God’s Deadlines

If you’ve had or worked with children, you have likely faced this scenario. A child does wrong repeatedly. After much instruction and admonition, the parent or teacher says, “If you do that one more time, you are going to face this consequence.”

The child does it one more time. The adult begins to administer the promised consequence, and all of a sudden, the child starts doing whatever he was supposed to, or starts crying and pleading for mercy.

Knowing when to be firm and when to show grace was one of the hardest parts of parenting for me. But if I had promised my children a certain consequence would follow certain actions (or lack of actions), I felt I needed to follow through. They needed to know I would keep my word, plus they needed to be trained away from last-minute feigned repentance that only occurs when punishment is coming.

Our church is reading through and discussing Jeremiah together, five chapters a week. Jeremiah’s message was not a popular one. Basically he had to tell the people to get ready for the consequences of their actions. In the Israelites’ case at this time, the consequences for their continued idolatry, disobedience, and lack of repentance involved the king of Babylon conquering their city and deporting most of them to Babylon as captives.

Sometimes people accuse God of cruelty when He sends judgement on people, but they forget the years of longsuffering that led up to the judgment in question. Closing the door of the ark so no one else could get in seems drastic, but people had several decades of preaching and warning beforehand. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5) and “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence (verse 11). 1 Peter 3:20 says, “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” God was patient, but He also said His Spirit would not always strive or contend with man (Genesis 6:3). There was a deadline.

Similarly, God had sent His prophets over years to preach to the people in Jeremiah’s time. God told Jeremiah a couple of times not to pray for the people, and the ESV Study Bible notes how unusual this command was  I don’t think that meant that Jeremiah could not bring them before the Lord at all. But, if I understand it correctly, he couldn’t pray for God to turn away His judgment unless the people repented.

But the people flat out refused to repent. A few times they came to Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord for them, or they called out to God to help them, but their repentance was either not genuine or was short-lived. At one point, they responded to God’s pleas for their repentance and warnings of future consequences with “That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart” (18:12). Another time they said, “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you” (44:16). God pleaded with the people to turn away from their folly and come to Him, but they wouldn’t. So, eventually, consequences had to come.

God’s consequences are often meant to have a sanctifying effect. He chastens out of love and for our good.

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.

. . . He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-6, 10b-11)

Scattered throughout Jeremiah are God’s promise of future restoration of His people. They would spend 70 long years in exile. But among those taken captive were future heroes of the faith, like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who would take a bold but gracious stand for God and witness for Him to foreign kings. Ezekiel preached to the exiles. Ezra and Nehemiah led the people back to Israel.

But not everyone made it back. In the course of 70 years, many died.

Back in Numbers 13-14, Israel refused to advance into the land God promised them. He pledged to be with them and help them overtake it, but they refused in fear. They were condemned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until every adult who had refused to obey had died.

But God’s deadlines don’t refer just to chastening. Earlier this year it was on my heart to write to a woman who was like a second mother to me. But I put it off. I would be sending her a Mother’s Day card in a few weeks, and I planned to write a letter to send with it. But then I received word that she’d had a series of medical issues, was unresponsive, and was in her last days. I know with all the joys of heaven, she’s not thinking of not receiving a letter from me. But I have the regret that I didn’t respond to that prompting and share some words of encouragement. When my grandmother and aunt died, I also regretted that I had not kept in touch better in the last few years. A pastor’s wife told of the regret she felt when she leaned that a lady she saw regularly at some place of business had died suddenly. She realized that she had never spoken to her about the Lord. We only have so much time to do good.

Proverbs 27:1 (NASB) says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

Sometimes when we think about the limitations of time and the shortness of our days, we can get into a frenzy. But that’s not what God wants, either. Jesus only had 33 years on this earth, with only three and a half of those years involved in official ministry. Yet He was not frenzied. He didn’t heal or preach to everyone on earth at the time. He rested sometimes. But He did everything God wanted Him to do. We need to seek Him for wisdom, guidance, and the right priorities for each day.

