Rivers of life

15 Jan

Photo by Charles Huff

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 2 Peter 1:2-5 NKJV.

The world seeks for peace. Peter states that its source is in knowing God through Jesus Christ. And, the peace is not added to a person’s life. It’s multiplied along with God’s great grace. At least, that is Peter’s prayer.

He’s not done with this concept. He gives his reasoning and justification for such a prayer and claim. He seems to be calling us back to the power that raised Jesus from the grave as the authority and force for fulfilling his prayer. He says that divine power has already given to us “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” Regardless of our experience. Beyond what we feel or think. Like the gift of forgiveness, we agree with Jesus and accept his work for us. Everything we need to live in the image of Jesus is available—without restraint.

How? Peter said it’s through an intimate knowledge of “Him who called us by (and I would add for His) glory and virtue. Great and precious promises come to us through that calling and through them our new normal becomes supernatural. We are no longer held down and back by the wrong thoughts and deeds common to the world and our lives before we responded to the call.

These verses read like those rivers of living waters Jesus said would rise within us. They bubble up and cascade over the landscape of our lives.

  • Grace and peace: multiplied.
  • Intimate knowledge of the Father and his Son.
  • His divine power has ordered it.
  • All we need to live godly lives.
  • More intimate knowledge by glory and virtue.
  • Exceedingly great and precious promises.
  • Participators in his nature as well as his work.

We’ve escaped—not in the process of escaping—the hold the ruler of this world had on us with its judgment.

Wow. What a definition Peter’s given us for the life of a Christian! “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen,” (Ephesians 3:20-21, NKJV).

Power in four letters

8 Jan

Come. Such a little word. How is it that it can hold power and influence? Is it not in the outcome of obeying its call?

 I’ve struggled over what I want it to say in my first blogpost for 2019. That’s nothing new. I struggle over many posts. I’ve resisted the urge to select my word for the year as I have read several posts from friends. I argued I didn’t want to do it because it seems to be the thing to do in these times. In fact, because everyone was doing it was my reason for not. But that was before I realized the word come—like it or not—had attached itself to me.

photo by Charles Huff

Come is the unspoken imperative for every written piece whether a doctoral thesis, a screen play, or a child’s attempt to tell a story. The call is come. Come, enter into my thoughts, step into my imagination, follow me as I bring you into my vantage point.

 And as I have asked Jesus to show me how to have a deeper relationship with him, should I have been surprised that his answer is come? Here are but a few exhortations in the Bible:

  • Psalm 95:2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
  • Psalm 95:4 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
  • Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord,
  • Matthew 11:28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

 Jesus pointed out the cost to coming to him. It’s more than just changing locations or mindset:

  • Matthew 16:24 “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

And, in case anyone thinks he can find his way on his own:

  • John 6:44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
  • John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

 I don’t know what my response to the Lord’s call to come will look like. I tend to resist rituals and intentional habits. Yet, the Lord seeks and rewards steadfastness and faithfulness in his followers. Somehow responding to come must be in response to the Spirit’s call and not to the clock; an act of faith and not self-works.

This I know: as I respond to the Lord’s “Come,” I will be near him for two great benefits. I will see what he is doing and not miss being a part of it, and he will protect me from actions that might otherwise draw me in but are not of him. Come—my special word for 2019. I’ll see where it takes me and let you know.

 

 

Be that shining star

18 Dec

I can’t guess how many times I’ve heard “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” already this year—heard and also sang along often. The one line always stands out to me: “Hang a shining star on the highest bough.” It popped into my thoughts after I opened my Bible app and read the verse of the day: Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven,” (NKJV).

Looking at both concepts side-by-side stirred questions in me. The most basic: what do they mean?

The line in the song calls to mind an oft repeated tradition. Somewhere on a decorated tree a star will be found. Many times, a star is used as the tree topper. (That’s where ours is, along with some lesser stars on lower branches.) It calls to mind the star that led the wise men to where Jesus would be found. A Christmas song, the Christmas story, Christmas traditions. Okay, that all fits neatly together.

What about the light we are supposed to shine? How does that play into both quotes staring up at me? And what does it even mean? This verse follows Jesus saying, “You are the light of the world…” I believe it’s impossible to reach real understanding without first determining who Jesus is addressing. Popular interpretation is Jesus is speaking prophetically that Christians are the light of the world. Putting the verse back into its surrounding verses and setting, I believe those who are the light are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, who are pure in heart, who are peacemakers.

