Do We Know God for Who He Really Is?

Someone recently told me of a gift sent by a friend of her family’s. Though she appreciated that this person thought of her, the gift revealed how much the giver didn’t really know the receiver.

Of course, we don’t always the hit the nail on the head even with those closest to us. I try to always get gift receipts just in case something isn’t right, even if I bought the gift from a link the recipient sent to me. Sometimes we thought we saw the person admiring that item, only to find they considered it and decided against it. Sometimes faulty memory or understanding leads to poor choices. Sometimes we make an educated guess that falls flat.

But usually the better we know a person, the better we are at choosing just the right gift for them.

There are other ways we reveal how much we know another person. I’ve heard myself and my motives described in ways that make me wonder what led the speaker to those conclusions.

Some years ago I read a greeting card for a husband to a wife that was meant to be humorous. The card had several cartoonish drawings of things the husband got wrong with short captions. At the end, the card declared, “I may get all these things wrong, but I sure do love you, honey!”

But blissfully saying, “I love you!” is undermined when one’s actions display a lack of thought or consideration. Yes, we all fail each other sometimes, and need to be forgiving and forbearing. Yet there’s a difference between occasionally letting each other down and a whole lifestyle that shows either blatant ignorance of what pleases the other person or a lack of care.

Truly getting to know someone as they really are takes lots of time together: time talking, doing things together, observing one another.

It’s the same with God. “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Yet so often people describe God in ways the Bible does not portray Him. Or they live out their lives the way they think He wants them to, without finding out for sure what He said.

If we don’t know God for who He really is, the results are more serious than a well-meant but inappropriate gift. We’re in danger of creating a god in our own image, according to our likes and dislikes rather than His. And if eternal life is a matter of knowing Him, then not knowing Him is a matter of eternal death.

We’ll never know God as completely here as we will in heaven, but we should be continually growing in our knowledge of Him and in our own transformation into His likeness. He’s given us His Word. Though it’s relatively short, compared to all the things He could have told us, it contains just what He wants us to know.

The ESV Study Bible notes in one of its appendices:

The Bible is God’s written revelation of who he is and what he has done in redemptive history. Humans need this divine, transcendent perspective in order to break out of their subjective, culturally bound, fallen limitations. Through God’s written Word, his people may overcome error, grow in sanctification, minister effectively to others, and live abundant lives as God intends (p. 2507).

Throughout the Bible, God says that people worship Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. Let’s not just blissfully express our love to Him without regard for who He truly is and what He truly wants. Let’s make it a priority to spend time with Him in His Word and prayer and get to know Him more and more for who He truly is.

 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15

Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD. Hosea 6:3a

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3:18

For further reading: How to Know God.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith,
Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

(Please take my Writer Newsletter Survey)

 

Advertisements

Recapture Your Wonder

Do you ever find yourself in a rut? Do you approach your quiet time in God’s Word with boredom rather than excitement? Do you find yourself taking God for granted sometimes?

I’ve experienced all of these to varying degrees. So last week while reading a post on dryness in ministry, one phrase caught my attention: “recapture your wonder.” The author referred to Jeremiah 2:19: “Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me.” But beyond the article’s scope of ministry, this applies to so much else in our lives.

Once when reading from a devotional book about the attributes of God, instead of responding in worship or praise or awe, I thought, “Yeah, I know all that already.” I was shocked by my own calloused attitude and jolted into immediately confessing it to God. I asked Him forgive me and quicken me. Then I went back though the verses, praising the Lord for each of the attributes I read there. Then I was thankful, full of praise, uplifted, inspired…and humbled.

What are some ways we can recapture that awe of God?

Praise. So often we think we have to compartmentalize our devotional time: read for so many minutes or so many chapters, and then pray according to a list of needs we have to get through. We get lost in the minutia and forget the greatness of our God. But we can pray as we read the Scriptures. We can praise God for whatever He teaches us from the Word that day as we read. We can look up passages that exalt God and soak in them for a while, like:

Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:10-13, ESV)

Thanksgiving. Though thanksgiving and praise overlap a bit, I think of praise as exalting God for who he is and thanksgiving as thanking Him for what He does. Like the nine lepers who forgot to thank Jesus for healing them, we take our blessings and run off, forgetting to thank the One who gave them. All through the day when we experience unexpected blessing — an idea works out, someone is unusually kind, an accident is avoided — we can thank Him right in the moment. I’ve seen a meme going around that says, “Sometimes I just look up, smile, and say, ‘I know that was you, God!'”

