Wednesday, October 17, 2018

James, A Worthy Teacher

James tells us to consider trouble to be an opportunity for joy. Great joy, I might add.

I don't know about you, but if trouble really is an opportunity it's one I have often enough, even I might say, with great regularity. It seems a daily routine, these sundry assaults and aggravations; often times petty and often enough, they appear monumental.

I'm feeling the weight of trial and testing even now, in these early morning hours. My heart is heavily burdened and the day has barely begun.

And so as I read James' opening sentence, "This letter is from James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ," I am deeply moved. He has no identity crisis. It is clear to him. He is a slave. Servant. One who is "devoted to another to the disregard of one's own interest." (Strong's definition)

Then James, a man wholly devoted to God's service, with his very next breath as it were, exhorts me to find trouble to be an opportunity -- an opportunity, as I well know from many years of previous reading, to learn endurance which leads to perfection.

I can read no further. I am brought to my knees. The weight of this burden humbles me. And His promise humbles me further. He wants me to find great joy even here, in this moment. What a wonderful Father.

"Lord, right here in the midst of this struggle, let me be pressed and tried and proven. Let me find You here. Let me be quick to learn and not dull and slow of mind and spirit. Let me be molded readily and not resist Your Spirit, but yield to Your Holy work in my life. Let me wholly embrace with joy - no, with great joy - Your faithfulness to lead me in Your ways and teach me. As Your servant, let me be devoted to Your interests with no regard to my own. Make me, shape me, mold me. I am Yours. And so very gladly so."

We've been singing a song as of late. It is a powerful declaration from one who is in a difficult place. I love it because its truth is for everyone. James' exhortation to find opportunity is not wasted on one single person. We all have opportunity daily; we all experience trials, troubles, testings. But truly He is in that place with us. Therefore it becomes opportunity for joy. He is there, bringing purpose.

" in the middle is the place where You promise to be.
As I walk through the valley, let Your love rise above every fear.
Like the sun shaping the shadow, in my weakness Your glory appears.
Not for a minute was I forsaken. The Lord is in this place."        (taken from "Here Again" by Elevation Worship)

He is in this place at this moment, here with me this morning. In this moment of testing and trouble, He is here. It is His moment if I am His servant. James knew this truth. And James knew great joy in the midst of trouble.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Pleasing Him

We are social creatures. We have been created to function in relationship. And we crave such interaction, such closeness.

Sometimes that desire for closeness leads us into dangerous waters. We become people pleasers. Our words, actions, and even thoughts become subject to the goal of pleasing others. "Don't rock the boat!" "Oh, I don't know what they would think of this!"

Listen instead to these words from Paul to the church at Galatia after clearly denouncing those who were saying false things about God and His salvation message. He came down hard on such deception and he knew he was in danger of losing their affection.
"Obviously, I'm not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. 
If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ's servant." (my emphasis)
One thing was clear to Paul. He gave up the popularity contest when He began to follow Jesus. Oh, it's true that Christ is love and kindness and a bringer of peace. But He is so on His terms with His definitions. After all, He is God; He is Truth itself and Love itself. That domain belongs to Him alone.

Paul understood that Christ and His ways would not always be popular with the crowds. His daily poll rating would lag behind those with flashy smiles, smooth words, and wily promises.

He knew that if crowd pleasing is the end goal then don't choose to serve Christ.

Think about it.

Sometimes words of love must be tough words to say and to hear. And holiness will always be contrary to the latest self-indulgent trend. Let's face it: Dying to your own will and way isn't a popular message for people who are charmed by a jingle declaring that they can "Have it your way!" even at the nearest fast-food restaurant. If Burger King can serve up egotism for just a dollar, what's the matter with God?

So wake up this morning, give thanks to the God of all eternity for a new day, submit to Him your broken life in return for a power-filled life, and be a God-pleaser in thought, word, and deed.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Don't Mock God

Isaiah has stern words for us. Sobering words. If we are wise, they are words that will cause soul searching and earnest repentance routinely because we will recognize the words of love they are.

 What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, 
                   that dark is light and light is dark,
                               that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.  
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever. Isaiah 5.20,21

Isaiah was written to God's chosen people, Israel. He is warning them to be careful, to avoid deep sorrow.

Is it possible that His people today also need to hear these words and heed?

Is it possible that we are guilty of calling bitter sweet and sweet bitter, dark light and light dark? Even evil good and good evil?

Before my mind was renewed by the Word of God, my natural conclusion (fostered by self interest and rebellious independence and a 1970's disregard for tradition along with a feminist hatred of all things "men") was that marriage was a terrible institution - undoubtedly the brainchild of some patriarchal pig crackpot - and children were a bane to adult existence that ruin any opportunity for female accomplishment and fulfillment.

