Laudable Linkage

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These are some noteworthy reads if you have time today:

Look for Life Among the Living. “Don’t seek the living among broken mirrors, unfulfilled longings, and external doings. He is not there. He has risen!”

Never Read a Bible Verse (and Never Listen To a Sermon Clip). “I read the paragraph, not just the verse. I take stock of the relevant material above and below. Since the context frames the verse and gives it specific meaning, I let it tell me what’s going on.”

Allow Parenting to Push You Toward Humility. “We can admit our own shortcomings while also pointing our children to the truth of God’s word. To do one without the other is not true discipleship”

We Are Okay, and We Are Not Okay, HT to the Story Warren. From a family 40 days into quarantine in China. “If I only go where I feel safe, is that trust? If I only follow where I am guaranteed to be okay— health or otherwise— will my faith grow? If I only wander as far as I have placed my own protective boundaries, will I know the ever-sweeter presence of a Savior who would take me to the heights? Or will I be safe, but stunted?”

Your Child May Not Ask Questions, But He Needs Answers Anyway. “Kids are interesting little people. They are always thinking, always assessing, always making decisions in their minds about how things are. I think we forget that about them. We assume that if they aren’t talking about it, they aren’t thinking about it, but nothing could be further from the truth.”

And to end on a smile:

Happy Saturday!

Wanting My Own Way

We’re born wanting our own way.

Babies, of course, don’t know any better than to demand that their universe revolves around their needs. That’s all they know at first.

But even when children make their first conscious, deliberate choices, they demonstrate a “me first” mentality. If they want a toy another child is holding, they grab it. If they don’t want their food, they spit it out or throw the plate on the floor. They scream or cry at any displeasure.

We recognize such responses as immaturity and understand why God gave kids parents. We try to patiently teach them that the universe does not revolve around them, they have to sometimes acquiesce to others, it’s rude to grab things from away from people, they sometimes have to do things they don’t like to do (and can’t do things they would like to do). As they get older, we teach the concept of taking turns, negotiation, and compromise. It’s a sign of growth and maturity when they can take the next steps to give sacrificially: to let someone else play with the toy they want, to give someone else the last cookie, to let someone else choose what movie to watch.

Even as adults, we note and dislike signs of selfishness in others and in ourselves.

Yet we’re still prone to want our own way.

Wanting our own will isn’t always bad. I think God gives us certain innate desires and tendencies that guide our futures. Someone who hates math will probably not be an accountant. Sometimes God nudges us out of our comfort zones, even out of our natural gifting, to cause us to depend on Him more and to show that the results could only have come from Him.

The problem comes when what we want conflicts with what He wants.

For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want (Galatians 5:17, CSB).

Some years ago, I did a study of phrases like “own way,” “own thoughts,” own heart,” etc., in order to find plenty of fuel to remind me that my way is not usually best. I ended up with four pages of types verses. Here are just a few:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts (Proverbs 21:2).

Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices (Proverbs 1:31).

What’s so wrong with wanting our own way? Sometimes nothing. But if our will clashes with God’s, then guess Who is right?

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? (I Corinthians 6:19).

For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them (Psalm 44:3).

One of the worst things God can do to us is give us up to our own ways.

Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! … But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels (Psalm 81:8, 11-12, ESV).

Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices (Proverbs 1:29-31, ESV)

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves (Romans 1:24).

And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul (Psalm 106:15).

When I struggle with wanting my own way, I try to remember these things:

God has a right to call the shots.

He’s the creator. He made me; He made this world. Everything I have, my life, my breath, even my righteousness, is from Him. “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).

He is wise. He knows best.

He is kind. He is loving.

If He allows bumps in the road, delays, frustrations, unpleasantness, and even outright pain, He has a purpose. He promised His “grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Therefore, I should:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In
all your ways acknowledge him,

    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8, ESV)

Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God (Romans 6:13).

Elisabeth Elliot said, “To pray, ‘Thy will be done,’ I must be willing, if the answer requires it, that my will be undone.” That’s not always easy.

But I am heartened that our Lord Jesus, in His human nature, prayed in Gethsemane, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).