Remember the relationship. Our time in God’s Word is not just about completing an exercise. It’s communication with the One who made us and loves us best. Even though we sometimes have multiple books and commentaries out while we study a passage, and it feels like homework, we can ask God to help us see Him in it all. We can leave space in our quiet time for thinking over the passage.

Remember our Ebenezers. Israelites in the OT set up a lot of stones as memorials to various events in their lives. In 1 Samuel 7:12, Samuel set up a stone to commemorate God’s deliverance of Israel from the Philistines. “Ebenezer” means “stone of help.” From this story comes the line in the hymn “Come Thou Fount” which says, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer — hither by Thy help I’m come.” A few years ago I wrote a list of my own “Ebeneezers,” times in my life when I knew God had done a specific work in helping or guiding or protecting me in some way. A few years later, I added to them. So often in the Bible, God rehearses His history with His people. It’s good for us to do the same.

All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well,
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

~ Fanny Crosby

Remember our salvation. Although our testimony is part of our “Ebeneezers,” going back and recounting how God led us to Himself warms our hearts. “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug” (Isaiah 51:1, ESV). If God had not intervened, my life, not to mention my eternal destiny, would have been filled with sorrow.

Remember your first love. Though God commended the church in Ephesus for several things, He had against them that they had “left their first love.” Even though they were doing the right things, their hearts weren’t in it or they had the wrong focus. Other things had come between them.

Go out into nature. Looking at God’s creation — a beautiful sunset, sun rays piercing though dark clouds, ivory dogwood blossoms against a blue sky, the ocean — inspires awe of the greatness, creativity, artistry, and skill of the One who made them.

Sing. Though singing hymns and spiritual sings is something we can too easily do on automatic pilot, when we really think about what we’re singing, it touches our hearts. A former pastor used to say that we benefit from singing three ways: reading, hearing, and saying the words, providing a triple reinforcement. Sometimes just reading the words like a poem helps reawaken me to their meaning. There are some songs that are especially meaningful for me and are my go-to sings when I need reviving.

Pray. Though I use the ESV more and more, I love the KJV word “quicken,” meaning “to make alive” in some cases, in others, “to revive.” Other verses talk about reviving or turning us. A few:

“My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word” (Psalm 119:25, KJV).

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6, ESV).

Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old” (Lamentations 5:21, KJV).

“Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens” (Lamentations 3:40-41, KJV).

We can pray these Scriptures or use our own words, asking God to show us the problem and soften and revive our hearts.

Read the Bible. Though we’ve touched on this, I wanted to emphasize that it’s the Word of God that revives us. “Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction. I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me” (Psalm 119:92-93, KJV). When we’re feeling dry spiritually, we might be tempted to lay aside the Bible until we “feel” more into it. But that’s the time we need it the most. At these times I’m likely to set aside my planned reading for the day and read and pray through some psalms or some passages that have meant a lot to me.

God is so great, so vast, and so holy, yet He cares about every detail of our lives and tenderly draws us to Himself. Taking time to think about who He is and how He shows His love for us can reinspire our awe of Him.

What about you? how do you recapture your wonder of God and all He has done for you?

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Grace and Truth.
Links do not imply 100% endorsement of everything on others’ blogs)

Press on toward the goal

IMG_1421

There is a tension in life between satisfaction with where we are and the need to grow in various areas. Coaches encourage and applaud athletes’ efforts and milestones while still pressing them to do more and do better. Parents celebrate and reward good grades and bolster their students for the next test or project. Performance reviews acknowledge an employee’s strengths and successes, but they also note areas where the employee needs to grow and improve. A wise coach, parent, teacher, supervisor, or mentor has to constantly seek balance, avoiding the stance of a slave-driving task-master who is never satisfied with anything less than perfection on one hand and that of the indulgent grandmother who never sees a fault on the other hand. And we need to seek that same balance with ourselves.

I see some of this same tension in the Bible, particularly Paul’s epistles.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, Paul writes, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.”