The key to being any one of those in the list, let alone possessing them all, is knowing it’s not you. None of us can do or be any one of those as Jesus intended apart from the Holy Spirit. If Jesus is working them out in me, then the light I let shine is not my light. It’s the Holy Spirit within me. If I stand out to others in love or generosity or wisdom because of him, the light of Jesus is being seen. My light without the Holy Spirit is darkness. (The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23 NKJV)).

That light will be seen partly through good works being done. Again, if we are relying on our natural tendencies and strengths, the light will be dim, dark. The works—like the light—must come from and through the Holy Spirit’s guiding and empowering.

Only then will we bring glory to God. The alternative is to bring glory to ourselves.

So, like hanging the shining star on the highest bough, we might be successful in garnering admiration. With any luck we might be able to explain what Jesus has done and, like the star of Bethlehem, point to Jesus. But Jesus alone deserves the glory. As you consider that star on the highest bough, remember not only the star that overlooked Bethlehem, but also the Light of the World dwelling in us. Let him have his perfect way in you. Let his light—that light you possess as an heir in his kingdom—shine.

A New Testament Giant Killer

4 Dec

Did you know the New Testament tells about a giant slayer too? Metaphorically, of course. And in that sense, there were many and are many in these days as well. However, one stands out for me. He eventually became a church leader, but not until he faced his giant.

In the Old Testament, David faced his giant armed only with five stones and a sling. In the New Testament, Onesimus had as his weapon only a letter from Paul.

Onesimus had been a slave owned by Philemon. When he ran away, he stole from his master. He was part of Philemon’s wealth and possessions so running away was robbery. Given the distance between Colossae and Rome, we can assume Onesimus took something more to cover his traveling expenses. Paul doesn’t dwell on that issue. Perhaps Onesimus explained to Paul that he took with him nothing more than what he considered his own or what his master owed him. The law likely considered Onesimus and all that he owned as belonging to Philemon.

Through untold divine appointments, Onesimus meets Paul who is under Roman guard, and shares the gospel with him. Onesimus believes. Paul then sends him back to his master with a letter.

Put yourself in Onesimus’s situation. You are a hunted man. Possibly there’s a reward for your return, a price on your head. You face charges of being a runaway who has stolen from your master. Such men usually face severe punishment if caught. You have weeks to reconsider turning yourself in as you travel home.

I know I would be rehearsing what I would say. Possibilities play out to their end and wrestle with other possible outcomes. Will my master read the letter, or will he tear it up. Will he even see it, or will someone snatch it from me and throw it in a fire? At any port along the way, I could disappear into the crowd.

By faith, Onesimus killed the giant in his life. He presented himself and the letter to Philemon who responds as Paul prayed and expected he would. Onesimus’s victory benefits us still today as we read Paul’s letters. Onesimus co-labored in the church with his former master. He served Paul and the church in many ways, sometimes as a courier for Paul’s letters.

I hope you find encouragement along with me in the life of Onesimus the giant killer. Let’s go boldly into battle with our giants, armed with the weapons the Lord has given us. And by faith enter and enjoy the victory.

Our heavenly Father knows the end from the beginning. Do you remember a time when he asked you to face a giant in your life?

The One Thing

20 Nov

We got it wrong. Well, not completely wrong. I am suggesting that in our haste to state the moral of the story, we have overlooked something of greater importance.

Think about the story of the rich young ruler in the Bible. Jesus has been teaching a crowd of people around him. When he was done, he started to leave, but a wealthy young man approached him to ask a question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus tells him to obey God’s commandments.

The man is not content with that and asks which ones.

Jesus names a few that on the surface appear to be simple ones like don’t murder and don’t steal.

The sincerity of the man’s heart is shown when he persists. He must have recognized something was missing in his life so he presses Jesus again. “I have followed those all my life.”

This story is recorded in three gospels, but I love how it is expressed in Mark 10:21 Then Jesus, looking at him, LOVED HIM, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (emphasis mine)

Because the young man left saddened and Jesus said he left because he had great riches, we rush to judgment against him. We label him with greed or a miserly heart. Our understanding is underscored with what Jesus said to his disciples afterwards regarding how much harder it is for a rich man to enter heaven. We make it all about the money, but it’s not.