He taught His disciples, and practiced Himself: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

And what was the result when He yielded to His Fathers will? Besides obeying, pleasing, and glorifying His Father, He accomplished what was needed to save multitudes of people.

It’s one of those seeming paradoxes of Scripture that “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Luke 17:33). Whatever we want to hold onto for ourselves we will eventually lose. What we yield to Christ He will keep for us and give back so much more.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…(1 Corinthians 13:4-5, ESV)

Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Thou art the potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will,
while I am waiting, yielded and still.

Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Search me and try me, Master, today!
Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,
as in thy presence humbly I bow.

Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Wounded and weary, help me I pray!
Power, all power, surely is thine!
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine!

Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway.
Fill with thy Spirit till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me!

Adelaide A. Pollard (1906)

I was blessed by more songs about God’s way here.

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Every Resolve for Good

Did you make New Year’s resolutions this year?

How are you coming with them?

A friend mentioned reading that most people break their New Year’s resolutions by Jan. 17.

I have not made New Year’s resolutions in years. Why set myself up for failure? Besides, resolutions seemed moralistic, pulling myself up by my own bootstraps (if I had any boots, much less with straps).

Then one day I noticed an “I will” statement in the Bible. Then I did a study and found several more, like:

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes (Psalm 101:3).

I will keep thy statutes (Psalm 119:8).

I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word (Psalm 119:15-16, 48, 78).

They sounded suspiciously like resolutions. Hmm, I thought. I might have to rethink this.

Then I stumbled across Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions, which begin:

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

No bootstrap-pulling there.

Then last year I was floored to discover these verses in the Bible:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, ESV).

I know I had read them before, but in the KJV. Sometimes reading in a new translation will open our eyes to things we hadn’t noticed before. Looking up other translations, I like how the Christian Standard Bible (one I am not familiar with) puts verse 11: “In view of this, we always pray for you that our God will make you worthy of his calling, and by his power fulfill your every desire to do good and your work produced by faith.”

So we are supposed to resolve things? Evidently. But not trusting in our own strength. We pray, as Paul did here, and depend on God.

I looked up some commentary on this verse and found John Piper’s post.

First, Paul says he prays “that our God may make you worthy of his calling.” But wait a  minute—isn’t the whole point that we’re unworthy, and we’re only made worthy by believing and relying on Christ’s righteousness, death, burial, and resurrection? Yes. As Piper puts it:

Now what 2 Thessalonians 1:11 says is that there is a way of life that is worthy of that call. Worthy doesn’t mean deserving or meritorious. It means fitting, proper, appropriate (Luke 3:8, fruit worthy of repentance).

 A former pastor once said that Philippians 2:12b, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” meant first of all not to work for your salvation. Rather, we’re to work out our salvation like a math problem, taking it to its logical conclusions. In other words, take those high and lofty ideals in the Bible, those rock-solid doctrines, and work them out into your everyday lives.

We’re saved in a moment, but we spend the rest of our lives working out the ramifications of our salvation into our everyday lives as we grow in grace.

As we desire to do good, to rightly reflect and honor the Lord, we make decisions. We evaluate everything by whether it’s worthy—fitting, appropriate, proper—for a life redeemed by God, for His glory.

Because we still have an old nature, we have a battle on our hands.

For the flesh desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. For these are opposed to one another in order that you should not do those things you might wish.
 (Galatians 5:17, ESV)

But if we “walk by the Spirit” we “will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (Romans 6:12-13).

Yielding to God means making the decision to do so. Piper goes on to say:

The first point is that seeking the power of God to fulfill our good resolves does NOT mean that we don’t really resolve or that we don’t really use will-power. The engagement of God’s power never takes the place of the engagement of our will! The power of God in sanctification never makes us passive! The power of God engages itself beneath or behind and within our will, not in place of our will. The evidence of God’s power in our lives is not the absence of our willing but the strength of our willing.

This is the point where I often stumbled in the past. I viewed resolutions as my will-power (which I was short on) or God’s. And then I wondered why I didn’t have victory in some areas. But “The power of God engages itself beneath or behind and within our will, not in place of our will.” (More on the battle between the flesh and Spirit can be found in an excellent message here.)

