Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Shut Up, For Christ's Sake!

From almost my first breaths as a baby Christian believer, I have been taught to witness.  My job, once I came to understand the gospel, was to get it out there.  Christ's last instructions to the disciples, after all, were to testify to all the world, weren't they?

Yes, they were.  But He gave the instruction to testify as His last direction, not His first.

And what is witnessing, anyway? God tells us:
 You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and my servants from whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He.--Isaiah 43:10

Hmm.  Nothing about saying anything to anyone.  
Witnessing, in God's estimation, begins with knowing and believing and understanding.  Evidently that, at least initially, is enough.  Even the outspoken apostle Paul began with years of silent study and communion with other believers and the Lord Himself before he ever went anywhere or said anything to anybody.

Witnessing has a pre-requisite.  In other words, we have to be qualified before we intentionally speak about God.  Unless He is putting words in our mouths similar to the way He put them in Balaam's donkey's, then we are well advised to spend the time getting to know our subject matter, that is, Him, before opening our mouths. 

There is a reason for this, and I am learning it every day.  God is so darned BIG!  There is so much to know about Him, so much He has to show me, to teach me, to change in me.  Yes, there are times to speak out, but as His joy within me grows, I understand more and more that God is not what He does, which we learn first about, but who He is.  To know Him just flat takes time.  

And He knows this about me, too.  He knows it and is fine with it.  Listen:

I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior.  I have revealed, and saved, and proclaimed.  I, not some foreign god among you.  You are my witnesses that I AM GOD.--Isaiah 43:11-12

His witnesses that He is God.  Yes.  There is a time to speak, and boldly, but my witness must start and end with the nature and person of God Himself.  And once I fully know that, I will be a witness whether I speak or not.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Lying Eyes

Richness unfolds with every day. Beauty in color and song crowd each moment, enough to make me gasp. A dove shares its tender moan, apples hang in abundant clusters like forgotten cherries, babies giggle in delighted ripples.

But I can't depend on this beauty.  My senses betray me. My eyes lie. My eyes lie and my ears steal.

 What I see and touch and hear cannot frame my life. They will disappear in an instant. When I revel in comfort or beauty, I forget they will eventually desiccate or fly away. I want to delight in their embrace so badly, but can't, at least not for long.

Only Your arms hold beauty, O God.  Only You last forever.  I reach for you, but then I remember...

You love me, I know You do, but I also know what You are--holy, perfect, terrible in power. Because You are holy and I am sinful, I cannot approach You, much less rest in Your embrace. Not on my own, at least.  But there is a way...

You show the way, the only way, to find the solace and peace I most seek:
A  broken spirit and a contrite heart.  These, O God, you will not despise.--Psalm 51:17
"Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God a a little child will by no means enter it." And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.--Mark 10:15-16

If I stand to face You, I will stand alone. If I approach on my knees, remembering my unworthiness, You take me in your loving arms.

The delight earthly beauty brings does not bring comfort or peace for more than the single, sweet moment for which it lasts.

Facing who I am before You, however, allows You to lay aside Your flint and to take me up in tender arms where You provide Your own harmony of color and a song that never ends.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I admit it.  God terrifies me. Yes, He loves us, but we can never forget His holiness--it is dreadful.  The ancient Israelites knew that, if they looked upon God in His glory, they would die.  They were right, and it is still true.

"Woe to me," I cried. "I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty."--Isaiah 6:5

The Bible sometimes expresses the wrath with which God shows Himself to human beings as His anger, but God doesn't have emotions the same way we do.  He is constant, unchanging.   But most importantly, He is God, and He responds to sin, when He encounters it, in just one way--destruction.

Jesus, of course, made it possible for us to be cleaned from sin, and therefore come into God's presence, but God made no such cleansing provision for His world.  The earth cannot meet God, not any more.  It, too, now bears sin and God has only one option:

The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire; and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.--2Peter 3:10

The Lord is holy, completely and perfectly, and His holiness strikes down anything or anyone imperfect who falls within His gaze. He does this purposefully, the same way He formed His creation, instant and complete.  