Paul prays that the Philippians’ “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9).

In Colossians, Paul proclaims: “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (1:27-29). Christ is in those of us who believe in Him, yet there is a sense in which we grow in maturity in Him.

In Philippians 3, Paul acknowledges that he’s still in a state of growth and hasn’t reached perfection yet. We often use his statement in verse 13, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” as an encouragement to forget the sins and failures of the past. But what Paul is setting aside in that passage is his past laurels (verses 4-11).

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV).

Our righteousness comes by faith in Christ, not our efforts. Our own efforts could never measure up. Yet there is still a “straining forward” toward growth in maturity.

Sometimes perfectionists can be thoroughly discouraged that no matter how much progress we’ve made, we’ll never get to the point where we don’t have something to work on. But we won’t be perfect until we reach heaven. Part of Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:11 is that we may “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Galatians 5:22-23 speaks of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” That fruit comes from God. But fruit also conveys the idea of growth. And growth takes time.

On the other hand, some of us are prone to inertia. “Good enough” is sufficient for some ares of life. I once heard of someone who boasted that when she made the bed, the sheets were stretched so firm and tight that a quarter could bounce off them. And I thought, “Whatever for?” I’m all for a neatly made bed, but a good-enough made bed falls far below quarter-bouncing standards for me. But “good enough” isn’t sufficient for spiritual growth.  We need that prodding to keep pressing on.

In recent years it’s become common to read of our “mess” in an effort to be transparent and authentic. We’re not perfect and we shouldn’t try to put forth a false perfect image, so we need to pull back the curtain and let people see our flaws and failures. And there’s truth in those thoughts. We can more readily identify with someone who doesn’t seem to have it all together all the time. Yet it’s easy to go so far as to glory in our “mess” instead of progressing.

Or we can feel that the progress we’re making in most areas offsets the areas we’re struggling with. We all have our besetting sins, after all. One son once got upset that I pointed out the one area of his report card that needed attention instead of being satisfied with the rest of commendable grades. While I needed to remember to acknowledge the good grades, I couldn’t overlook the bad one.

While fruit in our lives comes from God, He also calls us to pursue wisdom (Proverbs), love (1 Corinthians 14:1), righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11), peace (2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Peter 3:11).

Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” We’re made perfect in Christ when we believe on Him for salvation. But while we live here on earth, we still have our old nature, which fights against the new one we received at salvation (Galatians 5:16-17). That process of growth toward Christlikeness is called sanctification. Romans 12:2 tells us we’re transformed by the renewing of our minds, and one way we do that is by changing our thinking, lining it up with what God’s Word says, putting specific Scriptures in our minds that the Holy Spirit can then use to remind us.

The standard the Bible continually points to is Christ. We’ll never be Christ. But we don’t rest in self-satisfaction with how we’ve grown over the past ten years or how far we are compared to others: we grow towards His likeness. Yet we will stumble and fall, and we extend grace to ourselves while still making progress. II Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” As we behold Him in His Word, He changes us to become more like Him.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14, ESV).

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Titus 2 Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

One picture is worth a thousand misunderstandings

IMG_1383

Imagine a defendant going to trial. He’s told his story to his lawyer and worked with him to lay out all the proofs of his innocence. As the trial begins, the prosecutor introduces just one piece of evidence: a seemingly incriminating photograph. The judge calls for the verdict without giving the defense a chance to say anything. The jury convicts the defendant and the judges sentences him.

Imagine the same scenario, but the evidence is one statement the defendant is known to have made without any context as to its meaning.

“Ridiculous!” you might say. “How can anyone judge a case without hearing both sides?” And you’d be right.

Yet people do this every day. As you are probably aware, a young man was vilified recently on social media for a photograph that seemed to indicate he was disrespecting, if not downright mocking, an older Native American man. But in the following days, more information came out about the scenario, proving there was much more to the story. (I don’t know all the details: I just bring this up as an example of how quickly people rush to judgment before they know the facts.)