It’s about the one thing.

So, why did I emphasize that Jesus loved him? Because of the first words from Jesus, “One thing you lack.” The young man was committed to obeying God’s commands. He strove to live up to all God expected of him. He structured his life around being flawless. I imagine he never gave less than what was commanded in offerings, perhaps even a bit more. He made sure his animals for sacrifice had no blemishes—the best he could offer. But he lacked one thing: love. He did all these things without developing a father/son relationship. He never learned to love God. Jesus’ command to give everything away, take up his cross and follow was a call to enter into an intimacy with him. The young man didn’t understand how that would fill the void he sensed. He didn’t know that close relationship was even possible with God. After all, God is so holy they dare not even pronounce his name. He looked for another task to achieve, another religious act to perform.

It is important to note this account—in all three gospels it appears in—comes after Jesus pulls a child close and says we cannot enter the kingdom unless we come to it like one of these children. They have nothing to bring, no religious acts, no striving for perfection. They bring themselves with a heart to love and be loved.

I want all my singing, all my lifting of hands, all my praying, serving, and being with other believers to spring forth from a heart to enter, reside, and love being in the presence of Jesus and to know him intimately. That is his desire, too. Imagine what our church services could be like.

Glad Jesus Is in Control

6 Nov

I interrupt the regularly scheduled blog with this important control issue announcement. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a few of blogs about how the need to be in control has slowed my development of a full Christian life. (See In His Hands, Let Me Drive, and Trying to Play It Safe with God if you want to read or review them). Last Friday I had a practical lesson/reminder.

My wife and I had taken her mother from the assisted living facility she is in to have her hearing aids cleaned and adjusted. We were about half-way home after dropping her off when the unexpected happened. The road we were on has about a mile or two stretch that is straight, and speed limit is fifty miles per hour. I heard a dull pop and felt the front-end drop. I hit the brakes and fought the wheel to stay out of the line of on-coming traffic as the car fishtailed. I think Cindy had one hand gripping her seat and the other against the dashboard. A second pop dropped the front end even more.

I saw the road had a wide shoulder for emergency pull-offs so I headed for it. My speed had slowed so I felt it would be safe pulling onto the soft shoulder. The car got completely off the road before the left front wheel plowed deep into the gravel and brought us to a stop. We were not harmed. The car was a safe distance off the road. It was a beautiful fall day with moderate temperatures, no rain or snow. One of my first thoughts was I couldn’t have picked a better time and place, and I could have imagined much worse. Those things were not in my control anyway. Later I learned the first pop was the ball joint; the second was the tire.

After we were back home with a rental car provided by our insurance, I realized and enumerated several things.

1. I have been saying for months I didn’t think our eighteen-year-old car would be considered safe to drive. Yet, it held together until the ideal conditions I outlined above.
2. Things happened so fast, I don’t remember praying. If I did, it could not have been more than one word (like JESUS) as a plea filled with all my fears—which he answered whether I prayed or not.
3. We were glad Cindy’s mom was not still in the car with us.
4. I was glad Cindy wasn’t driving when it happened. I don’t know how she would have reacted and what the outcome could have been. (I know. If God is in control, why worry.)
5. Glad no cars were close to us when it happened so no other vehicles got involved.
6. Glad I was successful in keeping the car relatively straight as we slowed down and pulled off (though I’m not sure how much of that was me).
7. Glad it happened in a straight section of road (no blind hills or curves).
8. Glad there was a wide shoulder and no steep drop-off. (I drove that stretch later in a rental car and saw it was the ideal spot. The rest of the shoulder on that side of the road is narrow and rolls down into a deep ditch.)
9. Glad for the wisdom on pulling off slowly.
10. Glad the brake line didn’t brake until after I no longer needed them.

The story doesn’t have an end, yet. We suspect the cost for repair and the car’s worth might result with it deemed totaled. We may be thrust into needing to acquire a new car. I think this lesson has taught me I can let go of my control and trust Jesus in this. However, I would like some input from you.

