Monday, March 9, 2009

Spending Time

There have been many reminders in past days and weeks of how I ought to spend my time wisely. Chapel speakers have talked of the need to stop "talking about evangelism" and start "doing evangelism." They've given great examples of taking the plunge, walking up to their neighbor's house, knocking on the door and saying, "Hi. I'm your neighbor across the street, and I just wanted to let you know that I'm a follower of Jesus Christ.. and if you would ever like to have a spiritual discussion about life, I'd be happy to do that with you."
They've also talked about the absolute importance of prayer. That we can't expect our neighbors to be won to Christ if we're not praying for them, and praying for us... that we'd have God-given opportunities to share with them. God never fails to answer the prayer that begs for the opportunity to share Him with others.
And then this morning, I was reading a poem by retired missionary, Arlene Updyke (Sparks from my Embers). The poem reflects some of the words of my favorite song ("Take My Life and Let It Be"):
Take the lost and wasted moments.
Lord, how many now have gone!
Give me hours of blessed service
Spent for Thee the Holy One.
Take the words I should have spoken,
Words of life to other hearts;
Give my mouth a heav'nly message
Which the Holy Ghost imparts.

Praying for my neighbors today - and seeking the Lord's wisdom and will for how I can spend my time reaching them for Christ.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Musings on John

In the ESL class I teach through my church (Sunset Bible Church in University Place, WA), we are studying the Gospel of John. Last night, we had an interesting discussion about how God works.

The phrase "but his time had not yet come," referring to the time Jesus was to be crucified, is repeated often in the book of John. It is given as an explanation of why the crowds, the Pharisees & other religious leaders, and even the temple guards were unable to seize Jesus - even though they purposed to.

From a human standpoint, particularly from the perspective of those wanting to do the "seizing," there were obvious explanations as to why they didn't follow through with their plans. The Jewish crowds were divided... some believing Jesus to be the Christ as his miracles attested, and others questioning his divinity knowing his earthly parents to be quite human. The religious leaders, knowing the precarious position they were in, did not want to lose their authority with the crowd. If they arrested Jesus, half of the crowd would turn on them.

But we know from the text that the ultimate reason Jesus wasn't seized earlier was because it was not yet his time... and until it was, no one could lay a hand on him (Jn 7:30). In fact, even after being warned not to, Jesus sometimes goes to places where he might be in danger. One example of this is in John 11:7-10 where Jesus delays going up to see Mary and Martha after their brother, Lazarus, had died:
Then after this He said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." The disciples said to Him, "Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him."

We are reminded again that it is not about the plans of man, but about the plans of God. God will accomplish HIS plan on HIS time table for HIS purposes. He will not fail. If Jesus could trust the Father to carry out his perfect plan in his perfect time, despite the menacing crowds and dangerous circumstances, so can we!

God continues to work out his plan in our lives, leaving us with the confident assurance that while we ought to live in wisdom and obedience to the Lord, it is the Lord who brings about the results of his plan. We are to rely on HIM, not on methodologies for success. We can teach our kids about the amazing grace of God and be the best parents we can be, but ultimately some kids will follow him and some will turn away... and God is at work in both. We live rightly before the Lord and yet some will endure unspeakable suffering while others seem fairly comfortable. It is God who is at work in both. We try for years to have a baby and fail, but those who don't want to have a baby, get pregnant from a one night stand and abort their babies without a second thought. It is God who is at work in both... accomplishing his plan and making things beautiful in HIS time.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Psalm 19: 12-14

Much to meditate on:

"Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
Keep back Your servant also
from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the
meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer."

If we don't understand the depths of our sin, we'll never understand the depths of God's grace.

No sin? No grace.
Know sin... Know grace.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pride 2

I forgot to mention this in my last post... again, from Matthew 23. Jesus condemns the Pharisees in vv. 31-36 for saying "If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets" because the Pharisees were, in fact, wrong. The thinking of their fathers had been passed down to them, and they became guilty of persecuting and killing the greatest "prophet" in their midst - Jesus.

Pride says, "I would NEVER do THAT!" Or, "I'm glad I'm not like so and so." Or, "If I had been in his shoes, I would have..." But pride is deceitful! It is usually when we are so adamant about not doing something that we are most likely to be tempted by it... either because we're thinking about it all the time (the sin, instead of the Savior who can help us overcome the sin), or because in our pride, we think we are above the temptation, and therefore rely on our own "ability" to refrain from that particular sin.

Humility recognizes his propensity to sin and falls on the mercy of God, asking for His ever present help to withstand the temptation to sin, and attributing any ability to live rightly to the Spirit's work in his life.

I remember hearing sermons as a child in which the children of Israel would get lambasted for sinning against the Lord. They were always painted as foolish, willful, stubborn people... and the preacher would always shake his head at them, as if he were sitting with God in judgment over them.

I don't think the application of Scripture, particularly OT narrative, is just about avoiding whatever "those people" did wrong. First, God wants us to learn something about His character. In light of that, God wants us to learn something about human nature, and in particular, our own character so that we may see the infinite difference between the two, and our utter hopelessness without our salvation in Christ and the Holy Spirit's ongoing work of sanctification.

