Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Living in Mature Relationship With God

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Deuteronomy 27 Deuteronomy 28

Chapters 27 and 28 of Deuteronomy form the first half of a set of blessings and curses Moses gave the Israelites prior to entering Canaan to take possession of the land. The blessings were theirs if they worshipped and obeyed the Lord and the curses came if they did not. These instructions cannot be fully appreciated, however, if viewed simply with a rules oriented perspective. A tit for tat mentality. This is the mentality we often default to in our approach to God. A works oriented mentality in which we think in terms of appeasing an angry god. If we disobey he will be angry with us and if we obey he will be pleased with us.

A full appreciation of obedience to God, however, can only be viewed within the context of relationship. This was what God was striving for throughout the whole history of Israel. The establishment of a people with whom He had a relationship in which He could demonstrate the blessings of living in relationship with the Creator-God of the universe. If we view God's instructions for living as simply a set of rules by which to please God, we distance ourselves from Him much as a teenager distances himself or herself from the relationship of their parents when they view their parent's instructions simply as a set of restrictive rules.

The blessings that come in obedience to God's instructions are first and foremost the blessings of living in right relationship with God. He has made us and designed life itself with full knowledge of how that life is lived to its fullest. This is the goal of His instructions and of our relationship with Him - to live the life He has given us to its fullest. If we live in rebellion to our Creator-God, we not only are displeasing to Him, we fail to live our lives to the fullest. Furthermore, by distancing ourselves from God He is not able to bless us as He would like.

We have to grow up and quit living like teenagers in relationship with God if we are to fully enjoy the life we have been given. God's instructions to us are the instructions of a loving Father, not of an angry God.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

It's Not About Me

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Psalms 77

Psalms 77 depicts a psalmist who went from despair to praise. In the beginning he was despondent and blaming God for his circumstances and in the end he was singing God's praises. What made the difference?

In the beginning the psalmist was focused on his problem and on himself, refusing to be comforted, as he says in verse 2. The first 10 verses are all about him and God is the cause of his problem. He raised the question in verse 9, "Has God forgotten to be gracious?"

But in verse 11 he decided to change his focus from himself to God: "I will remember the LORD's works; yes, I will remember Your ancient wonders." And with this change in focus came a change in his attitude. As he remembered what all God had done for him and his people in the past he was renewed in spirit.

He despaired over a moment in time in which he was troubled, and in his despair that moment seemed like forever. But as he remembered God's wonders in past history he regained his perspective. God is indeed a gracious God, and this time of despair will indeed pass!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Can God Protect What Is His?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Psalms 74

Psalms 74 provides a picture of God's work in the life of individual believers through His relationship with Israel. Israel was/is His covenant people. A covenant which He has promised to remember forever. But Israel had not been faithful to the covenant, turning from God to other gods. Finally God acted, bringing judgment on Israel.

This psalm tells of an enemy, possibly Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, invading Israel and destroying the temple. The questions and petitions of the psalmist to God are not what we might expect. Rather than questioning why God was doing this to Israel as if it were an affront to the people, he reminded God that they were His people who He had "redeemed as the tribe for Your own possession." (74:2) The affront was to God, said the psalmist, and his questions concerned whether or not God would allow His name to be mocked as if He could not protect His own people. He recalled God's might saying, "The day is Yours, also the night; You established the moon and the sun. You set all the boundaries of the earth; You made summer and winter." (74:16-17) Was the God who had established the moon and the sun going to allow this enemy to mock Him so?

Then the psalmist called on God to "Arise, God, defend Your cause! Remember the insults that fools bring against You all day long. Do not forget the clamor of Your adversaries, the tumult of Your opponents that goes up constantly." (74:22-23) In the end, the battle was not Israel's but God's, even though Israel had been unfaithful to the covenant. The covenant was still in affect, Israel was still God's people and so it was God's possession that was at stake along with His reputation.

Under Christ the question is often raised whether a person's salvation can be lost. This psalm, I believe, helps to provide an answer to this question, the answer being, "No, a person's salvation cannot be lost once gained." In Paul's letter to the Corinthian Christians he reminded them, "You are not your own, for you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20) As Israel was purchased by God, so those who have received Christ have been bought with His blood. We are His possession which He will not allow to be lost. It is His cause and His reputation at stake. Can He not keep what He has purchased?

