The act of writing, of sharing the circumstances, the gifts and the graces planned and carried out by my Savior and God brings joy, peace, and contentment to know that He has my life in His hands. My prayer for those who read, who share in what I continue to learn each day, many times through my weakness, is that you will be encouraged to look for God's presence and grace in your life also.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sorting through a broken world with truth

[I wrote this right after the shootings at the school in Connecticut. Didn't publish it, but now in rereading I will.  Distance always helps.]

The reason one writes....the reason I write....is to put thoughts on paper, to perhaps organize thoughts into more logical thinking when things happen that can't be understand . That's is what this post is about....words that will help me sort out the madness of this broken world we live in. Such a broken world.

Putting down the things I know are true might help me begin:

*God created a perfect world...no sin, no weeds, no tears, no broken people.
   *But man sinned....a perfect world collapsed into brokenness and neediness.
      * God's plan, his purpose was all in place before the beginning of the world.
          *God's purpose is GLORY and Praise and honor for His Son
             *God's plan to bring glory to the Son includes a redeemed broken people to praise and thank Him.
                *In a broken world the only answer is God...because we can't fix anything....not others and
                   certainly not ourselves.
                   *He uses our neediness to draw us to Him.
                      *Not everyone will believe, will have faith to believe.

When bad things happen...when terrible, unspeakable things happen, He is the only answer...a sovereign, Holy God of grace, Who works everything for His glory and our good.

And so we praise God and we ask Him for grace, for peace, for comfort, for the trust and belief that we lack.  We go to Him as our shelter from the storm,as our place of safety, as our rock in the midst of shifting sands and times that we don't understand. He is our rest.

And through it all, and especially through the hard times, we know that He is teaching us more and more about Himself.  Teaching us to understand like Job did that this is all about God and not us. It is about His purpose.  That we are His creation, created to trust the Creator. Our "Why's" are answered with an understanding of Who He is, of His very character.

Job 42:2-6  
"I know that you can do all things,
   and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?"
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, 
   things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
Hear, and I will speak:
   I will question you, and you make it known to me,'
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
   but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
   and repent in dust and ashes."

We pray "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..."

And then we go out and love others, show grace to others, pray for others, pray for His will to be done.... we trust and do not fear.

And when others question God,
      when others curse Him,
               when others don't understand why,
we don't make excuses for our God,
     we ask Him to show His character,
         and His truth through His redeemed people, through me.

Father, Lift up your name during this time. Don't let others malign your name because of what happened.
What happened last Friday is beyond our understanding, our explaining....but through it we see absolute evil of our enemy, the devil, who is the father of lies and murder. We beg of you to stop evil in this world.
Father, we beg of you to reach out to those hurting with comfort, love and peace. Wrap your arms around them through your people who are near.
Father, we are so inadequate, but you are God....our God of refuge and strength.
Father, we ask that your "Kingdom come, your will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven."
We praise you and give all honor and glory to you.

And I thank Him always for his beauty in His creation.

Friday, February 8, 2013

"Do not love the world or the things that are in the world"

[The following is part of the lecture I prepared for our women's Bible study lesson on I John 2:15-27.]

15 “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life –is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

18 “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

27 “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

I don't know about all of you, but I know for me, this study in I John has been very reassuring. John presents to his readers a very definitive picture of what an unbeliever does and doesn't do contrasted with what a believer does and doesn't do. It has been said that I John contains layers of truth about topics that are peeled away layer by layer as we go through the book. Another compared the truths laid out here like a spiral staircase and as we go up that staircase we learn more and more about our fellowship with God and others; about what it means to abide; about the love of God for us which enables us to love one another as he loves us. And as we study these precious words, we learn more and more about the gospel, and how the gospel affects our daily walk with God.

I John can also be very convicting because as Christians we know that there are times we don't love one another very well; there are times when we don't obey God's commandments; there are times when we do love the world; BUT remember what John said in Chapter 1, "if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves" and "if we say we have no sin, we make God a liar and the truth is not in us."  As believers, we do know we sin. As believers we will be aware of our sin and that is good because it drives us right back to the cross as we fall on our faces praising and thanking Jesus for paying a debt that we, not one of us, could never ever pay.

