The Finished Project

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My granddaughter, Joy, painting pumpkins.

I used to enjoy craft projects of various kinds – cross-stitch, sewing, crochet, beadwork. I have many that are in various stages of incompletion.  I’m good at starting things, but not so good at finishing them.  That is why I love Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” God always finishes what He starts, and He finishes it well.  The creation account in Genesis 1 is a great example. At the end of every day, the Scripture says: “God saw that it [His work] was good.”  At the end of the week, “God saw that it was very good.

Paul says that God “began a good work” in us.  What was that good work?  Salvation.  The restoration of our relationship with Him.  And with it the transformation of our lives, that is sanctification – working to make us more like Jesus, “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29).  God’s purpose is to make sinful creatures into holy sons and daughters.  It is a life-long work that will only be completed when we are united with Christ.  But here’s the important point to remember:  it will be completed.  It will be accomplished.  God’s good work in you and me will be finished and it will be “very good.”

I hope that is as encouraging to you as it is to me.  Salvation and the transformation of my life are not up to me and my ability to get the job done.  I have boxes full of unfinished projects to prove that I can’t pull this off by myself. And neither can you.  But God has a cross and an empty tomb to prove that He can.  He has the power and the vision to accomplish this good work.  And He will prove Himself faithful.  Paul said that it is God Himself that will sanctify us “through and through” (*).  It is He who will keep us, “spirit, soul, and body blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (*) Beloved, You and I are not “unfinished projects.”  We are divinely designed and destined by God to accomplish His “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2) – to be like His Son. “The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24*).

From Broken-down to Beautiful

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The white car sat forlornly on the side of the road, pushed out to the edge of the property. The tires were missing and its front end was buckled from some sort of impact. I passed it every morning on my way to work – it’s wasn’t a pretty sight. That is until one midsummer morning when I noticed that green vines were beginning to curl out from the crumpled hood and around the back end. Day by day the vines progressed taking over more and more of the broken-down car. Then came the flowers – bright blue blooms swarming over the vines and covering the car until it became a mound of morning glories. That old broken-down wreck was now a beautiful sight to behold. Every morning as I passed that spot, I looked over at the lovely mound of flowers, their faces lifted to the sun and I smiled.

Your life may feel like a wreck today. It may be a series of circumstances you couldn’t control or choices you made yourself, but there you sit – broken, pushed aside, going nowhere. Oh, my friend, God specializes in bringing beauty from ashes – (Isaiah 61:3). I know it’s true because He did it for me. He took this broken-down woman with nothing to offer but pain and foolishness and made my life “a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor” (61:3b). He took on all my sin and shame and gave me His holiness. He washed me clean, dressed me in robes of righteousness, and gave my life meaning, hope, peace, and Joy.

If you will allow Him, He will do the same for you. He will cover you with the precious, blood of His Son Jesus and His love will turn your broken-down life into a garden of splendor – a thing of beauty.  And every time you look at yourself you’ll smile at what God has done.

Factory Settings

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My laptop did an automatic update last night. I know it’s necessary, but it is also annoying. Every time my laptop does an update and restarts, it returns to the factory settings and changes the changes I made to help me as I work.  Like all laptops, mine has a touchpad on it which I don’t use because I have better control with a handheld mouse. This thing drives me crazy. I have rather large hands and the touchpad sits right where I rest my hands. When my hands brush it as I’m typing, it moves the pointer so that I am typing in the wrong place on my document. Argh! I have to stop what I’m doing, go to the settings, and deactivate the touchpad. Then try to go back and reclaim my train of thought. So this morning I was typing a verse of Scripture and looking at my Bible, not at my screen. When I lifted my head, I realized my verse what not where it was supposed to be. Then I remembered the restart and had to go back to turn the touchpad off again. I do wish there was a way to permanently deactivate it so it wouldn’t come back on with every restart.

It made me think of our human “factory setting,” of our sinful nature that came with us when we were born. My granddaughter is almost two, and we are dealing with temper tantrums and disobedience and “NO!” At this age, it’s not entirely intentional; she is reacting out of the sinful nature that bedevils every human being. How I wish for her sake and mine there were a way to turn that sin nature off completely.

Unfortunately, it isn’t an automatic adjustment when we are saved.  Rather, it is our daily task to put aside our sinful nature and take up the righteous life of Christ Jesus. It is taking control of our thoughts (1 Cor. 10:5), renewing our minds (Rom. 12:2), “putting to death the misdeed of the body” (Rom 8:13), and “living in accordance with the Spirit” (Rom 8:5). And it’s a lifelong fine-tuning. But the end result will be a beautiful thing because we will become more and more like Jesus, which, by the way, is our original factory setting.

Okay, I’m Saved. Now What?