The real question is not whether a person's salvation can be lost, but whether it has been gained in the first place?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Misplaced Fear

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Deuteronomy 20

Chapter 20 of Deuteronomy comes in the midst of godly instruction for Israel prior to her invasion of Canaan. At this point the instruction is regarding warfare and verse one of the chapter instructs: "When you go out to war against your enemies and see horses, chariots, and an army larger than yours, do not be afraid of them, for the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you." So Israel was not to fear even superior armies for God would be with them. As occurred over and over for Israel in their battles, God would fight their battles for them if they depended on His superior might rather than their inferior might.

Fear is frequently used to describe our regard for God. We are to fear Him, scripture tells us, referring to the awe and reverence we should have for Him. For Israel to shrink from going up against a superior army due to fear, they would in effect be in awe of that superior force rather than in awe of God whose might could defeat that army. This is instruction we can learn from as well. Not necessarily in regard to warfare, though that could apply too, but in regard to any threat that we face, be it a threat to our security to our health or whatever it might be. Sometimes we are immobilized from doing what we should, due to fear. It applies here as well.

Fear in the face of a threat is natural. I do not think this is the type of fear to which this refers. Instead I believe it is a fear that places more awe on the threat than on God who can enable us to face the threat and be victorious. In such a case, not only is our fear misplaced but we are also making a wrong comparison. The comparison should not be between our might or ability and that of the threat we face, but of God's might and ability compared to the threat.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Is God Is Enough?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Psalms 73

"What is in it for me?" This question tends to be the spoken or unspoken question with which we approach most any concern. When considering how we will relate to God it is a primary concern. "If I follow God and buy in to His instructions and try to live by them, how will I benefit?"

This was the struggle had by the writer of Psalms 73. Though he was a follower of God, he saw how the wicked lived. They had no concern about God, living their lives as they wished. Money and power were their pursuits and they seemed to have everything. People did their bidding for them and looked up to them. Was this not the life?

He began to doubt whether or not it was in his best interest to keep worshipping God. "Did I purify my heart and wash my hands in innocence for nothing?" (Psalms 73:13) This was the question he began to ask himself. It seemed to him that all he had were problems while the wicked had everything. But then he entered God's sanctuary and God opened up his thinking and life came into perspective for him. He realized he had been a fool to even think like this, for it lacked understanding.

While we live this life, what we see is all we think about. But this is not all there is. There is an eternity to come and by comparison this life is like a puff of smoke that fades quickly away. As for the wicked, the psalmist realized in God's presence that their lives placed them "in slippery places," and they would eventually "fall into ruin." (73:18) "How suddenly they become a desolation! They come to an end, swept away by terrors." (73:19) Such was the plight of the wicked. As for the psalmist, he determined that, "God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever . . . I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, so I can tell about all You do." (73:26, 28)

How easily our thinking is drawn to the thinking with which the psalmist struggled and we are tempted to throw in the towel and forget about God. But as the psalmist entered God's sanctuary, we must every day enter God's presence in prayer and reading of His Word. Otherwise we lose perspective.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Result of Losing One's Compass

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Revelation 3

Another of the churches addressed in the early chapters of Revelation was the church in Sardis. This church had a reputation for being alive. But the church was put on notice that in reality it was dead. In what way was it dead? "I have not found your works complete before My God." (Verse 2) Whatever works they had been engaged in had not been completed. Works started but not completed are only activities. Was this why they had a reputation for being alive? They had started many works giving the impression of doing much and being alive. Andy yet, they had not completed what they started and were therefore not doing anything at all. It was as if there was a lot of excitement in the church but no substance. But excitement about what? Their reputation?

Another clue to the problem in this church is found in verse 3, "Remember therefore what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent." Instead of saying, "Don't forget," they were told, "Remember." They had already forgotten the word of truth they had received when they first came to Christ. Having forgotten, they were not being driven by the truth they had be given, but by other ideas. They had lost their compass and were lost.

There were some in the church, however, who had not left the truth and "defiled their clothes." Most likely, these people were not well regarded by the church at large. But this needed to change. And unless it did, the church was warned that, "I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come against you."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Time for Church, But No Time for Christ

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Revelation 2

Revelation chapter two brings a statement of judgment against seven churches. The first one, given in verses 1-5, is against the church in Ephesus. At first it appears to be a statement of commendation, and the church was being commended for its faithfulness. But the main point was the judgment which follows the commendation.

What was the church in Ephesus commended for? It could not tolerate evil. It tested those who claimed spiritual credentials they did not possess and did not tolerate them. The church also had shown endurance, tolerating "many things because of My name, and have not grown weary."