I’ve found generalizations like “I need to eat healthier” or “I need to cut down on sugar” or “I need to be less self-centered” just don’t cut it. I’m going to have to get more specific in resolving to do the good and right things that glorify God.

Paul Tripp says it’s not usually the big, dramatic moments or decisions that change our lives (though change may start there).

You see, the character of a life is not set in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments. The character that was formed in those little moments is what shapes how you respond to the big moments of life …

And what makes all of this possible? Relentless, transforming, little-moment grace. You see, Jesus is Immanuel [God with us], not just because he came to earth, but because he makes you the place where he dwells. This means he is present and active in all the mundane moments of your daily life.

And what is he doing? In these small moments, he is delivering every redemptive promise he has made to you. In these unremarkable moments, he is working to rescue you from you and transform you into his likeness. By sovereign grace, he places you in daily, little moments that are designed to take you beyond your character, wisdom, and grace so that you will seek the help and hope that can only be found in him. In a lifelong process of change, he is undoing you and rebuilding you again.

The new year is a good time to take stock and evaluate what needs to change in our lives. But we don’t need to wait until then to resolve to do good. Every morning we can ask God to lead us and give us grace to live for Him. As we read God’s Word and He teaches and convicts us, we, by faith, depend on His help and grace to put certain practices aside or add others. Or, as we’re about to do something and the Holy Spirit reminds us of a truth from God’s Word, we trust that God’s Word about this issue is right and yield to Him.

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God’s Deadlines

If you’ve had or worked with children, you have likely faced this scenario. A child does wrong repeatedly. After much instruction and admonition, the parent or teacher says, “If you do that one more time, you are going to face this consequence.”

The child does it one more time. The adult begins to administer the promised consequence, and all of a sudden, the child starts doing whatever he was supposed to, or starts crying and pleading for mercy.

Knowing when to be firm and when to show grace was one of the hardest parts of parenting for me. But if I had promised my children a certain consequence would follow certain actions (or lack of actions), I felt I needed to follow through. They needed to know I would keep my word, plus they needed to be trained away from last-minute feigned repentance that only occurs when punishment is coming.

Our church is reading through and discussing Jeremiah together, five chapters a week. Jeremiah’s message was not a popular one. Basically he had to tell the people to get ready for the consequences of their actions. In the Israelites’ case at this time, the consequences for their continued idolatry, disobedience, and lack of repentance involved the king of Babylon conquering their city and deporting most of them to Babylon as captives.

Sometimes people accuse God of cruelty when He sends judgement on people, but they forget the years of longsuffering that led up to the judgment in question. Closing the door of the ark so no one else could get in seems drastic, but people had several decades of preaching and warning beforehand. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5) and “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence (verse 11). 1 Peter 3:20 says, “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” God was patient, but He also said His Spirit would not always strive or contend with man (Genesis 6:3). There was a deadline.

Similarly, God had sent His prophets over years to preach to the people in Jeremiah’s time. God told Jeremiah a couple of times not to pray for the people, and the ESV Study Bible notes how unusual this command was  I don’t think that meant that Jeremiah could not bring them before the Lord at all. But, if I understand it correctly, he couldn’t pray for God to turn away His judgment unless the people repented.

But the people flat out refused to repent. A few times they came to Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord for them, or they called out to God to help them, but their repentance was either not genuine or was short-lived. At one point, they responded to God’s pleas for their repentance and warnings of future consequences with “That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart” (18:12). Another time they said, “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you” (44:16). God pleaded with the people to turn away from their folly and come to Him, but they wouldn’t. So, eventually, consequences had to come.

God’s consequences are often meant to have a sanctifying effect. He chastens out of love and for our good.

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.

. . . He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-6, 10b-11)

Scattered throughout Jeremiah are God’s promise of future restoration of His people. They would spend 70 long years in exile. But among those taken captive were future heroes of the faith, like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who would take a bold but gracious stand for God and witness for Him to foreign kings. Ezekiel preached to the exiles. Ezra and Nehemiah led the people back to Israel.

