gods.  They tried to compromise with the Lord and the world, believing that they could dabble in paganism as long as they continued to also follow the sacrificial Law of God.  They “poured” paganism into with their worship of God Almighty, and in their dulled minds, believed they were still being obedient to the Lord.  Has anything changed?  Certainly not God’s command to worship and live for Him and Him only.  The truth is God’s people cannot “coexist” with ungodliness.  It didn’t work for Israel and it won’t work for Christ’s followers today.  Mind you, I’m not advocating separatism; Jesus called us to be His witnesses throughout the world.  We must interact with the lost world to tell them about Jesus.  But we must also keep our hearts purely devoted to Him alone and not allow the world to mix us up.

When I studied this verse, I recalled Jesus prayer in John 15 where He said we are “in the world” (v.11) but “not of the world” (v. 14).  We live alongside of people who do not follow Christ or His Word and that is by God’s good design; but we live for the One who died for the world, and we live by His Word and for His glory.  How else will they know we belong to the one true God if we believe the world’s message and live as if God is just one option among many?

Holy Father, You are not one God among many, You are the God of all, the Creator and Sustainer and the Sovereign Lord.  My heart, my mind, my soul and my all belong to You.  Use me in this world to bring others to Christ and to bring glory to Your Name. Amen.

Where Are You?

“Where are you?”  “I heard You in the garden and I was afraid. . . so I hid”         Genesis 3:9,10

 “Where are you?”

Have you ever asked that question? Perhaps you were looking for your friend in a crowd or frantically searching for your child in the store. I’ve often impatiently asked that question while waiting for someone who is running late. I have an unmarried friend who often cries as she asks that of a future soul-mate. It is sometimes said in frustration or fear or wistfulness. But did you know that the first time those words were spoken, it was God asking the question?

“Where are you?” God called out to Adam and Eve as He was “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). It was their usual habit to meet every day and fellowship together, but today, they were nowhere to be found. I imagine they had always eagerly met Him in their paradise home, but now the two humans had hidden themselves because they had disobeyed God and done the one thing He had forbidden them to do, eating of the tree from which the Lord God had said, “You must not eat.” From their hiding place, Adam answered God, “I heard You in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Gen 3:10).

This is a familiar story and as I read the passages today I was thinking, “Yes, I know this story very well.” Until I came to that question and the answer that followed, and the words lit up on the page as if I were reading them under a laser light.

God is asking Adam the question, “Where are you?” Forever after this fateful moment in time, the question turns, and man has been asking God, “Where are You?” When troubles come we ask God, “Where are You?” In the face of bad news, rejection, grief and struggle, we ask the question. When the world turns upside down and violence and disaster and disease seem out of control, we look up, sometimes with a clenched fist and shout, “Where are You!?” When our hearts are breaking we cry out in a whisper “God, where are You?” God asked the question first, but we have been asking the question ever since.

Adam answered the question, “I heard You…so I hid.” Forever after this fateful moment, God has said, “I have heard you” (2 Chron. 34:27) and “I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). God hears you when you call out His name. He hears your cries. He hears your heart. Hagar named her son Ishmael, which means “God hears,” because He heard her cries in the desert. He heard the grief of His people in bondage in Egypt. He heard their call for help when they faced great armies. He heard David’s pleas for forgiveness. “You heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help” (Ps. 31:22).  He heard the groaning of men’s spirits bound by sin and death. God hears you beloved.

Unlike Adam, when God hears us He does not hide Himself from us. He promises to be with us, and He has kept His Word faithfully to His people. He promised to be with the Israelites as they crossed the wilderness, and as they faced their enemies. He promised to be with them as they settled in Canaan and He promised to be with them even as they were taken away into captivity because of their own sin.   He promised to be with them and redeem them, and He came to be present with His people in flesh and blood; flesh that was torn and blood that was spilled at the cross.   He did this so that we could be with Him forever in eternity.  It is the same promise Jesus made to His disciples and to all who would follow Him, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  He is our Immanuel, God with us.