A couple weeks ago, I was reading a devotional book that I would highly recommend.  Elyse Fitzpatrick has written several books but the one I'm reading is Comforts of the Cross. On Day 9 she is talking about the ever present sin we struggle against in these mortal bodies of ours. As a counselor, she sees many people who just want to get over “it.” They want the problems they deal with to be over whether that is problems in their marriage because of their behavior or other personal besetting sins they just want fixed...they want a cure and they want it now. But the truth is, our daily struggle against sin will continue, and as rather than overcoming sin as we age, we only see it more clearly.  I used to think that Paul was goofy when in the last years of his life, he goes on in Romans about how he is the chief of sinners...I mean Paul of all people. But as I get older, I have to say that I am more aware of my sin than ever in my life, the battle is not over....I haven't arrived.

Fitzpatrick points out that a verse that can help us put this into perspective is Hebrews 12:1-2, “Let us....lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

Here just like in I John, the writer of Hebrews gives us the answer, “Looking to Jesus who is the founder and perfecter of our faith.” Oh, that we could get that in our head, in our very being. Oh, that we could write on the back of our eyes a phrase, “Looking to Jesus.” I think someone needs to write a little chorus, one of those songs that you hear it once and you can't get it out of your mind, 
“Looking, Looking, Looking to Jesus.
Yes, I'm looking to Jesus, every day, every hour, every minute.”

The sin we face, the sin we struggle against can get us down. At times we want to give up because we feel like failures so much of the time. And don't get me wrong we need to know we sin, but if we focus on that we just fall further and further away from “abiding” in Jesus. We are always trying to fix ourself...I mean just walk in your nearest book store, Christian or not and you will find whole sections devoted to self-help books. Books with formulas, fixes, and how-to's for any kind of issue (sin) you are dealing with. And sin today is not called sin. Christian or not, sin today is referred to by most people as issues, problems inherited from bad genes, bad parenting, poor teachers, or even churches who did not do a good job.

 I want to read you a paragraph from that devotional that hit me deep and helped I John make even more sense.

"I've painted a pretty bleak picture, haven't I?  If this battles is so difficult, why don't we just give up?  That would seem reasonable if it weren't for the gospel.  The gospel teaches us that instead of focusing on ourselves and our closely clinging sin, we've got to focus on, to consider, Jesus. We've got to look away from our sin, whether, because it's alluring and drawing us toward it or because it's condemning and pushing us into ourselves and away from our Savior.  We must patiently focus all our attention on him. We've got to think on, ponder, or consider, Jesus. Every aspect of the gospel is meant to encourage us in our war against sin... Our thoughts should be steadfastly riveted on what Jesus has done.  He began our faith (or we wouldn't have it), and he's committed to bring it all the way to completion. We will have victory; there will be a day when sin and all its sorrows will be wiped away. Christ's ultimate victory over our sin and weakness is assured because he's seated at the right hand of his Father."

Now, let's look a little more at this passage we studied in I John.

Starts out pretty strong...actually with one of the most convicting statements John makes: “Do not love the world...” 

 I don't know about you but that is hard. Do we love the world? Do we enjoy our homes, our things, our vacations, our trips, our families, our life? Of course there are things and times we don't like this world so much, but for the most part we do. After all, we we spend a lot of time trying to get more of what the world offers to make our lives better. So I think to get started on this part let's look back the basics of what John talked about in the first 15 verses of chapter 2 again. We need to see what he precedes this powerful, convicting command with.

What John begins with in this letter is the Gospel. If we don't get the gospel, we can't know God, we can't be overcomers of the evil one.
We see in:
Chapter 1-- Jesus had come to earth despite what the false teachers, the antichrists were saying. John and others had seen him, heard him, touched him. They knew Jesus was the word of life.
--The message that Jesus taught was that God is light and in him is no darkness
--If we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus, God's Son cleanses us from all sin.
--If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us
Chapter 2
--We should not sin, but if we do, we have an advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous.
--He is the propitiation for our sins.
--Because he is the propitiation for our sins, he gives us the power, his resurrection power, to keep his commandments and to love our brother, to love one another as Christ loved us.