Once one of my son’s friends who had never met me thought that I must be pretty grouchy. The reason? Another son had posted pictures of a family outing, and one photo caught me looking quite irritable after waiting outside in the heat for seats in a restaurant for what seemed like an interminable amount of time. Someone else assumed in another group photo that there must have been some underlying hostilities because a few people were sitting with arms folded. Yet the conversation had been as amiable as could be.  But these are minor misunderstandings compared to the way people tear each other apart on Twitter with as little substantial cause.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” the saying goes. Yet a picture captures just one moment in time, not the whole story. It doesn’t give context, the events leading up to or coming after, the circumstances behind the scene.

That’s true whether the picture seems bad or good. There are multitudes of articles about people feeling depressed after viewing other peoples’ seemingly perfect lives on social media. We see the perfectly decorated cake, but we don’t see that it has been turned so the best side faces the camera. We see the beautifully redone room, but we missed the part where the clutter was cleared off to the side before the picture was taken. We see the adorable family Christmas photo, but we don’t see the several pictures taken and rejected to get just the right poses and expressions. When we think other people on social media have such perfect lives, we don’t realize that those captures of perfect moments don’t tell the whole story. Nobody has a picture-perfect life all day, every day.

The same is true with isolated statements. Take, for example, the sentence, “I’m going to kill you!” Now imagine it in different scenarios:

  • Two friends setting up a chessboard
  • One brother pulling a prank on the other
  • A young wife being mercilessly tickled by her husband
  • A jealous man stalking a girl who doesn’t want his attention
  • A woman trying to escape an abusive relationship

Depending on the context, saying “I’m going to kill you!” might be perfectly innocent, though maybe not very wise to say.  Other contexts make the statement more realistic or sinister.

In addition to the folly of rendering judgment based on pictures or individual statements out of context, we can also misjudge scenarios. Imagine a parent hearing a loud crash, running into the living room, and seeing her son with a baseball bat standing by a broken window. Before launching into a tirade based on what seems to have happened, the wise parent calms herself down to ask questions and assess the situation further.

Proverbs 18:13 says in the ESV, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” I am not familiar with the Holman Christian Standard Bible, but I like their translation of this verse: “The one who gives an answer before he listens– this is foolishness and disgrace for him.” We agree it is foolish, unjust, and harmful for a jury to convict a man over just one photo or statement. It’s just as foolish, unjust, and harmful to play armchair prosecutor, jury, and judge over situations we know little about; it’s even more foolish to do so publicly.

James tells us, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (1:19-20, ESV). Jesus said, as well, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31, KJV).

This is true whether our judgment is good or bad, condemning or helpful. When we rush to “help” someone by pouring forth the benefit of our wisdom and experience without first hearing them out, we do more harm than good. Why? Because the person is wounded and alienated due to feeling misjudged and unheard, and our advice is off base because we’ve misdiagnosed the case.

We’re quick to pull out the “Judge not” card (often out of context) when anyone misjudges us, but we too often rush to judgment of others. Instead, we need to consider first of all whether it’s even our business to judge a particular situation. Then, in Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus admonishes us to take care of any “planks” in our own eyes before we try to take a speck out of someone else’s and to remember “with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Then we need to hear all the facts and consider carefully and fairly. Withholding judgment due to not knowing all the facts would wipe out the great majority of public judgments on social media and in our persona lives.

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24, ESV).

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth. Linking does not indicate full endorsement)

 

Laudable Linkage

Here are the reads I have found most compelling this week:

Have This Mind Among You, HT to Michele. “‘We don’t treat our marriage like it’s the place where we can be our worst selves. We don’t treat our home like it’s the place where we can ‘be real,’ as though every other relationship in our lives deserves the fruit of the Spirit, but at home we can drop the facade and level all the pent up frustration of the day at one another.’ I said, ‘Nate should get my best self, the best of the Spirit’s fruit in my life and heart, not the worst self.'”

When Being “Relatable” Does Damage, HT to True Woman. “At its best, relatability is a transparent humility that aims to serve others by providing a starting point for relationship. At its worst, it’s a longing for others to relate to our sin in a way that minimizes it.”

Don’t Put Your Hope in Date Night, HT to True Woman. “When we falsely believe a date night out is the only way to grow in marriage, enjoy one another, foster intimacy, and maintain a healthy commitment, we’re bound to continually feel defeated and disappointed. God is gracious to provide many ways for couples to connect and grow deeper in their love for one another beyond a night out.”

