Monday, April 16, 2012

To die or not to die--that is the question.

Sometimes doing what God wants us to do can be excruciatingly painful!  It's painful because dying to self--denying ourselves what we want when it's contrary to the Spirit of God--is just hard.  Yet our other option, living "self-will run riot", is completely unacceptable.  Daily, hourly, our flesh  conflicts and wars with the Holy Spirit.  Should we avoid the pain of dying to ourselves and give in to our desires which are contrary to the will of God or should we die a painful death to our sinful natures and live for Christ?   

We are born selfish creatures that are naturally inclined to satisfy the desires of our flesh.  Our sinful nature focuses on pleasure, happiness and seeking self-gratification.  No wonder self-denial is painful.  It goes against our very core!   

Sin is pleasurable.  A long list of some enjoyable fleshly pleasures includes "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like" (Galatians 5:19-21) Yet even in the midst of pursuing illicit pleasures such as these, we experience darkness and the misery of being outside God's will. 

A dear friend vividly demonstrates dying to self with a poignant gesture--she closes her fist around an invisible knife and brings it to her chest, illustrating the act of being convicted by the Word of God.  "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart," Hebrews 4:12. 

Paul explains the relationship of self-gratification to death, and self-denial to life: "For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God."  (Romans 8:13-14)   

We are at war within ourselves.  We are in constant conflict between our sinful nature's desire to gratify the desires of the flesh, and our born-again spirit's desire to walk with the Spirit of God.  None conveys our struggle better than the Apostle Paul does when he cried out, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it," Romans 7:15-20. Living in and by His power, Christ wins the war in our souls.  He rescues us from this body of death and gives us spiritual life.
Belonging to Christ, we have crucified the sinful nature and are called to live in step with the Spirit. If we are being controlled by our sinful nature, we cannot please God.  (Romans 8:9). Not only can we not please God, but also living in conscious, willful sin brings spiritual bondage and death. The good news is that when we surrender our will to the Holy Spirit, we put the death our sinful nature and gain spiritual life.   (Romans 8:13)

Walking in obedience to God brings great rewards which include an unhindered relationship and communion with our Father.  In right relationship with Him, the fruits of the Spirit can then be produced in us.  "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."  (Galatians 5:22-25)

Even though dying to our will when it conflicts with God's will is painful, when we surrender to God, we win. When we give in to our flesh, we are slaves--in bondage to sin and death. By dying, we gain life. In the end, the life of freedom in the Spirit is so very much more satisfying than giving in to the desires of our sinful natures!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Be Good!

“Be good," I instructed my girls, before leaving for an appointment.  Our youngest instantly quipped back (with an implied “You”), “Be good, Mama!"   (She has a great sense of humor.) Her meant-to-be-funny comment gave me pause.  Was I any more likely to be able to "be good" than she was?  Is "being good“ even in the realm of possibility?

Jesus didn't think so.  When someone called the sinless son of God good, he responded, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good—except God alone", Mark 10:18.  I don't know about you, but for Jesus to say so is pretty discouraging to me!
God says that I am incapable of measuring up to His standard of goodness; it's impossible.  In many ways, in thought and deed, during each 24 hours I’m given, I will sin.  I will inevitably miss the mark that I may or may not be aiming at--the definition of sin.

 And so will you; we can't help it.  We’re born sinners, in the tradition of our ancestors Adam and Eve.  We are genetically wired to sin and can’t escape this fact no matter how hard we try.  Man, it's hopeless! 

Over and over the Word convicts us of our sinful nature, beginning in the OT.  “All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one”, Psalm 53:3.  Ecclesiastes 7:20  intones: “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous,  no one who does what is right and never sins”.

Our Father gave the prophet Isaiah a thorough understanding of the concept of sin and the need for atonement.  Isaiah realized that even our righteous deeds don’t measure up:  “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags,” Isaiah 64:6.

Isaiah himself experienced the awesome holiness of God.  The Lord gave him a vision of unspeakable glory: he saw God seated on His throne in the temple while enraptured seraphim sang praises of His holiness; their worthy praises shook the temple and caused it to be filled with smoke.