Eventually, we are all going to face a final deadline. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6:2: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

It’s wise not to put off repentance and believing on Jesus as Lord and Savior, because we never know when our time will be up and we’ll hear God’s final call.

It’s wise not to put off obedience, because the consequences have to come at some point.

It’s wise not to put off doing good, because someday we’ll no longer have the opportunity.

The older I get, the more I’m aware that I have more days behind me than before me.  I want to follow God wholeheartedly until that final deadline comes.

How about you?

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Look Up

I don’t know how to type correctly. Somehow I never had a typing or keyboarding class. Over the years I have developed my own “hunt and peck” method, which is slow and riddled with mistakes.

Since I’m not trained to know which keys are what direction, I have to look down at the keyboard. You’d think, after typing for 40 years, that I’d know the keyboard by now. Because I’m looking down, I don’t realize what mistakes I’ve made until I look up again. Sometimes I don’t realize I accidentally hit the “Caps Lock” button until I look up and see a sentence or two capitalized. Sometimes I highlight something to delete or move, and when I look up again, I can’t even recognize my paragraph because somehow my highlighting shifted and caught more words than I meant for it to. I’m abundantly thankful for Control+Alt+Z to undo my last action! Other times, I miss a prompt that would have saved me a few keystrokes.

I may not be able to help looking down at a keyboard: my (bad) habits have been ingrained for so long, I don’t know if a typing class could help me now.

But this continual looking down reminds me of a character in the second half of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Part 1 of the story focuses on Christian; Part 2 features his wife, Christiana. In one scene, the Interpreter takes Christiana to a room “where was a man that could look no way but downwards, with a Muckrake in his hand. There stood also one over his head with a Celestial Crown in his Hand, and proffered to give him that Crown for his Muck-rake ; but the man did neither look up, nor regard; but raked to himself the Straws, the small Sticks, and Dust of the Floor.”

Then said Christiana, “I persuade myself that I know somewhat the meaning of this: For this is a Figure of a man of this World : Is it not, good Sir?”

“Thou hast said the right,” said he, “and his Muck-rake, doth shew his Carnal mind. And whereas thou seest him rather give heed to rake up Straws and Sticks, and the
Dust of the Floor, than to what he says that calls to him from above with the Celestial Crown in his Hand ; it is to show, that Heaven is but as a Fable to some, and that things here are counted the only things substantial. Now whereas it was also shewed thee, that the man could look no way but downwards, it is to let thee know that earthly things when they are with Power upon Men’s minds, quite carry their hearts away from God.”

Then said Christiana, “O! deliver me from this Muck-rake.”

“That Prayer,” said the Interpreter, “has lain by till ’tis almost rusty: Give me not Riches, is scarce the Prayer of Prov. 30. 8. One of ten thousand. Straws, and Sticks, and Dust, with most, are the great things now looked after.”

With that Mercy and Christiana wept, and said, “It is alas! too true.”

I assume this was in the days of dirt floors, so this man’s task was a necessary one. But it wasn’t the only thing in life that needed his attention. He was so caught up in the everyday tasks that he missed the most important things.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus described some “who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

We can get so caught up with the cares of this word, can’t we? Floors have to be cleaned, as well as the rest of the house, errands run, meals cooked, laundry washed, dried, and folded, family tended to, and so on, and so on, and so on. And then the desire for other things distracts our thoughts.

But we need to take time to look up.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:26, ESV).

All our tasks and pursuits here are only temporary. There’s a greater reality beyond our muckraking.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished (Isaiah 51:6).

And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh (Luke 21:28).

The muckraker didn’t believe in anything higher to look up to. Let’s not follow his mistake.

They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son (Zechariah 12:10b).

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else (Isaiah 45:22).

And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12:32).

Even after salvation, we have to continually remind ourselves to keep the right perspective, to put God first, to seek His ways.

My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up (Psalm 5:3).