Consider:
A. This may be the last car we will ever buy. We tend to drive them until nobody else would want them and in another 10 to 15 years, it may be me and not the car that isn’t safe to drive.
B. With age in mind, we want something that sits a little higher than most sedans so it would be easier to get in and out of. We are thinking of something in the crossover SUV realm.
C. We also would like a smaller wheelbase than our Grand Marquis so it would be easier to park.
D. Economy is important (gas, maintenance, and repair costs low).
E. And, of course, safety.

I would like to hear suggestions from you.

And I would like to hear what lessons Jesus has taken you through to expand your trust in his control.

What have we done with the love shown us?

30 Oct

Judge but don’t judge and don’t not judge. It’s hard to navigate that course, I know. I hope I cleared up some confusion on that subject in my last blog: Tired of Hearing “Don’t Judge”?. The tricky part—if sorting out the difference between judge and don’t judge is not tricky enough—is our lives can be interpreted as judging even when we don’t say a word. And, I’m not talking about rolling the eyes or looking disgusted or any other form of body language. Living as best we can the Christian life—one of the set-apart ones whose lives are on a path contrary to the rest of the world around us—can seem judgmental to others.

So, how do we fulfill the commandment to go and make disciples? A corollary question was asked in last Sunday’s message: If we know we are supposed to be sharing the gospel, why aren’t we? The answer given came down a lack of love. We don’t love God and those he loves as we should. To see what that looks like, let’s consider the example given us in scripture.

God created and loved Adam and Eve. He opened all of creation for them to enjoy with one exception: the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They were not to eat of it lest they die. You know the story. They disobeyed. In God’s love for them, he gave them a way to cover their sin and a promise for a permanent solution.

They lived another 900 years plus, then died. Generations passed until mankind had become so evil that God repented of ever making them. He purposed to destroy the whole creation. But, he remembered his love for Adam and the promise given. He found a man whose heart was toward him and made a way of salvation for him and his family from the judgment to come.

The Biblical history of the family of man repeats through many cycles of trusting God, becoming distant from him, rejecting him, experiencing judgment, repenting, and being restored to that loving relationship and promise. And even with experiencing the fullness of God through his son Jesus Christ, we see the cycle continues. Through it all, God’s love is constant. He doesn’t want any to perish. He doesn’t give up on us but pursues us and corrects us.

That kind of love cannot be manufactured. We can’t wake up and decide today I am going to love everyone I encounter. I guarantee that the moment we think we can, a pet peeve will pop up in our path to jolt us back to our real nature. Someone will cut us off in traffic, cut in line at the coffee shop, or fail to do what we instructed. What’s the answer?

The first two Blessed’s in Matthew 5 shed some light on the issue. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Or, those who recognize their spiritually bankrupt condition are blessed. We have nothing in and of ourselves to accomplish God’s purpose. Even Jesus said he did nothing of his own free will, but only what he heard or saw from his Father. If the Son had to depend totally on his Father, where does that put us?

Blessed are they that mourn. Or, as I understand this verse, blessed are those who grieve over the effect sin has had in their lives and in the lives of all those around them. When we remember the great gift of being forgiven and set free from our hate, rebellion, haughtiness, and total spiritual ugliness; others don’t look so bad. We can then show them the love of and the way to the Father’s love.

At the same time, we of the faith are called kings and priests. We are not to appear beaten down. After all, we are more than conquerors. But neither are we to walk around with our noses in the air, disdaining those who don’t know the excellent way. Think of the nouveau riche. They flaunt their millions while the truly rich or the “old money” could be living next door to you. In matters of eternity, we are of the privileged class, but don’t let that knowledge go to your head. Keep it in that love relationship with the Father who is the King.

As part of his royal family, we have been assigned the function of being priests. Remember, the role of the priests in Israel was to make constant intercession for the sins of the people. That is our role, too. The message that so melted and filled our hearts to overflowing is now ours to share. When it’s rejected, that rejection is ours to mourn over and intercede for. We are to stand in the gap for them. Again, God’s heart is that no one should perish. Evangelism is so much more than preaching the gospel message from a pulpit. And the responsibility for it belongs to each of us, not a select gifted few. The love given us was not for us to hoard. We also can’t hold it and hand out our natural love. We must give away God’s love, and it will come back to you.  That well never runs dry.

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