Now when I read the OT, instead of saying, "I would NEVER do THAT!" I try to ask the question, "Am I like that?" and ask for the Spirit's help to lay aside the sin that so easily entangles and press on toward the goal to become more like Christ.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lessons from Matthew 23

Pride is a funny thing. We readily notice it in the lives of others, but when it comes to examining it in our own hearts, it is invisible.

In Matthew 23, Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees for their arrogance - exalting themselves before men, while all the while being full of death and uncleanness.

Two points that grabbed me today as I was reading:

1. Jesus told the multitudes to do all that the Pharisees told them to do. The only stipulation was, "Don't do according to their deeds." Too often, we ignore the teachings of hypocrites, and assume that because they live differently than they speak, what they say is not true. However, the very condemnation of hypocrites is that they DON'T live according to what they say - and how they live is usually what is condemned. I struggled with this for a long time when I was growing up - seeing adults who said one thing and did another. It made me reject everything they said. Later, I realized that much of what they said was true, they just weren't living it out.

2. Though we've heard it before, we still don't seem to catch on that pride is not a measurement of a person's success at getting attention, it's a motivation of the heart to seek that attention - successful or not. In Matthew 23:5, Jesus says that the Pharisees, "do all their deeds to be noticed by men." It's easy to condemn "show offs" who try to gain attention for themselves - exalting their works, talents, personality, etc. But what about those who do their deeds to be noticed by men... and yet aren't noticed?

The point always comes back to this... God wants our hearts, not just our appearances. Whether we're noticed by others, or not, if we do our deeds in order to be noticed, that is pride.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Why Suffer?

For the past month or so, both in my personal life (reading and discussions) as well as the life of our church, there has been an emphasis on the persecuted church. We've been showing a VOM video on the church in Vietnam to our youth group on Tuesday evenings. We will have guest speakers from Russia (currently in our ESL program at church) talk to the church about their experience as Christians in Russia. And I just finished reading a book called "The Persecutor" by Sergei Kourdakov - a former Communist Party member who joined the secret police in Russia until God turned his life around.
All of these things have had a big impact on my life - making me stop and think about my own dedication to the Lord. Believers around the world sacrifice their safety (and that of their friends and family!) on a daily basis as they continue to meet together against the wishes of their oppressive governments. The worst thing I face in America is the "discomfort" of sharing with unbelievers who may think I'm a crazy person for believing in God. No comparison. Yet, am I faithful?
Today, I was reading in Matthew 14:22-36 and thinking about all these things... suffering, persecution. In this passage, Jesus walks on the water to meet up with the disciples. At first, they think he's a ghost. Then Peter says, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." The Lord does and lo and behold, Peter starts walking on water, too! That is, until he begins to doubt, at which point he starts sinking and the Lord has to save him.
I got to thinking... in all this talk about persecution and suffering, and in all the comments people make about why God would allow suffering (odd that this comment usually comes from people who are not experiencing real suffering), we don't seem to realize the connection between enduring suffering and experiencing the greatness of God.
Jesus didn't have to walk on the water to get to the disciples. He could have taken a boat and met up with them later (as they most likely supposed he was going to do anyway). Or, he could have walked on the water to them part of the way and then swam the other part while they were watching him so as not to draw attention to himself. But he wanted them to see him, and he wanted to give an opportunity to test Peter's faith. Peter thought his faith was strong (and indeed - we may think the same, having never had the guts to try walking on water ourselves) - but Jesus proved that Peter's faith was not what was keeping him afloat. Yet, the experience was not lost - for how would Peter have had the opportunity to know the power of Jesus, had Jesus not given him a situation in which he could fall? How would Peter know that it was Jesus holding him up... not the strength of his faith?

When trials come into our lives, we're tempted to think they're going to harm us. What we fail to realize (and our Chinese friend expressed as much last night when talking to the youth group about being a Christian in China) is that going through trials helps us experience God's greatness and draws us closer to Him. We get to see him in ways we otherwise wouldn't if we didn't go through hard times.

And yet - we know that there will be no pain or suffering in heaven... so the question could be raised... How will we get to know Him better there?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Out of Time Here, But Looking Forward to Forever

Ran out of time two days in a row to record my thoughts. I'm chewing on Psalm 113 and 114. Keep thinking about the word "forever" in relation to how long we are to praise the Lord. That made me think of how NOTHING on this earth is forever. Everything always comes to an end eventually - and no person, no matter how powerful, has a forever rule. In fact, most people who do end up in a ruling/leadership position don't even get praised for a short lifetime. And many are deserving of more than just criticism. Yet, God is so great, so perfect, that it is completely appropriate to praise him ALL the time, FOREVER.

What's more - the rest of Psalm 112 goes on to talk about his gracious, loving character... how he exalts the humble and helps the poor and needy.

I love that we can praise God forever - and that His character is such that our praise for Him will never be undeserved. He is, was, and always will be worthy of our praise!