God first asked the question, and Adam’s answer broke God’s heart. Now our broken hearts ask the question, and God’s answer gives us hope and comfort and peace.

“Where are you God?”

“Right here with you my child.”

“I love you Lord, for You heard my voice; You heard my cry for mercy. Because You turned Your ear to me, I will call on You as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1; para).

Related posts: Hope in the darkness

 

Rescued

“The Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them.”  Judges 2:18b

Do you remember the old saying: “You made your bed, now you have to lay down in it.”? In essence it’s saying that the hard situation I am in is the result of my own choices and I have to live with the consequences. We’ve all experienced it in some form in our lives. It’s a principle that plays out from time-outs in childhood, being grounded as a teenager, and dealing with all sorts of struggles and issues as an adult that are the direct result of our own decisions and actions. Sometimes the consequences are simple, like my son having to replace a window he broke, or me having to stay up late to finish a paper because I put it off too long. But some consequences are far more difficult and painful; just ask any prisoner. Sorrow and suffering is magnified when the offense against us is our own.

The people of Israel found themselves in just such a situation.

Judges 2 is the story of the Israelites’ rebellion and idolatry against God. As we noted in the previous post, Israel had allowed the pagan Canaanites to remain in the Promised Land, in opposition to the Lord’s command, and the Israelite men were seduced into pagan worship by the Canaanite women. The Canaanites worshiped Baal and Ashtoreth, and their worship was largely sexual and perverse. Their evil practices spread throughout Israel, and the Lord God who had delivered them out of Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land was now forgotten in their lust. They broke their covenant agreement to worship only Yahweh, and now He was angry. Judges 2:14 says “In His anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around.” They had danced to the devil’s tune, and now it was time to pay the piper.

The result of their sin was tragic. They were enslaved and oppressed, in constant peril from their enemies and unable to defend themselves because God had removed His protective hand from them. Their property was taken, their children were ripped from their arms and pressed into slave labor. All because of their own actions. What misery is greater than knowing your suffering has your own fingerprints all over it? I’ve been there several times, grieving the consequences that were the result of my own foolishness. I expect you have too. Perhaps you are there right now, sitting in a mud pit of your own making, wondering how you could have been so foolish and how will you ever get out of it. I used to believe that God was unwilling to help me when I got myself into a mess. Oh I knew He was faithful to help me when I was suffering for any other reason, but I figured He would make me deal with my own messes. And I made plenty of messes. “Sorry child, this is your problem, I’m stepping out on this one.” After all, don’t we learn best from our mistakes?

I am so grateful God doesn’t think like me.

Our key verse tells us that God heard His people’s cries and was moved in His great heart for them. He “raised up judges who saved them out of the hands of these raiders” (Jud 2:16). This pattern of sin, misery and rescue in the lives of the Israelites repeats itself over and over in the nation’s history. And over and over God hears, He sees and He rescues. God’s compassion is boundless. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail, they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam 3:22).   His mercy never fails because His love never fails. His love never fails because it is the essence of who He is. God takes no pleasure in our pain and suffering, even when we are the only ones to blame.  He will allow us to feel the sting of our sin, but He will never abandon us to our self-made misery when we cry out to Him. The Bible is a record of God’s great compassion and mercy. From the cycles of sin and rescue in Israel’s history, to His salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ, God has been actively rescuing His people from the misery of their own sin.

If you are struggling with the consequences of your own decisions and actions, know that God hears your cries. He sees your tears. His heart is moved on your behalf. He rescued His people, He rescued me, and He will rescue you.

Holy Father, Thank you for not leaving me in the pit of my own messes. Thank you for your great mercy and grace. I echo David’s words, “out of the goodness of Your love, deliver me” (Ps 109:21).  Amen

Related posts: While; The Wonderful Love of God