You Don’t Want to Have a Megapastor.

5 Myths About Christian Publishing, HT to Challies.

It’s okay to say it hurts

Several years ago someone stood up in a church prayer meeting and requested prayer for a young couple. The husband had just been diagnosed with cancer, and the wife reportedly “wasn’t taking it very well.”

I wondered what was meant by this comment on the wife’s reaction, and I wondered how in the world one does take such news well. If she threw over her faith because she didn’t want to believe in a God who would do such a thing, yes, that would constitute reacting poorly. But I doubt this mutual friend was conveying such a severe response.

Perhaps she got upset, cried, even got angry. But are those responses wrong? Is the Christian life one of perfect serenity and beatific smiles no matter the circumstances?

It doesn’t appear that way in Scripture. The psalms show a range of emotions: grief, confusion, anger, despair. Paul speaks of being with the Corinthians “in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3) and being “hard pressed on every side . . . perplexed . . . persecuted . . . struck down” (2 Corinthians 4:8). He reports being “in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger . . . through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10). Even the Lord Jesus wept (Luke 19:41; John 11:33-35) and sweat great drops of blood (Luke 22:44). We don’t “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but we do grieve.

I was once subscribed to an email group of transverse myelitis patients, back in the days before forums, message boards, or Facebook groups. I was conscious of wanting to glorify God and be a good testimony there, both of which were good goals. But I felt that in order to be a good testimony, I had to present myself as always victorious and overcoming and positive. At some point another Christian lady joined the group, and I was blessed as she did not gloss over the hardship and pain and frustration, yet she glorified God in the midst of all of that. Not only did her testimony ring true, but it also made her more relatable. We might admire the people who seem like they’ve always got it all together, but we’re not likely to go to them for help. We’re more drawn to those we can identify with, who’ve been in the trenches we’ve been in and yet survived them with grace.

On the other hand, it’s not good to wallow where the Lord extends grace to overcome. I’ve read people who readily admit to weakness, fear, pain, and grief, yet never exhibit God’s grace in dealing with those things. They seem to glory in their perpetual “mess.” Paul admits being “hard pressed on every side . . . perplexed . . . persecuted . . . struck down,” but he doesn’t stop there. He says he is “not crushed . . . not driven to despair . . . not forsaken . . . not destroyed” ((2 Corinthians 4:8). He is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). He doesn’t “lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Why? Because “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) And later on in chapter 12:7-10, Paul shares that God did not remove something grievous in response to Paul’s prayers, but instead  promised “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

We do need to distinguish between lament and complaint. We see lament all through the psalms and in some of the prophets, a crying out to God in the midst of painful circumstances. But 1 Corinthians 10:9-10 says of Israel during their trek from Egypt to Canaan: “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.” One of those incidents of complaint occurred in Numbers 11:1-3. The people had previously grumbled about lack of water and food (Exodus 15:22-25; 16; 17;1-7), and God just met their need miraculously. He was longsuffering with them, perhaps because they had not been out of Egypt long and had not been taught His ways. But by Numbers 11, God responded to their complaints with fire and a plague. Did God just run out of patience with them? No, but by that time they had seen His miraculous deliverance from Egypt and provision of water and food. They should have gotten to know Him better and exhibited trust in Him at that point, plus grasped the larger picture of what He was delivering them to. What are the differences between lament and complaint? I don’t know all of them: that’s something I would like to study out more. Tim Challies points out the difference in one’s posture of either pride or humility. Complaint in these cases seemed to include a lack of faith, as I mentioned, and even an attack on God’s leadership, and by way of implication, on God. The laments in the psalms honestly admit the dire circumstances and hardships, but there is an element of faith running through them.

In George H. Guthrie’s book Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word, Michael Card says:

Lament teaches us that we have to go through the process of dealing with our suffering before God. You don’t just stuff your feelings down and put a good face on it, like a lot of us tend to do. You need to go through the process of pouring your heart out to God. And if you don’t have the language for it, the Bible will give you the language.

Almost all of the psalms of lament involve the psalmist reminding himself of the truth he knows. God is good and righteous. He loves us. He sees and knows what’s going on. He will bring about justice in His own time. He has the power to deliver us, and at some point He will. But in the meantime we can rest in Him. Through prayer and praise, the psalmist exhibits faith that God hears him and will do what’s best.