But not everyone made it back. In the course of 70 years, many died.

Back in Numbers 13-14, Israel refused to advance into the land God promised them. He pledged to be with them and help them overtake it, but they refused in fear. They were condemned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until every adult who had refused to obey had died.

But God’s deadlines don’t refer just to chastening. Earlier this year it was on my heart to write to a woman who was like a second mother to me. But I put it off. I would be sending her a Mother’s Day card in a few weeks, and I planned to write a letter to send with it. But then I received word that she’d had a series of medical issues, was unresponsive, and was in her last days. I know with all the joys of heaven, she’s not thinking of not receiving a letter from me. But I have the regret that I didn’t respond to that prompting and share some words of encouragement. When my grandmother and aunt died, I also regretted that I had not kept in touch better in the last few years. A pastor’s wife told of the regret she felt when she leaned that a lady she saw regularly at some place of business had died suddenly. She realized that she had never spoken to her about the Lord. We only have so much time to do good.

Proverbs 27:1 (NASB) says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

Sometimes when we think about the limitations of time and the shortness of our days, we can get into a frenzy. But that’s not what God wants, either. Jesus only had 33 years on this earth, with only three and a half of those years involved in official ministry. Yet He was not frenzied. He didn’t heal or preach to everyone on earth at the time. He rested sometimes. But He did everything God wanted Him to do. We need to seek Him for wisdom, guidance, and the right priorities for each day.

Eventually, we are all going to face a final deadline. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6:2: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

It’s wise not to put off repentance and believing on Jesus as Lord and Savior, because we never know when our time will be up and we’ll hear God’s final call.

It’s wise not to put off obedience, because the consequences have to come at some point.

It’s wise not to put off doing good, because someday we’ll no longer have the opportunity.

The older I get, the more I’m aware that I have more days behind me than before me.  I want to follow God wholeheartedly until that final deadline comes.

How about you?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Literary Musing Monday, Hearth and Soul, Purposeful Faith, Happy Now, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode, Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Share a Link Wednesday,
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Look Up

I don’t know how to type correctly. Somehow I never had a typing or keyboarding class. Over the years I have developed my own “hunt and peck” method, which is slow and riddled with mistakes.

Since I’m not trained to know which keys are what direction, I have to look down at the keyboard. You’d think, after typing for 40 years, that I’d know the keyboard by now. Because I’m looking down, I don’t realize what mistakes I’ve made until I look up again. Sometimes I don’t realize I accidentally hit the “Caps Lock” button until I look up and see a sentence or two capitalized. Sometimes I highlight something to delete or move, and when I look up again, I can’t even recognize my paragraph because somehow my highlighting shifted and caught more words than I meant for it to. I’m abundantly thankful for Control+Alt+Z to undo my last action! Other times, I miss a prompt that would have saved me a few keystrokes.

I may not be able to help looking down at a keyboard: my (bad) habits have been ingrained for so long, I don’t know if a typing class could help me now.

But this continual looking down reminds me of a character in the second half of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Part 1 of the story focuses on Christian; Part 2 features his wife, Christiana. In one scene, the Interpreter takes Christiana to a room “where was a man that could look no way but downwards, with a Muckrake in his hand. There stood also one over his head with a Celestial Crown in his Hand, and proffered to give him that Crown for his Muck-rake ; but the man did neither look up, nor regard; but raked to himself the Straws, the small Sticks, and Dust of the Floor.”

Then said Christiana, “I persuade myself that I know somewhat the meaning of this: For this is a Figure of a man of this World : Is it not, good Sir?”

“Thou hast said the right,” said he, “and his Muck-rake, doth shew his Carnal mind. And whereas thou seest him rather give heed to rake up Straws and Sticks, and the
Dust of the Floor, than to what he says that calls to him from above with the Celestial Crown in his Hand ; it is to show, that Heaven is but as a Fable to some, and that things here are counted the only things substantial. Now whereas it was also shewed thee, that the man could look no way but downwards, it is to let thee know that earthly things when they are with Power upon Men’s minds, quite carry their hearts away from God.”