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 (Colossians 3:1-2, ESV).

We look up to acknowledge our need for the only One who can help:

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2, ESV).

And we need to look from our pursuits to minister to others:

Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest (John 4:35b).

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:4-5a, ESV).

God has given us good work to do, but He never meant for those tasks to eclipse Him. Much of our life and ministry is in the mundane, everyday moments of life. But that work and those moments are given meaning by the time we look up to Him. It’s vital to spend time with Him, and then carry those thoughts we gain from His Word back into our everyday lives.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. ~ Hebrews 12:2a

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Helen H. Lemmel, 1922

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Linking does not imply 100% agreement.)

 

Let us lift up our hearts to the One lifted up for us

Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven. Lamentations 3:41

Have you ever felt this way? Have you wished you could lift your very heart and soul to God?

God foretold through His prophets that one day His Son would be lifted up for the sins of His people.

Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind. Isaiah 52: 13-14

Jesus identified Himself as the One who would be lifted up for mankind.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:14-15

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. John 12:32-33

God sits on a throne, high and lifted up, in holiness. But He lifts up the humble and the bowed down.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Isaiah 57:15

A tax collector, in his deep awareness of his sinfulness, “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!‘” Luke 18:13.

Because Jesus was lifted up on the cross, we can lift up our eyes:

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Psalm 123:1

To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. Isaiah 40:26-26

Our souls:

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. Psalm 86:4

Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Psalm 143:8

Our voices:

They lift up their voices, they sing for joy; over the majesty of the Lord they shout from the west. Isaiah 24:14

Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Isaiah 40:9

Our hands:

So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. Psalm 63:4

I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes. Psalm 119:48

Our prayers:

Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary. Psalm 28:2

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling. 1 Timothy 2:8

Our song:

Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Psalm 68:4

Our praise and thanksgiving:

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! Psalm 141:2

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord! Psalm 134:1-2

Have you seen Him high and lifted up? Have you lifted up your heart and soul to Him?

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26

_______________

(This post was inspired by the September 6 Daily Light reading, which led to a rich study.)

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Laudable Linkage

I have another short but noteworthy list today:

Don’t Trust in Your Christianity, HT to Challies. “I’m afraid many find themselves in a similar predicament of pretense after growing up ‘Christian,’ developing ‘Christian’ habits, and embracing ‘Christian’ ideals—all without any real knowledge of the truly narrow road that leads to eternal life.”

Skillet’s John Cooper on Apostasy Among Young Christian Leaders. I don’t know this person, but I was fascinated by this article a friend linked to on Facebook. I think he’s right. “It is time for the church to rediscover the preeminence of the Word. And to value the teaching of the Word. We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion. And what we are seeing now is the result of the church raising up influencers who did not supremely value truth who have led a generation who also do not believe in the supremacy of truth. And now those disavowed leaders are proudly still leading and influencing boldly AWAY from the truth.”

Most Growth Will be Slow Growth, HT to Challies. “We are just plain tired. Tired of daily self-denial. Tired of taking two steps forward and one step back. Tired of walking on a road that feels endless, toward a city we cannot see. Disillusioned and exhausted, many sit down on the path, not sure if they will get back up again. Why does the slowness of our sanctification come as a surprise to so many of us?” This is something I have wrestled with and very much needed to hear.

How Not to Fall Away, HT to Challies. “[Paul] mentioned Hymenaeus and Alexander who had blasphemed and ‘concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck’ (1 Tim. 1:19-20). What a terrible image. But Paul wasn’t exaggerating. He had been shipwrecked (2 Cor. 11:25). He knew that apostasy was no less tragic than the sinking of a vessel on which people’s lives depended.”

Finally, this cracked me up at first, but then seemed poignant. A lot for a short video to convey! The comments on YouTube with different people’s interpretations was interesting, too.

Happy Saturday!

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.

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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?

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Press on toward the goal

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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

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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)

 

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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.)

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