And so now we come to verse 15:

  1. Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world-the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
But John has laid a foundation in the first 24 verses of this book that say we can and will live and walk in the light if we believe in Jesus Christ and his righteousness.

So we can be greatly encouraged knowing that Jesus gives all we need to not love the world. And to do that we need to be abiding in in the light. Abiding in Jesus, abiding in God. And we do that because He, God the Father and his Son and his Spirit abide in us.

John also gives us a great truth that will help us keep this world in perspective when he says,
“And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

Do you hear that?? This world is passing away.  It will all be gone some day.  Every last little bit of it.

I hope you can all see this poster. For those of you who can't see this poor illustration,  what I have tried to draw is a clod of dirt. D I R T.....just dirt.

I want you to think briefly about some things of this world that you really cherish, treasure, love. Whether that is your home, a room in your home, a pair of jeans that are really cool, or maybe you love the outdoors, the Incline and the views from the top, or a specific vacation destination, maybe a beach in Jamaica or Hawaii,  some music cd's you have, maybe it is food, like chocolate, or ice cream or steak. Anything in this world that you desire, want, have, anything that you could say and have said, "I love _____!"  Guess what?? AT some point it will all, every bit of it go back to dirt. D I R T. and so will these bodies of ours that we love so much. And I know you do because we spend more time taking care of, dressing, watching out for our bodies than anything else. But it is all passing away because it is part of the world..

But what abides forever? Whoever does the will of God abides forever—for eternity.

I find it interesting how many times John talks about eternity in his book. This week we saw it twice, “whoever does the will of God abides forever” and then in verse 25 where he says, “And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.” In the first chapter we saw in verse 2 that Jesus is actually called “the eternal life.” In chapter three we will see that eternal life does not abide in the murderer, but the inference is that eternal life does abide in the believer.

I know this command to not love the world really strikes a chord with all of us. Are we not supposed to want nice things, are we not supposed to seek to make our lives better, are we not supposed to protect what we have, are we not supposed to work hard to have more? But those really aren't the questions we should be asking are they?  Rather the question we need to ask is what thing or things in this world have I put ahead of God?  What have I made into my personal idols?  What do I trust in and depend on and love more than God? What do I think will save me, protect me, provide for me when the going gets tough?

It is only in the last year I have begun to understand idols. Don't ask me why I didn't get that idea before, maybe I was thinking about the idols in the OT....I mean none of us have any of those...do you have a gold or silver or bronze image of some animal, bird, creeping thing in your house that you bow before or pray to to get what you need? Of course not. But do we have “things” that we love and trust more than God in our lives? I think we do. Things that if we lost them, or never got them we would be depressed, devastated, lose nights of sleep over.

In your lesson you thought about what the desires of the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life mean. Those things represent all that our flesh desires, all that our eyes look at and want to have, and all the things in this world that have, the things that give us our worth. These are things aren't necessarily bad unless they become more important to us than God. In the book GOSPEL by JD Greear , he lists some questions that we can ask ourselves to help us see if there are things in life, in this world that we have put above God:
  1. Is there one thing that you hope for your future that if it doesn't happen life would hardly seem like living? Career success? A certain salary? Owning a home? Owning a second home in the mountains or on a beach? Getting married? Seeing your kids grow up to be successful? [I have to add one here that I know has been an idol for me in past years. And that is the government. Do you know anyone who in effect is trusting government to betheir answer to peace, prosperity and the good life?

     Here is my story...When a certain man by the name of Bill Clinton was running for president, I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that if he were elected the second time, there would never be another election. I read conservative thinkers and listened to friends. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would set himself up as "King" and this country would never be the same. He would take away all my peace and security.  Then when he was reelected, I was was absolutely devastated. I lost sleep, I worried, I fretted at every bit of news I heard about something he had done. Funny thing is none of my worst expectations came to pass. Actually, except for his morals, he did a pretty good job of leading the country to a time of prosperity. Hindsight is always better than foresight, but there is one thing I learned, "God is sovereign." He is in control and nothing happens without his plan and purpose coming to fruition. I may not understand why God brings something to pass but all He asks me to do is trust God and pray for my leaders.]