So when our friends are going through a hard time, we don’t need to add to their burden by judging their tears and lamentations. We can lend a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and gently remind them of God’s truth.

Enduring hardship as a Christian is not just a matter of a stiff upper lip or a smile that glosses over painful circumstances. When we’re in the midst of pain and sorrow ourselves, we can “take it to the Lord in prayer,” as the old hymn says. Sometimes we can cry out to Him in ways that we could not before others. We remind ourselves of the truth we have gleaned from His Word, that He knows all about it, He cares, He has the bigger picture in view, and He has promised His grace for our every need. And He’ll be glorified as others see His grace in us through the hard times.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Psalm 3:3-4, ESV

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth.
Linking does not imply full endorsement.)

GraceTruth-Featured-2

 

Laudable Linkage

Here are some great reads from around the Web:

I Learned to Read the Bible Through Tears, HT to True Woman. “But on days when I felt desperate, I didn’t care about duty. I was dedicating time to be with God because I needed it — not because I had to. I approached my Bible reading with a different mindset, with expectation and anticipation, not a sense of obligation.”

How Reading the Bible Changed My Life, HT to Challies.”So when I look back at that time in my life, I don’t see a 14-year-old who suddenly became ‘spiritual’; I see a gracious God who chose to intervene in an apathetic teen’s life. I don’t see my own faithful heart; I see the faithful heart of God that kept on pursuing me, despite my faithlessness, and that still pursues me to this day.”

Am I Invisible? One Mom’s pain-relieving response to being excluded, HT to Linda.

Age-ism: The New (or Old) Prejudice, HT to Out of the Ordinary. “About forty percent thought that older people should be banned from public activities, like shopping. Then the vitriol gets worse. Some of sites declared that older folks should ‘hurry up and die already.’ One quote went, ‘Anyone over the age of 69 should immediately face a firing squad.’ This is nothing but brutal hate-speech.”

Children Who Get What They Want Are Not Creative, HT to The Story Warren. Interesting piece on how creativity thrives within structure and discipline rather than in total freedom. “When we [always] give a three-year-old whatever he wants, we are just postponing that child’s battle with his desires until a time in which he will find the fight far more difficult.” I don’t know that the best reason to serve a child food that he doesn’t like is so that he can engage his creativity by figuring out various ways to get rid of it, but I am thinking that section might be written tongue-in-cheek.

My Mother Practiced the Piano. “Certainly motherhood may limit your participation in certain endeavors, and there are some years that moms mostly just have to survive. However, if you are reading a site like Story Warren, my guess is that you are already highly committed as a parent, and that commitment frees me up to remind you that your passion and curiosity matter. There’s nothing selfish about working toward your artistic interests as God allows the time. In fact, your children can benefit from watching you model discipline and discovery, so don’t give up on your art, invite your kids into it. Let them watch you conquer little pieces of the world so that they will know how to tame their own chaos one measure at a time.”

Finally, seen on Pinterest from the Prince of Preachers site, this principle is not easy, but it is true.

Laudable Linkage

Here are a few good reads recently discovered:

Studying the Bible Is Not Supposed to Be Easy, HT to True Woman. “We need to go into it expecting, not that it will be easy – that the Holy Spirit is just going to dump truth on us just because we were faithful to sit down and flip open the covers – but rather, that if we obey just some simple reading tools that we would use with any book, that the Bible will begin to yield up treasure to us.”

Minimalism Is Not the Gospel, HT to Out of the Ordinary. “Christian finds freedom not in lifestyle changes or donations at the local charity shop but in Christ. He finds relief not in what he has done but in the One who has done everything for him; not in needing less but in acknowledging his complete dependence on his Savior; not in the arrival of the recycling truck but in the beauty of the cross.

Why an unwanted pregnancy is about the baby and the father, too. “We also need a generation of women who will encourage men to take responsibility and show the sacrificial love and empathy that ought to mark men, not push them out of the conversation about abortion.”

When a Cussing, Drug-addicted Mom Shows Up at Your Church, HT to True Woman. I don’t like that multiple links to the author’s book makes this seem like a big commercial, but if you can look past that, this is a beautiful story of how God used a nursery worker to redeem a situation and draw this mom toward God’s grace instead of banishing her in shame from it.