Biblical destruction is the only possible fate for a sinful creation encountering a holy God.  Creation has no option but to quake and fall apart.  It can do nothing else.

Only Jesus, sweet Jesus, stands between a holy God and a sinful creature. His love, and our faith in it, cast out all fear.  The world will fall, but we will not--not if we cling to Jesus.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sacred Tattoo

I am marked.  When God identifies His own, He does not do it secretly.  Those who belong to Him, He marks for all to see:

His servants will see His face and His name will be on their foreheads.--Revelation 22:4

He wants the world to know who we are.  He wants to proclaim Himself everywhere.  To this end, He uses all of us, even our skin.  It all belongs to Him.  

You were included with Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.  Having believed, you were marked with a seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing your inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession.--Ephesians 1:13-14

I am God's possession.  He wants me to know it and He wants the world to see it. And I get more than a  tattoo:

Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of the Lord...I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem...and I will also write on him my new name.--Revelation 3:12
This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord is our Righteousness.--Jeremiah 33:16

I have believed and He has pledged to give me His Name.  

Until them, however, I have a job to do.  My job is to overcome the sin with which He has ordained that I be tempted.  That is it.  To overcome temptation and sin.

To do this, I use His seal, His promise, as my defense.  Every time I resist sin, I exalt God's power in me and in doing this, prepare my forehead for His final tattoo.

I am His.  I proclaim it by His mark, His Spirit, His Name.  I live it through His strength.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When to Flex

How much am I supposed to let God do?  How much does He expect me to do?  I'm still trying to figure this out.

I know God is strong, much stronger than me in every way.  I also know, though, that He expects me to do some things on my own.  Which is which?

One part I understand--God is in charge of the impossible.  He will absolutely do what I cannot.  In fact, He has already done this.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.--Romans 5:8

While I wasn't paying attention, God saved me.  He did the hard part, the otherwise impossible part. Having done that, He turned my head to face Him.  Now, together we can do the easier part, the job of changing me.

If, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life?--Romans 5:10

In effecting salvation, God gave me life, Spirit, and a promise for the future.  Will He now drop me on my head if I find myself too weak to complete the job?  Of course not.

I must flex my muscle, as far as my strength allows, to accomplish my job in Christ. But what is that job?
Simply put, my job in Him is to be holy. 
Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.--1Peter 1:15

Can I accomplish holiness because I am strong or smart?  No, but I can do it because Christ's power lives in me.  As I do everything I can, He continues to do the impossible, right beside me, the end already in hand, His glory at my fingertips.

Praise be to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.--Ephesians 1:3

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Breaking the Lease

I woke up today tired of the weight of this world, tired of unrelenting regret born on old sins, the same ones I slog through time after time.

And I prayed for relief:
"Father, please show me some good today.  Please show me that this sadness will not last forever.  Is there some way to know now that I can some day leave this heartache behind?"

And He said to me:
He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool.--Hebrews 10:13
Wait. Even God has to wait.  Even God looks forward to a time when He will ruthlessly remake all things, when all weights will be cast aside.

And, Oh, when the time comes, what a transformation He has in store!
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet and loud voices in heaven said, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ and He will reign forever and forever."--Revelation 11:15
The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.--Matthew 13:43

This world is not yet entirely God's kingdom.  It still bears the marks and influence of its most recent landlord, the devil, but not forever.  God will remake it--all of it.

I cannot know real relief until that day.  Until then, I will live with this surrounding pain, the effect of sin, my own and others'.  This morning, all I looked for was a little relief, a little rescue.  And what did my God show me?  An inheritance, a righteous kingdom, a holy priesthood, a shining sun in a perfect home where thrones ring 'round Him, my Father, and His Christ.

We dealt with you the way a father deals with his own children--encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God who calls you into His kingdom and glory.--1Thessalonians 2:12
Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.--Matthew 6:10


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Coin of the Realm

In the United States, our coins say "In God we Trust."  Kind of an odd place for a God-message, isn't it?  After all, the things of heaven have nothing to do with exchange and commerce, right?  Well, actually, they do.