All of this sounds rather good. So what was the problem? They had lost their first love - their love and deep devotion for Christ. No longer was it their love for Christ motivating their actions, but rather they were motivated out of a sense of obligation. Christ was not pleased with their sense of obligation. It was the relationship with them He desired. Nor was it a small matter, for if they didn't repent and return to their first love He intended to "remove your lampstand from its place."

A marriage relationship is always a good analogy for our relationship with Christ. Especially since Jesus is considered the bridegroom and the church His bride. What happens in one marriage after another when the husband spends too much time with work and little with his wife? Even though the husband may be capable of providing lavishly for his wife, she is not pleased with his lack of attention for her. Though he argues, "But I'm doing it for you," she is not impressed. And if he continues in this and does not change, she threatens to leave him.

The wife - or at least most wives - is more interested in the relationship. Being with him and having his attention. The things he provides are nice but a poor substitute for him. This is the charge Christ brings against the church in Ephesus. And this is the charge He could bring against many modern day churches.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Spirit of Generosity

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Deuteronomy 15

Deuteronomy 15:7-11 instructed the Israelites to be generous with their fellow Israelites. If a brother was in need one was to be generous toward him, loaning him "enough for whatever need he has." (Deuteronomy 15:8) The year of Jubilee was not to be a concern when making the loan. In that year, which came every 7 years, all debt was to be cancelled. So if it was the sixth year and a person was in need, one might not want to make the loan thinking it would never be repaid because of the debt cancellation the next year. But Moses said, "Give to him, and don't have a stingy heart when you give." (15:10)

There was a promise that came with these instructions: "the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you do." It was/is to be a win-win situation. Those who are need receive the help they need and those who help are blessed and will not be in need because of their generousity.

These principles are clear enough from a reading of the passage. However, we are then inclined to seek further answers asking such questions as: "Does this just apply to help for a spiritual brother or anyone?" Or, "If I help just anyone won't I just be enabling a person in a bad lifestyle?" Those are just two of a whole list of questions we might raise. There may well be legitimate questions that must be raised when a need presents itself. However, there is the risk when we start asking our questions that we might eliminate our obligation to help in any situation. In so doing, we also eliminate any blessing we might receive and eliminate help a person might receive that could make a significance difference in their life.

We will find little help from scripture to help answer these questions for it consistently admonishes us to be generous and to help those in need never offering guidelines for when we should be generous. But this is the case for much of what scripture teaches. Guidelines remove the need for us to seek God's guidance and it is that relationship of spending time with the Lord and following His leading in all matters that He encourages rather than to give us a rule for all situations.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Scoffers Are To Be Expected

Reflections for this date are based on readings in Jude 1

A Christian may become discouraged because of people who scoff at their faith in Christ. It becomes increasingly taboo to mention the name of Jesus in society. To mention God in many settings is not contested too much since this is a rather generic topic. But to mention Jesus is over the top for many. What is the Christian to do in such an environment?

The writer of Jude addressed this with those to whom he wrote, saying that they should not be surprised by scoffers for the apostles of Christ had forewarned that scoffers would appear, saying, "In the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires." (Jude 1:18) As the saying goes, "To be forewarned is to be forearmed." And how were they to be forearmed? By "building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life." (Jude 1:20-21)

Jude did not give any offensive advise but rather defensive advise aimed at keeping themselves safe. Our natural instinct is to go on the offensive, trying to shut down such people. But by doing so we adapt their tactics and potentially turn more people from the faith than they are able to accomplish through their scoffing. Jesus said His followers would be known by their love. Love serves as a magnet to others, but hateful and angry actions turn people away and do not appropriately represent Christ. Jesus cautioned His disciples from such efforts to get rid of scoffers through the parable of the weeds.

In this parable, an enemy (Satan) secretly sowed weeds (doubt) in people's wheat fields (Christians). Then when their wheat grew the weeds grew up among the wheat. The workers wanted to go in and pull up the weeds, but the owner of the field cautioned them not to do this since it would also pull up wheat along with the weeds. Instead, he said, they should wait until the harvest and gather the weeds first and destroy them and then gather the wheat which would be stored.

This parable is a good picture of what Jude was addressing concerning scoffers. They are Satan's agents to sow "weeds" among the "wheat." In other words, to plant seeds of doubt among the believers. But Jesus was discouraging efforts to combat these efforts because it would cause greater harm to the wheat than would the "weeds." Instead, He was saying to leave the weeds and their sowers to Him. In the end He would destroy them and the wheat would be safely gathered unto Himself.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Shaped By Our Thoughts

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Psalms 71

As I read Psalms 71 this morning, my mind was drawn to the thought of how we are shaped by what we allow to dominate our thoughts. While the statement, "We are shaped by our thoughts," might be attributed to a loose quote of Buddha, the context in which I use it here is quite different. Buddha's meaning relates to the power man holds within himself through his mind. The meaning that comes to me from Psalms 71 relates to God's power to overcome in our lives and the space we allow God to have in our heads.