Joining a Mob, HT to Challies. “We can’t let our emotion run away with our discernment. Hot takes should be anathema to people charged to be slow to anger and slow to speak.”

What Is the Role of the Christian Writer? “The Christian writer is not to write just to make others think. That is not enough. Making people think is easy—just challenge their ideas or shock them with controversy. That’s just noise, and Lord knows we don’t need more noise. No, the Christian writer is to fetch treasure to share with readers.”

The Dangers of Self-care, HT to True Woman. A little relaxation, taking a break, even hobbies are fine, but “When we sate ourselves on the things of this world—pleasures and comforts of whatever kind—we become spiritually sluggish. Our prayer life, our Scripture reading, and all the delights of belonging to God seem distant and dull when we prioritize our time and activities around gratifying our appetites.”

Cultivating Self-Control, HT to Challies.

The Demise of Book Collecting? No, not for avid book lovers. Good thoughts on the difference between collecting and hoarding.

And, finally:

A sense of Him

Isobel Kuhn‘s writings have benefited me greatly. One of her books is called Second Mile People, in which she writes of several who have influenced her life in a major way. In Jesus’s instruction about going the second mile, she says, the first mile is compulsory, but the second is an offering “for the good and peace of His kingdom.” All of the people she writes of in this book have gone the extra mile and “have cried out, not ‘How much will He ask?’ but ‘How much can I give Him?’”

One such person is Dorothy. Isobel begins Dorothy’s chapter with this poem:

Indwelt

Not merely in the words you say,
Not only in your deeds confessed,
But in the most unconscious way
Is Christ expressed.

Is it a beatific smile,
A holy light upon your brow;
Oh no, I felt His Presence while
You laughed just now.

For me ‘twas not the truth you taught
To you so clear, to me still dim
But when you came to me you brought
A sense of Him.

And from your eyes He beckons me,
And from your heart His love is shed,
Til I lose sight of you and see
The Christ instead.

—by A. S. Wilson

Isobel then tells of meeting a young woman named Dorothy at a conference. Isobel had not been saved very long. “My ideas of the Christian life were still in a crude, unmoulded state.” Dorothy seemed attractive, winsome and sweet, and Isobel was pleased when Dorothy asked her to go for a walk. Dorothy had in mind to “speak just a word for Jesus” while on this walk, but as it happened, their conversation centered on happy, funny things. “When we parted Dorothy felt she had been a failure, unconscious that the one she had hoped to help was going away enchanted with this glimpse into the very human sweetness of this Christlike girl. ‘…I felt His Presence when you laughed just now….’ The Spirit-filled life cannot ‘fail’, it is fruitful even when it may seem least to have done anything. That walk gave Dorothy ‘influence’ over me when a ‘sermon’ would have created a permanent barrier. In fact at that time I carried a mental suit of armour all ready to slip on quietly the moment any ‘old fogey’ tried to ‘preach’ at me!”

“Oswald Chambers says, ‘The people who influence us most are not those who buttonhole us and talk to us, but those who live their lives like the stars in heaven and the lilies of the field, perfectly simply and unaffectedly.’ A great mistake is to think that a Spirit-filled man or woman must always be casting sermons at people. Being ‘filled with the Spirit’ (which is a first qualification of Second Mile People) is merely a refusing of self and a taking by faith of the life of Christ as wrought in us by His Holy Spirit.” “We must take the Spirit’s fullness, as we take our salvation, by faith in God’s promise that He is given to us.”

Some weeks later when Dorothy and Isobel met again, Dorothy’s “time had come” to “get in a ‘preach,’” for Isobel then was in a frame of mind and heart to receive it. “The Holy Spirit is never too early and never too late.” Though Isobel did not understand as yet all Dorothy was trying to say, her words did lay the groundwork for future understanding, and “from Dorothy I just drank in the inspiration of herself, the ‘sense of Him’, and the fact that this life of undisturbed peace was no mystic dream but a possible reality who sat before me with earnest sweet eyes and soft pink cheeks.”