Then said Christiana, “O! deliver me from this Muck-rake.”

“That Prayer,” said the Interpreter, “has lain by till ’tis almost rusty: Give me not Riches, is scarce the Prayer of Prov. 30. 8. One of ten thousand. Straws, and Sticks, and Dust, with most, are the great things now looked after.”

With that Mercy and Christiana wept, and said, “It is alas! too true.”

I assume this was in the days of dirt floors, so this man’s task was a necessary one. But it wasn’t the only thing in life that needed his attention. He was so caught up in the everyday tasks that he missed the most important things.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus described some “who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

We can get so caught up with the cares of this word, can’t we? Floors have to be cleaned, as well as the rest of the house, errands run, meals cooked, laundry washed, dried, and folded, family tended to, and so on, and so on, and so on. And then the desire for other things distracts our thoughts.

But we need to take time to look up.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:26, ESV).

All our tasks and pursuits here are only temporary. There’s a greater reality beyond our muckraking.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished (Isaiah 51:6).

And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh (Luke 21:28).

The muckraker didn’t believe in anything higher to look up to. Let’s not follow his mistake.

They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son (Zechariah 12:10b).

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else (Isaiah 45:22).

And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12:32).

Even after salvation, we have to continually remind ourselves to keep the right perspective, to put God first, to seek His ways.

My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up (Psalm 5:3).

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:1-2, ESV).

We look up to acknowledge our need for the only One who can help:

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2, ESV).

And we need to look from our pursuits to minister to others:

Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest (John 4:35b).

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:4-5a, ESV).

God has given us good work to do, but He never meant for those tasks to eclipse Him. Much of our life and ministry is in the mundane, everyday moments of life. But that work and those moments are given meaning by the time we look up to Him. It’s vital to spend time with Him, and then carry those thoughts we gain from His Word back into our everyday lives.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. ~ Hebrews 12:2a

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Helen H. Lemmel, 1922

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Let us lift up our hearts to the One lifted up for us

Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven. Lamentations 3:41

Have you ever felt this way? Have you wished you could lift your very heart and soul to God?

God foretold through His prophets that one day His Son would be lifted up for the sins of His people.

Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind. Isaiah 52: 13-14

Jesus identified Himself as the One who would be lifted up for mankind.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:14-15

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. John 12:32-33

God sits on a throne, high and lifted up, in holiness. But He lifts up the humble and the bowed down.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Isaiah 57:15

A tax collector, in his deep awareness of his sinfulness, “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!‘” Luke 18:13.

Because Jesus was lifted up on the cross, we can lift up our eyes:

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Psalm 123:1

To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. Isaiah 40:26-26

Our souls:

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. Psalm 86:4

Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Psalm 143:8

Our voices:

They lift up their voices, they sing for joy; over the majesty of the Lord they shout from the west. Isaiah 24:14

Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Isaiah 40:9

Our hands:

So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. Psalm 63:4

I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes. Psalm 119:48

Our prayers:

Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary. Psalm 28:2

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling. 1 Timothy 2:8

Our song:

Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Psalm 68:4

Our praise and thanksgiving:

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! Psalm 141:2

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord! Psalm 134:1-2

Have you seen Him high and lifted up? Have you lifted up your heart and soul to Him?

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26

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(This post was inspired by the September 6 Daily Light reading, which led to a rich study.)

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Laudable Linkage

I have another short but noteworthy list today:

Don’t Trust in Your Christianity, HT to Challies. “I’m afraid many find themselves in a similar predicament of pretense after growing up ‘Christian,’ developing ‘Christian’ habits, and embracing ‘Christian’ ideals—all without any real knowledge of the truly narrow road that leads to eternal life.”

Skillet’s John Cooper on Apostasy Among Young Christian Leaders. I don’t know this person, but I was fascinated by this article a friend linked to on Facebook. I think he’s right. “It is time for the church to rediscover the preeminence of the Word. And to value the teaching of the Word. We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion. And what we are seeing now is the result of the church raising up influencers who did not supremely value truth who have led a generation who also do not believe in the supremacy of truth. And now those disavowed leaders are proudly still leading and influencing boldly AWAY from the truth.”