In short, I called bitter sweet and sweet bitter.

Even though I was a child of God, I was making wrong declarations. I was entrenched in error.

In studying the Bible as a young believer, I then discovered two important things regarding those issues:
1) He was the author and creator of marriage and 2) He considered children to be a great blessing and even called them His heritage.

Modern American culture has abandoned a Biblical world-view. We have embraced the idea of relative truth, a "man is inherently good" philosophy, non-creationist ideology, extreme feminism, and at this point innumerable and varied politically correct concepts which seem to change almost daily. These ideas surround us in advertising, media, pop culture, education. They are inescapable. Conversely, Biblical worldview perspectives are rare, mocked, and disparaged.

And here we are, growing up in this, imbibing an anti-Christian ideology.

Hence, we will find ourselves espousing wrong perspectives if we fail to subject every thought and notion to the Word of God. After my encounter with God's ideas regarding marriage and children (and boy was that a shake-up!) I determined that every time I found myself answering a question with "Well, that's just what I've always believed" I would see that as a red flag -- I would STOP right there and go to the Word to make sure that "what I've always believed" actually was in agreement with the God. I surely didn't want be calling good evil and evil good any longer! Not once I learned that great sorrow was the portion for such error!

Still today I find myself checking regularly. Am I correct in calling something evil, something bitter, something dark? Do I agree with Him regarding what is good, sweet, and light?

After all, if He has deemed something good, who am I to say otherwise? Something tells me I would be sorely remiss to do so.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

A Favorite Lesson

Once upon a time I was a young college student. (It's true! Admittedly, it was so long ago that it would be best counted in decades.) And as a young college student some wise words were shared with me that have stuck with me through the years and have been a game changer more than once.

"You don't have to be willing. You simply have to be willing to be made willing."

Yes. Read that again. Let its face value meaning sink in. It is not deep or difficult. Its simplicity is actually deceptive.

Bottom line: Come to Him honestly. Admit that you are not always excited about His commands, His will, His request, His Word even. Admit it.

Next, confess that you don't feel willing or able to embrace the truth He is showing you.

But then humble yourself and simply say, "But I will bow the knee; I will submit to You. Would you change my heart and help me? Would you make me willing to obey? I want to bless you, but I'm unable to change my own heart. You are my only hope. I am willing to be made willing. Would you do that for me?"

I have walked in that truth numerous times and in countless situations when confronted by the Word of God in ways that were unpleasant, difficult, and overwhelming.

That simple truth has changed my life, resulting in heart changes and new directions that I would never have imagined possible.

And today I read this in the Psalms. Psalm 51.12b to be precise.
"...make me willing to obey you."
Words He loves to hear. Such words embody humbleness, dependence, acknowledgement of His truth, confession of human insufficiency. This invitation to the Holy Spirit to come and do what we cannot do for ourselves releases power and transformation.

Don't fake it by saying, "Sure God, whatever you say. I'm ready!" if you're not.
Don't try to talk yourself into a heart change regarding some very distasteful truth with which you are confronted.
Don't believe the lie that says you have to fix it on your own; you are not able in every situation to do that.

Dishonesty, pride, and deception can keep you from empowerment and transformation.
Humbleness of heart, dependence upon Him, and a yielding of that heart to His hands for a reshaping is what He loves. It is the sacrifice He longs for.

A favorite lesson that has made me who I am today, allowed me to walk in His holy ways, delivered me and released His empowerment in my life.


Thursday, September 06, 2018

Our Sacrifice

Psalm 50.14,15
Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High.Then call on me when you are in trouble,and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.

The simplicity of His heart, His truth, His desire is beautiful. It is accessible to everyone of us.

No need for wealth. No need for fame. No need for doctorates or medals of honor or proof of great accomplishments.

No need for big extensive celebration. No painstaking building of altars. No mess, no fuss.

This is what He desires as a sacrifice from you, from me: thankfulness.

Tune your heart today to thanksgiving. Remind yourself throughout the day to thank Him, to acknowledge His provision, to remember to be like the one who returned to give thanks.

Set a kitchen timer, an alarm on your phone -- whatever it takes to prompt a moment of thanksgiving here and there throughout the day. Sometimes we need to purpose to establish new habits, and thanksgiving should be a habit. It should mark His people. It releases joy and honor and strength. And it glorifies Him.

In the hardest moment, stop and thank Him that He is there with you in the midst of that moment. When your heart leaps for joy at some good news, remember Him with praise. As you put your hand to the daily grind that is neither sorrowful or joyful but needful, thank Him for strength to be diligent.

Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God,
and keep the vows you made to the Most High.
Then call on me when you are in trouble,
and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.
Psalm 50.14,15