Neither Isobel nor I are talking about being a witness just by lifestyle and never using words. As she said, eventually Dorothy was able to talk to her more fully. Isobel spent her life sharing God’s Word with others and writing words of His doings in her heart and those He ministered to.

But I know what she means about people like Dorothy. I have known some people who seem to reflect Christ and carry a “sense of Him” in everything they do, every word, action, and attitude. Something of Him shines through even when they are talking about everyday activities. That only comes from spending much time with Him in His Word and prayer.

May I live so close to Him that people always sense His presence.

img_1296

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

Heaven is not a lesser answer

img_1289

Some years ago, our church was fervently praying for someone’s healing. When that person passed away, I was heartsore and disappointed. Someone mentioned that this person had received “the ultimate healing” in heaven. In my immaturity, I thought that sounded like rationalization, putting a positive spin on it.

In God Is Just Not Fair: Finding Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, Jennifer Rothschild described a friend’s death during a cruel assault. When Jennifer lamented to her father that she couldn’t understand why God let her friend go through such a thing, he responded that she didn’t go through it, she went from it. He went on to explain:

God delivers us in different ways. Sometimes he protects us from awful things so we never have to endure them. Other times God delivers us by rescuing us or healing us. Sometimes God brings us through hard things —that’s also a form of God’s deliverance. But then there are the times that God, out of his great care for his children, delivers us out of the horror and into glory.

God compassionately took Regina out of her tragedy and into his presence. She was delivered from it —out of it —and into glory, where there are no tears, no crying, and no pain, and the only scars are the ones on the hands of Jesus.

Heaven is not a rationalization or a positive spin on unanswered prayer. Heaven is not a lesser answer to prayer than healing.

If we look at the death of Christians from God’s standpoint, He’s gathering His children to the home He has been preparing for them for millennia.

It’s fine to seek and pray for healing, and we rejoice and praise God when He allows someone to remain with us a little longer. Healings were a major testimony to the reality of the power of God and the validity of Jesus’ ministry in the Bible. God has implanted in us a strong will to live, but living “the American dream” of a nice house, good family, and 70+ years of excellent health is not the “ultimate.” The ultimate is being with Him in our new home in heaven some day.

Once I saw a video in which the speaker had a long rope that extended all the way across the stage and then past the curtain beyond sight. That rope, he said, represented eternity. The speaker held the end of the rope wrapped in a few inches of red tape which represented our time here on earth. Our few decades that we value so much are so short, and eternity is so long. How shortsighted we are that we put so much emphasis on the one to the neglect of the other.

A full Biblical study of heaven would take more space than we have here, but here are just a few aspects of heaven:

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. John 17:24

There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. Job 3:17

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also…Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:1-3, 6

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:3-4

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. Philippians 1:21-23

What should we be doing in relation to heaven before we get there? Here are a few things:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (KJV uses “comfort” in place of “encourage.)

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation. 2 Peter 3:11-15a

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you. Colossians 3:1-5a (followed by a discussion about what earthly things he is talking about, like immorality, covetous, and lying, and what things to put on in their place).

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

In Frank Houghton’s biography, Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur, he tells of a time when one of the little ones at the Dohnavur compound died. Amy was comforted by the words of Samuel Rutherford written to a grieving mother over 200 years before Amy’s time:

You have lost a child. Nay, she is not lost to you who is found to Christ; she is not sent away but only sent before, like unto a star which going out of our sight doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere: you see her not, yet she doth shine in another country.

If her glass was but a short hour, what she wanteth of time that hath she gotten in Eternity; and you have to rejoice that you have now some treasure laid up in heaven…Your daughter was a part of yourself, and you, being as it were cut and halved, will indeed be grieved; but you have to rejoice that when a part of you is on earth, a great part of you is glorified in heaven…There is less of you out of heaven that the child is there.

We grieve when someone we love leaves this life, and that’s perfectly normal. Even Jesus grieved. We’re sad whenever we have to be away from our loved ones for an extended time, especially without the ability to converse with them. But we remember that this life is short, that those who die in Christ are in His presence, fully healthy and without pain. We could not wish them back, and we know we’ll see them again. and in the meantime we live, as an old song used to say, “with eternity’s values in view.”

If you don’t have this sure hope of heaven, please read here for more information.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)