Inescapably, he was overwhelmed.  The inevitable comparison between God’s holiness and his own unworthiness caused him to cry out in anguish about his sinfulness.  The Lord showed him mercy and cleansed him from his sin with a live coal burning in the altar.  (Isaiah 6:1-6)

Our loving and merciful Father knew He’d have to rescue us from our devastating life of sin. “The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice.  He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.”  (Isaiah 59:15-17) 

The Apostle Paul sums up our sinful state:  “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.   For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Romans 7:17-19

In despair we cry out with Paul, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?"  However, we must NOT make our permanent dwelling in this pit of utter hopelessness--God has made a way for us to escape our desperate state of abject sin and suffering!  The way is made clear in the very next words of Paul.    “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!"  (Romans 7:25)

Jesus not only took our sins upon Him by becoming sin for us, so that our sins were also nailed to the cross, but He also created a way, the only way, for us to be clothed in His righteousness!  What an amazing Savior!  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”, (I Cor 1:30)  “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” II Cor 5:21. 

O glorious Savior!  We can rejoice along with Isaiah:  “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness”, Isaiah 61:10.

He is the Lord our Righteousness, Jehovah-Tsidkeneau!  Jeremiah 23:6 “In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (KJV)

Through the acceptance of Christ, His blood cleanses us from all sin, and clothes us in His righteousness.  He enables us to enter His glorious presence and even to live with our indescribably lovely Father for all eternity!  One day, when we stand in the presence of very God, He will not see our degenerate, sinful selves.  He will see us through eyes of love, clothed in His righteousness.  Then, and only then, will we truly “be good”.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Believing God

As Christians we live by faith in a God we cannot see.  Our faith is vitally important in our walk with God. It determines our relationship with Him and is the source of all spiritual rewards. What exactly is faith?  Why does God want us to have faith?
The writer of Hebrews declares that faith "is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. " Hebrews 11:1. More simply, faith is the belief that God really is who He says He is--that what He says about Himself is true.  Faith is not believing by seeing; it’s seeing by believing.
Faith begins with our concept of God.  Who do you believe He is?  Is he a judgmental, critical, impossible-to-please God? Is He a benevolent but detached Father who is too busy taking care of all the “important” stuff going on in the world to actually care what is going on with you? 
 If none of the above, is He a God who loves you passionately and knows you infinitely better than you know yourself?  Faith knows He is the latter!
      Faith enables us to believe that these verses are true: God says “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…” Jeremiah 1:5. He has such a profound awareness of us that “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.  You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me”, Psalm 139, “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered”, Matt.10:30.

It’s a mind-boggling mystery: how can He be a Sovereign Holy God who not only created the universe and all that is in it, but is also intimately familiar with and in love with you and me? Incredulously, He proclaims, “I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…,” Isaiah 49:15-16. 
Over and over He declares and demonstrates His love for us. “The LORD appeared to us in the past saying:  ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness’”, Jeremiah 31:3.  “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”, Romans 5:8.
God wants us to believe He is who He says He is:  knowing and believing Him is one of His great purposes for us.  “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me”, Isaiah 43:10.  
He compels us to believe because faith is the path to incredible blessings: eternal life with him, John 5:23-25, 11:25, spiritual fulfillment in this life, John 6:35, 7:38, and the granting of our requests, Matthew 21:21-22. He highly commends us for our faith:  “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’”, (John 20:29).  Faith enables us to truly be “more than conquerors” instead of living in the lie of drudgery and defeat.
Of all the stories in the Gospels, there is only one event mentioned that caught Jesus by surprise.  A centurion displayed such a remarkable depth of faith that even Jesus was amazed!  He sent some representatives to Jesus with a request for healing for the centurion’s esteemed servant.  The centurion had such great faith that he alone, of all those written about in the Word, believed that Jesus just had to “say the word, and my servant will be healed.” 
He knew it wasn’t necessary for Jesus to even be near his ill servant to heal him!  “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’”  Oh, to amaze Jesus with our depth of faith!
Unbelief may be the greatest sin of all.   “…without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”, Hebrews 11:6.
            Even believers in Christ suffer from unbelief.  Do we really believe all the claims God makes about Himself in His Word?  We are called to “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God”, Hebrews 3:12. 
We are all lacking in faith at times in our lives.  None of us can claim that we have never suffered from unbelief!  When we are sitting in the dark and wondering if God is really real, Jesus will hear us when we cry out to Him, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  As the apostles cried out to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” we can also ask Him to do the same for us.  He is faithful, He will do it!
Faith is believing God:  believing that He really is who He says He is and all He says is true.  God wants us to have faith in Him so that He can pour spiritual blessings into our cup until it is filled and overflowing!