Most Growth Will be Slow Growth, HT to Challies. “We are just plain tired. Tired of daily self-denial. Tired of taking two steps forward and one step back. Tired of walking on a road that feels endless, toward a city we cannot see. Disillusioned and exhausted, many sit down on the path, not sure if they will get back up again. Why does the slowness of our sanctification come as a surprise to so many of us?” This is something I have wrestled with and very much needed to hear.

How Not to Fall Away, HT to Challies. “[Paul] mentioned Hymenaeus and Alexander who had blasphemed and ‘concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck’ (1 Tim. 1:19-20). What a terrible image. But Paul wasn’t exaggerating. He had been shipwrecked (2 Cor. 11:25). He knew that apostasy was no less tragic than the sinking of a vessel on which people’s lives depended.”

Finally, this cracked me up at first, but then seemed poignant. A lot for a short video to convey! The comments on YouTube with different people’s interpretations was interesting, too.

Happy Saturday!

Do We Know God for Who He Really Is?

Someone recently told me of a gift sent by a friend of her family’s. Though she appreciated that this person thought of her, the gift revealed how much the giver didn’t really know the receiver.

Of course, we don’t always the hit the nail on the head even with those closest to us. I try to always get gift receipts just in case something isn’t right, even if I bought the gift from a link the recipient sent to me. Sometimes we thought we saw the person admiring that item, only to find they considered it and decided against it. Sometimes faulty memory or understanding leads to poor choices. Sometimes we make an educated guess that falls flat.

But usually the better we know a person, the better we are at choosing just the right gift for them.

There are other ways we reveal how much we know another person. I’ve heard myself and my motives described in ways that make me wonder what led the speaker to those conclusions.

Some years ago I read a greeting card for a husband to a wife that was meant to be humorous. The card had several cartoonish drawings of things the husband got wrong with short captions. At the end, the card declared, “I may get all these things wrong, but I sure do love you, honey!”

But blissfully saying, “I love you!” is undermined when one’s actions display a lack of thought or consideration. Yes, we all fail each other sometimes, and need to be forgiving and forbearing. Yet there’s a difference between occasionally letting each other down and a whole lifestyle that shows either blatant ignorance of what pleases the other person or a lack of care.

Truly getting to know someone as they really are takes lots of time together: time talking, doing things together, observing one another.

It’s the same with God. “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Yet so often people describe God in ways the Bible does not portray Him. Or they live out their lives the way they think He wants them to, without finding out for sure what He said.

If we don’t know God for who He really is, the results are more serious than a well-meant but inappropriate gift. We’re in danger of creating a god in our own image, according to our likes and dislikes rather than His. And if eternal life is a matter of knowing Him, then not knowing Him is a matter of eternal death.

We’ll never know God as completely here as we will in heaven, but we should be continually growing in our knowledge of Him and in our own transformation into His likeness. He’s given us His Word. Though it’s relatively short, compared to all the things He could have told us, it contains just what He wants us to know.

The ESV Study Bible notes in one of its appendices:

The Bible is God’s written revelation of who he is and what he has done in redemptive history. Humans need this divine, transcendent perspective in order to break out of their subjective, culturally bound, fallen limitations. Through God’s written Word, his people may overcome error, grow in sanctification, minister effectively to others, and live abundant lives as God intends (p. 2507).

Throughout the Bible, God says that people worship Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. Let’s not just blissfully express our love to Him without regard for who He truly is and what He truly wants. Let’s make it a priority to spend time with Him in His Word and prayer and get to know Him more and more for who He truly is.

 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15

Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD. Hosea 6:3a

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3:18

For further reading: How to Know God.

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Recapture Your Wonder

Do you ever find yourself in a rut? Do you approach your quiet time in God’s Word with boredom rather than excitement? Do you find yourself taking God for granted sometimes?

I’ve experienced all of these to varying degrees. So last week while reading a post on dryness in ministry, one phrase caught my attention: “recapture your wonder.” The author referred to Jeremiah 2:19: “Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me.” But beyond the article’s scope of ministry, this applies to so much else in our lives.