The psalmist was overwhelmed by the difficulties he faced. Like any of us, he was pulled down emotionally and depressed by the threats he faced. Allowed to take over his mind, these thoughts would bring him down, providing a greater threat to him than did his enemies. But instead, the psalmist went to God in prayer and allowed God into his thoughts. Thoughts of God's deliverance replaced the threats he faced. He was reminded of how God had helped him since his youth which gave him renewed confidence of God's help in his present situation. He pleaded with God to "not be far from me" and was given a sense of His presence that gave him hope. Then he went from depression to praise.

Notice, then, verses 14 & 15: "But I will hope continually and will praise You more and more. My mouth will tell about Your righteousness and Your salvation all day long." As mentioned, the psalmist went from depression to praise, but then he took an important next step which was to tell others of how God had helped him, praising God's righteousness and salvation. The process of allowing God to take over our thoughts begins in our alone time with Him, but it is continued and strengthened when we are with others as we share what God is doing for us. Not only do we help and encourage others but our faith is strengthened as well. The more we voice God's praises, the more these thoughts take over our mind in place of the thoughts that threaten to defeat us.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Sin that Leads to Death

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
1 John 5 Deuteronomy 12

Some find it troubling when they come across scripture such as 1 John 5:16 that speaks of sin that leads to death, or a passage such as Hebrews 6:4 which speaks of sin for which one cannot be renewed to repentance. Another such passage is Matthew 12:32 which says that anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. These passages are troubling to them because they are concerned they might have committed a sin that is unforgivable or for which they might be punished with impending death.

But on the contrary, it is those who are not troubled by such passages in scripture who should be troubled, rather than those who actually are troubled. For the desire to be pleasing to God and to avoid sin is in itself an indication that such a person need not be concerned about an unforgivable sin. While one cannot speak with certainty of what specific sins to which these passages might be referring, we can know that they refer to sin that is blatant and unrepentant.

The passage in Hebrews 6, for instance, speaks of one who has acknowledged Christ and gotten a taste of the gift of life He gives and has become companions with the Holy Spirit. But then they have turned their back on it all and rejected it. For them to be renewed to repentance is impossible because it would require Christ to be recrucified, says Hebrews. This is a blatant turning away from God and His provision of salvation through Christ. One who turns away from God as this describes is not concerned about whether or not they have committed an unforgivable sin.

We should always be diligent to avoid sin in our lives. Though we will never completely succeed in this we can be assured that in our diligence we will avoid any unforgivable sin.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Judging Versus Discerning

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
1 John 4 Deuteronomy 11

Is there a difference between judging and discerning? Consider dictionary definitions of the two: judging is said to "form an opinion or estimation of after careful consideration." while discerning is to "Exhibit keen insight and good judgment; perceptive." Both involve forming an opinion or judgment. The main difference between the two may have to do with the motivation and the outcome. In making a judgment, one may be more conclusive about it, acting accordingly, while in making a discernment, one may hold the opinion or judgment in reserve keeping an open mind.

The question of judging or discerning comes to mind with the reading of 1 John 4:20-21: "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And we have this command from Him: the one who loves God must also love his brother." If I observe one who says he loves God speaking or acting unkindly toward a person do I not form an opinion or make a discernment concerning this person? I will naturally do so. But while doing so I will also put myself in check on two points: First, I will consider my own thoughts and actions. Am I guilty of similar behavior? and Second, I will consider my actions toward that person. Am I going to conclude that the opinion I formed based on their unkindness is conclusive and therefore treat them accordingly, or will I store away this information and hold my opinion in reserve? Will I continue to treat the person with kindness and consideration?

Jesus taught in Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge, so that you won't be judged." But in verse 5 He added, "Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." He was not necessarily saying that judgments should never be made, but rather that they begin with ourselves. It is necessary to be discerning so that we are not taken in by false teachers or taken advantage of by those whose words are not supported by their actions. If someone speaks of his love for God but I observe his treatment of others to be unkind and inconsiderate, I will be kind to that person while also being slow to fully embrace them. If they are being deceptive about this, in what else might they be deceptive? I will be careful about committing myself to them, but will also not assume I have the full picture.