Fleeing from Fear

Fear. It can grab your heart with its icy-cold grip, tie your stomach into knots, paralyze you into inaction, and shut you down emotionally and physically. Or it can more subtly cast a heavy pall, stealing joy out of your days, dampening your spirits with its heavy, constant presence.
Over and over again in His Word God admonishes us to not be afraid, as in these, some of my favorite verses: Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand., and Isaiah 41:13 “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”
Yet fear is an enemy we all deal with; we all experience it to one degree or another, usually every day of our lives. Why is this so, why do we fear? And how should we deal with fear when it attacks, as it inevitably does and will?
We fear because we don’t entirely trust God to work towards our best interests—because we have a lack of faith. (Ouch!) We fear because we don’t turn over and release our fears to Him. (And then leave our concerns with Him.) We fear because we aren’t yet perfect, and don’t love our Father with a perfect love.

Our Father is a good Father; He made us, He redeemed us, He loves us with an everlasting, unfailing love! We can trust Him to work good for us in every situation, if we will allow Him to do so. He wants us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5, so that He can bring blessing into our lives.
The opposite of fear is faith; when we are lacking in faith, we can ask Him to give us faith, the ability to trust Him, as the father of the possessed boy exclaimed to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

I suspect you are like me. Often I hold onto my fears like they are a life-saving device instead of the serious hindrance which they are, and a “sin that so easily entangles”, Hebrews 12:1. We must turn them over to the One who has the power to resolve our fears!
In order to release our fears to the One who cares for us, the One who implores us not to fear but to trust Him, making a list of fears is a helpful practice to help us confront our fears and become aware of them.

Philippians 4:6 is a powerful illustration of how to turn over our fears! “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” With thanksgiving our cares should be prayed about, turned over, then left with God, similar to the process of mailing a letter—when written it may be fretted over, but when left in the mailbox, it’s usually not given another thought.

Typically we trust that our mail will be picked up and delivered to the receiver—all without our help. When we turn over my fears, God is faithful.  He fulfills His promise: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
Even though we aren’t perfect, we are told to aim for perfection. I John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

The more we allow God to enable us to love Him with perfect love: to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30, the less we’ll walk in fear and the more we’ll walk in His love. Isn’t walking in the power and might of our Father’s awesome love much more preferable to living in a stronghold of fear?

Today may we be free of fear; may we trust God entirely, turn over our fears to Him, and love Him with all that we are. May we be like the writer of Psalm 34:4: ”I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” Our loving Father tells us that He “has not given us a spirit of fear, but has given us a spirit of love, power, and a sound mind”, 2 Timothy 1:7. Today may He enable us all to walk in His love, power, and with the mind of Christ; He is able!

A frivolous frippery fragment of a tale

Perched on the precipice of his death, he gazed at the depths below. Immediately in front of him was a thick layer of frothy bubbles. The intoxicating smell he yearned to become one with drifted up to his nostrils.

Yet the white fluffy effervescence gave him pause. Or maybe the bodies of his fellows lying still and lifeless was the cause of his doubt. Finally, however, temptation overcame his hesitancy and he plunged in.

For the first exhilarating second he was in fermentation heaven, one second before the curious looking foam choked the life out of his poor, pesky, pitiful little life.

The hapless fruit fly was drowned in a cup of apple cider vinegar and dawn soap bubbles...poor thing.

Let those who have ears to hear...

T.K. Allen

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Passionate and self-less

The tantalizing aroma of sizzling fish wafted up into the air and made her stomach rumble.  Suddenly and unexpectedly, HE was present.  "I love fish!" he declared fervently. 

She was surprised and bemused at his abrupt appearance.  His enthusiasm caused her to ponder but then realize, "Of course HE loves fish; it was the mainstay of his diet!"

The overpowering presence of Jesus, the Son of Man, lingered, encouraging her to revel in Him.  She sensed the Spirit who was intimately familiar with and to her, and also something new--the personality of Jesus.  He was passionate about life, about all aspects of it.  The strength of his intensity, his passion about all living things, her included, floored but didn't surprise her.  HE really is the Lover of my soul!

What was surprising though, was an alien aspect to his personality she couldn't readily understand.   His human presence strongly remained for a while.  HE confirmed that yes, He IS with her always, and never, ever leaves her.  The strong sensing gradually faded, and her focus was brought back to "real-time".

What was alien to me about Jesus, she wondered.  Then it hit her. HE was passionate and simultaneously completely self-less, self-forgetting and self-sacrificial.  Unlike her, and every other human being, who is grounded in selfishness from birth, he didn't think about himself or his wants.

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."

Philippians 2:5-11