Once when reading from a devotional book about the attributes of God, instead of responding in worship or praise or awe, I thought, “Yeah, I know all that already.” I was shocked by my own calloused attitude and jolted into immediately confessing it to God. I asked Him forgive me and quicken me. Then I went back though the verses, praising the Lord for each of the attributes I read there. Then I was thankful, full of praise, uplifted, inspired…and humbled.

What are some ways we can recapture that awe of God?

Praise. So often we think we have to compartmentalize our devotional time: read for so many minutes or so many chapters, and then pray according to a list of needs we have to get through. We get lost in the minutia and forget the greatness of our God. But we can pray as we read the Scriptures. We can praise God for whatever He teaches us from the Word that day as we read. We can look up passages that exalt God and soak in them for a while, like:

Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:10-13, ESV)

Thanksgiving. Though thanksgiving and praise overlap a bit, I think of praise as exalting God for who he is and thanksgiving as thanking Him for what He does. Like the nine lepers who forgot to thank Jesus for healing them, we take our blessings and run off, forgetting to thank the One who gave them. All through the day when we experience unexpected blessing — an idea works out, someone is unusually kind, an accident is avoided — we can thank Him right in the moment. I’ve seen a meme going around that says, “Sometimes I just look up, smile, and say, ‘I know that was you, God!'”

Remember the relationship. Our time in God’s Word is not just about completing an exercise. It’s communication with the One who made us and loves us best. Even though we sometimes have multiple books and commentaries out while we study a passage, and it feels like homework, we can ask God to help us see Him in it all. We can leave space in our quiet time for thinking over the passage.

Remember our Ebenezers. Israelites in the OT set up a lot of stones as memorials to various events in their lives. In 1 Samuel 7:12, Samuel set up a stone to commemorate God’s deliverance of Israel from the Philistines. “Ebenezer” means “stone of help.” From this story comes the line in the hymn “Come Thou Fount” which says, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer — hither by Thy help I’m come.” A few years ago I wrote a list of my own “Ebeneezers,” times in my life when I knew God had done a specific work in helping or guiding or protecting me in some way. A few years later, I added to them. So often in the Bible, God rehearses His history with His people. It’s good for us to do the same.

All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well,
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

~ Fanny Crosby

Remember our salvation. Although our testimony is part of our “Ebeneezers,” going back and recounting how God led us to Himself warms our hearts. “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug” (Isaiah 51:1, ESV). If God had not intervened, my life, not to mention my eternal destiny, would have been filled with sorrow.

Remember your first love. Though God commended the church in Ephesus for several things, He had against them that they had “left their first love.” Even though they were doing the right things, their hearts weren’t in it or they had the wrong focus. Other things had come between them.

Go out into nature. Looking at God’s creation — a beautiful sunset, sun rays piercing though dark clouds, ivory dogwood blossoms against a blue sky, the ocean — inspires awe of the greatness, creativity, artistry, and skill of the One who made them.

Sing. Though singing hymns and spiritual sings is something we can too easily do on automatic pilot, when we really think about what we’re singing, it touches our hearts. A former pastor used to say that we benefit from singing three ways: reading, hearing, and saying the words, providing a triple reinforcement. Sometimes just reading the words like a poem helps reawaken me to their meaning. There are some songs that are especially meaningful for me and are my go-to sings when I need reviving.

Pray. Though I use the ESV more and more, I love the KJV word “quicken,” meaning “to make alive” in some cases, in others, “to revive.” Other verses talk about reviving or turning us. A few:

“My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word” (Psalm 119:25, KJV).

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6, ESV).

Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old” (Lamentations 5:21, KJV).

“Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens” (Lamentations 3:40-41, KJV).

We can pray these Scriptures or use our own words, asking God to show us the problem and soften and revive our hearts.

Read the Bible. Though we’ve touched on this, I wanted to emphasize that it’s the Word of God that revives us. “Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction. I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me” (Psalm 119:92-93, KJV). When we’re feeling dry spiritually, we might be tempted to lay aside the Bible until we “feel” more into it. But that’s the time we need it the most. At these times I’m likely to set aside my planned reading for the day and read and pray through some psalms or some passages that have meant a lot to me.