After a long time, the master returned and settled accounts.  The man who received five talents brought the other five.  "Master," he said, "you entrusted me with five talents.  See, I have earned five more."  The master replied, "Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master's happiness."--Matthew 25:19-21

God Himself, as in the parable, initiates a system of earned rewards and He does it with a presentation, a deposit.   The master gave his servant five talents, something too precious for the servant to have gotten for himself.  In our case, God begins the transaction with life and salvation, gifts way beyond our ability to gain, and He gives them freely. 

Once we receive these, however, things change.

Once we walk into God's open arms of redemption, the business of our life in Him begins.  This is when we become eligible for earned rewards, an increasing share in His kingdom and His goodness.  

We purchase these not with gold or silver or coins saying "In God We Trust", but by actually trusting Him.  We purchase our reward with the coin of God's realm--steadfast faith, righteousness, and the making of disciples.  By these we earn our crown in heaven, a crown based not on God's incomparable gift to us, but by what we have given back to Him.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for His appearing.-2Timothy 4:7-8

Sunday, May 6, 2012

How Good People Lie

The Bible says that Abraham was righteous, but describes how he lied about his wife.  It says Moses was righteous, too, then relates that he killed a man and ran away.  Then it says that the Pharisees, who revered and followed God's law to the letter, were not righteous, but vile, stinking, empty tombs.  What?

No one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law--rather through the law we become conscious of sin...Righteousness from God comes through faith...--Romans 3:20-22

Over and over, God's Word tells us that only faith justifies, only faith saves.  But that is not enough for us.  We want to DO something.  And doing good is healthy and pleasing to God...until the doing takes on more importance than the believing. 

The tipping point comes when we equate doing good with being good, when we believe that our ability to follow the rules makes us right in God's eyes.  This is where the Pharisees went wrong, and so do we.

The Jews had their law, but we have ours, too.  Every time we say or hear "But he's a good person!" to justify salvation, we witness a lie.  No one who tries to follow good behavior into God's lap of forgiveness will reach his goal.  Neither Pharisaical law nor a pretty, shined up life lead to heaven.

God does not change.  He does not flinch.  He saved by faith then, and saves by faith now.  Moses and Abraham believed, and were made righteous.  We believe, and He does the same for us.

And because believing includes recognizing God's supremacy and perfection, faith leads to repentance, and all the pieces come together.  The very last--the last--is the doing. 

We can't change a faithless, but proper, life into a saved one any more than a broken vase can be made into a perfectly new one.  We can only present our broken pieces to the Lord of all by faith, and let Him do what we cannot.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Getting Satisfaction

Sooner or later, everything turns into a God-problem.  My most recent self-examination arose from dissatisfaction with a car repair.  A car repair.  Normally, cars and theology do not immediately connect, but this time, the situation made me wonder.

It was clear that the repair shop serviced us poorly.  I was not a satisfied customer.  How, then, should I reply?  Should I complain?  Should I explain in detail?  Should I never go back?  Should I ignore it and smile?  None of these easy answers seemed adequate, and then I knew why.

In deciding what to do about the car, I didn't think about God. 

"What would Jesus do?" would not suffice this time.  Jesus, after all, is not an ancient, distant onlooker.  He stands beside me every moment, witnessing every act, hearing every thought.

Eventually, I got it.
The repair should not rise as my first concern.  I must act first in satisfying Jesus, my witness, my silent partner.

God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient, so do not be partners with them, for you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of the light.  Find out what pleases the Lord.--Ephesians 5:6-8, 10

I do not respond to the repairman so much as to my Lord.  Frankly, the repairman doesn't care all that much.  But God cares very much.

I not only live with sinners; I am one.  And because we sinners constantly rub up against one another, we have problems.  My job is not to try to make the problems go away or even to always try to solve them.  My job is, however, to always respond to them within the context of godliness.

My car may eventually be made right.  Or it may not.  But if I respond correctly to God, I have pleased my Lord, and that, in the end, satisfies me.