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Yesterday I wrote about God’s grace, about how salvation is a work that God alone accomplishes on our behalf. It is truly an amazing thing. But what comes next? Now that we are a “new creation in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17) do we just wait around for heaven? No. Now a new work begins. It’s called sanctification and it’s not just behavior modification though your behavior will change. It involves a transformation on the inside that works its way to the outside.
Like salvation, sanctification is God’s work. But it is not His work alone. It is also our work. It is a combined, life-long partnership between us and the Holy Spirit. Paul explained it well saying, “It is God who works in you” (Philippians 2:13) as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (v. 12). After His opus of salvation, God works in us through His Word and His Holy Spirit. We read the Word which “teaches, rebukes, corrects and trains us in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The Spirit roots those truths in our hearts. He convicts us of sin, encourages us to persevere, and empowers us to obey and to walk in righteousness. That’s a lot! What’s left for us to do? Our part is studying His Word, praying, coming together with the Body (the church), and especially, responding in obedience to His commands and His promptings.
“Working out” what God is “working in” us is a daily discipline. And it’s hard work. There are no shortcuts to sanctification. It will require everything of you. Part of sanctification is pruning – removing from us those things that hinder our progress – habits, addictions, wrong thoughts, immorality, prejudices, pride, rebellion, selfishness, anger, laziness, lack of self-control. Oh, He has so much work to do in me. But then He begins the building work – filling us with “the fruit of the Spirit:” love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). That’s where we see the transformation on the inside working its way to the outside.
What’s the goal? That you and I might be “conformed to the likeness of the Son of God” (Rom. 8:29). That the world might see Jesus when they look at you. Beloved, will you join God in the good work of sanctification?

Holy Light

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“The lamp (light showing the way of truth) of the LORD searches (examines, tracks down) the spirit (breath, life) of a man; it searches out his inmost being (heart, chamber, bedroom, the most intimate part of the heart),” Proverbs 20:27.

When I am searching for something important – keys, wallet, phone – I turn on every available light and look throughout the room. I move things that might be covering up what I’m seeking. I may call for help in my search.  I  go back where I’ve already looked, just in case I missed it the first time. I check every corner, hunt through drawers, closets, and shelves, and keep searching until I find it.

God has a holy light, a brilliant, powerful light that illumines every corner and crevice of our lives. When we read His Word, He shines that spotlight on you and me, searching our hearts and minds, our thoughts and intentions, our desires and passions, and our actions. At the same time, His Spirit moves everything we use to cover over our hearts. He looks far deeper than we even know exists, to the most intimate levels of our being, to the place where we find the truth about ourselves. His purpose is to locate and root out everything in us that does not meet the perfect standard of His children. It is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:11).

I need this holy light of truth to examine my life, to track down everything in me that is not conforming to the image of Christ. I need God to search out every offensive way in me (Psalm 139:24). In the deepest part of my heart, there are passions and desires – and as I’ve learned this week fears – that need to be crucified to Christ Jesus (Col. 3:5; Gal. 5:24) if I am to truly love Him and be a vessel for His glory. I want to be fully open to the Spirit’s examination. I want Him to freely roam throughout my heart, mind, and body and expose me to the core. That is frightening, but it will release me from the bonds of my flesh and the world. Beloved, will you let the Word and the Spirit do a sanctifying work in you?

When the Enemy Attacks

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If you don’t believe the devil is real, I invite you to walk a mile in my shoes. Because I belong to Christ, because I am surrendered to His calling for my life to live, study, and teach His Word, I have an angry enemy. He has made it his mission to distract and harass me, to beat me down, and to break my heart and my spirit.  From crashed computers to sickness, to full-blown assaults, he is determined to stop me. And I am determined to press on – to live and study and write and teach the Bible as I’ve been called.

One day I asked God, “Why are you allowing the devil to attack me? Wouldn’t I be more effective without his bullseye on my back” The Spirit took me to Jesus’s words to Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). He revealed three things to me: 1. God has the enemy on a very short leash. 2. If Satan is attacking me that means I am doing what God called me to do. 3. While I am under attack, my Lord and Savior is praying for me. Then he said, “The reason I allowed Satan to sift Peter is because there were things in Peter that needed to be sifted out so he would be useful for my Kingdom. I used the devil for Peter’s sanctification. I am allowing Satan to sift you for the same reason. Oh, how I thank God for His power and authority over Satan and His faithfulness to make me a useful and usable vessel for His Kingdom.

Beloved, if you feel like you’re under attack – if you feel like someone is trying to break your heart and your spirit – you’re probably right. But be assured – that means you are right where God wants you to be, doing what He wants you to do, the enemy can only do what he’s permitted to do, and Jesus is praying earnestly for you. Now, tighten up your armor and get back to your calling. Your enemy doesn’t stand a chance.