God is so great, so vast, and so holy, yet He cares about every detail of our lives and tenderly draws us to Himself. Taking time to think about who He is and how He shows His love for us can reinspire our awe of Him.

What about you? how do you recapture your wonder of God and all He has done for you?

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Press on toward the goal

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There is a tension in life between satisfaction with where we are and the need to grow in various areas. Coaches encourage and applaud athletes’ efforts and milestones while still pressing them to do more and do better. Parents celebrate and reward good grades and bolster their students for the next test or project. Performance reviews acknowledge an employee’s strengths and successes, but they also note areas where the employee needs to grow and improve. A wise coach, parent, teacher, supervisor, or mentor has to constantly seek balance, avoiding the stance of a slave-driving task-master who is never satisfied with anything less than perfection on one hand and that of the indulgent grandmother who never sees a fault on the other hand. And we need to seek that same balance with ourselves.

I see some of this same tension in the Bible, particularly Paul’s epistles.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, Paul writes, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.”

Paul prays that the Philippians’ “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9).

In Colossians, Paul proclaims: “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (1:27-29). Christ is in those of us who believe in Him, yet there is a sense in which we grow in maturity in Him.

In Philippians 3, Paul acknowledges that he’s still in a state of growth and hasn’t reached perfection yet. We often use his statement in verse 13, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” as an encouragement to forget the sins and failures of the past. But what Paul is setting aside in that passage is his past laurels (verses 4-11).

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV).

Our righteousness comes by faith in Christ, not our efforts. Our own efforts could never measure up. Yet there is still a “straining forward” toward growth in maturity.

Sometimes perfectionists can be thoroughly discouraged that no matter how much progress we’ve made, we’ll never get to the point where we don’t have something to work on. But we won’t be perfect until we reach heaven. Part of Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:11 is that we may “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Galatians 5:22-23 speaks of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” That fruit comes from God. But fruit also conveys the idea of growth. And growth takes time.

On the other hand, some of us are prone to inertia. “Good enough” is sufficient for some ares of life. I once heard of someone who boasted that when she made the bed, the sheets were stretched so firm and tight that a quarter could bounce off them. And I thought, “Whatever for?” I’m all for a neatly made bed, but a good-enough made bed falls far below quarter-bouncing standards for me. But “good enough” isn’t sufficient for spiritual growth.  We need that prodding to keep pressing on.

In recent years it’s become common to read of our “mess” in an effort to be transparent and authentic. We’re not perfect and we shouldn’t try to put forth a false perfect image, so we need to pull back the curtain and let people see our flaws and failures. And there’s truth in those thoughts. We can more readily identify with someone who doesn’t seem to have it all together all the time. Yet it’s easy to go so far as to glory in our “mess” instead of progressing.

Or we can feel that the progress we’re making in most areas offsets the areas we’re struggling with. We all have our besetting sins, after all. One son once got upset that I pointed out the one area of his report card that needed attention instead of being satisfied with the rest of commendable grades. While I needed to remember to acknowledge the good grades, I couldn’t overlook the bad one.

While fruit in our lives comes from God, He also calls us to pursue wisdom (Proverbs), love (1 Corinthians 14:1), righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11), peace (2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Peter 3:11).

Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” We’re made perfect in Christ when we believe on Him for salvation. But while we live here on earth, we still have our old nature, which fights against the new one we received at salvation (Galatians 5:16-17). That process of growth toward Christlikeness is called sanctification. Romans 12:2 tells us we’re transformed by the renewing of our minds, and one way we do that is by changing our thinking, lining it up with what God’s Word says, putting specific Scriptures in our minds that the Holy Spirit can then use to remind us.

The standard the Bible continually points to is Christ. We’ll never be Christ. But we don’t rest in self-satisfaction with how we’ve grown over the past ten years or how far we are compared to others: we grow towards His likeness. Yet we will stumble and fall, and we extend grace to ourselves while still making progress. II Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” As we behold Him in His Word, He changes us to become more like Him.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14, ESV).

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