  2. Is there one thing you worry about losing; if you lost it would life be unsustainable? Your family? Your job? The love of your spouse? The respect of your kids? Your retirement income?

  3. If you could change something about yourself right now, what would it be? If your happiness depends on that thing changing, you have an idol. Maybe it is your weight? Your looks? Your job? Your zip code?

  4. Who is there in your life, that you can't forgive? Why? Perhaps an ex-husband ruined your life by what he did when he left, maybe you feel he stole the best years of your life? Maybe a close friend turned against you. Or a drunk driver caused an accident that changed your life forever. Many times our inability to forgive is connected to the fact that someone took away from us something we feel like we can't be happy without. There is nothing wrong with regretting, deeply, the loss of any of those things. When you can't forgive someone, however, it is usually because they took something from you that you depended on for life, happiness, and security. They stole something from you that you think can never be replaced, and you cannot stop hating them for it. What has left you bitter? Bitterness is almost always tied to idolatry.

  5. Where do you turn for comfort when things are not going your way? Perhaps food, shopping, alcohol, or even drugs. Perhaps you turn inward and do what our ungodly world tells us to do, tell yourself how good you are, how much better you are than others, how awesome you are. Greear told the story of his wife who felt like she needed a beautiful body to have any real worth, which led her to an eating disorder because the other idol in her life was food...where she found great comfort. But then she would get depressed because these two were in constant conflict with each other.
Augustine said that things like worry, fear, sadness, and deep depression are “smoke from the fires” rising from the altars of our idolatry. We put things, stuff, people, position, success on the altar thinking they will make us happy and they don't. Why??? None of it lasts. It all goes back to dirt, it will all eventually burn up. God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ abide forever and we abide in them. Just remember what John said, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

Then John goes on the talk about the antichrists who were causing problems in the church. Briefly, the antichrists John is talking about are those who deny that Jesus came in the flesh to earth.  They also deny the Father.  He points out that they may be in the church for a time but they eventually leave because they are "not one of us."
"The last hour" incompasses the time between the first coming of Christ and his second coming.
Once again in his warning about the antichrists,  John is trying to point out the difference between unbelievers and believers.

You see, the unbelievers will come. There are many more unbelievers on this earth than believers and many of them are teaching their beliefs in a god with a small “g” or they deny the very existence of God. Some are even in our churches, even in the Bible believing churches. So how do we stand up, how do we know they are wrong, how do we know that they believe a lie?

John says several things to tell us exactly who we are and why we know truth.

Verse 20. “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I do not write you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.”
What powerful truth and encouragement he gives us here. First of all we have been anointed by the Holy One. This is talking about the Holy Spirit who indwells all believers. Because he is in us, teaching us truth, we have knowledge. We know the truth. Lies are not part of what we know.

Verse 24 “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.”
And what did you hear in the beginning?? The GOSPEL, which is why we hear pastors, teachers, and leaders in the church say, “Teach yourself the Gospel everyday.” “Always go back to the Gospel.”

verse 27 “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.”
The anointing we have received abides in us. It resides in us, and teaches us about everything....everything that is true. And so as we have been taught, we must abide in him.

One of the small group leaders shared something that happened to her that illustrates this very well.

When Sara Bostrom was 16-years-old, she went to a retreat with the other young people in the liberal church she was going to.  At the retreat, the woman brought in from a liberal seminary spent the weekend telling these young people why they shouldn't take the Bible literally.  At one point Sara could keep quiet no longer and she raised her hand.
She said, "I don't think you are right. We should take the Bible literally." 
All the young people there and the adults laughed at her.  She ran to the bathroom crying.  
A friend followed her and asked why she was crying.
"I just know, inside of me, that what she is teaching is wrong."
Sara told me that it wasn't until later when she had been discipled and really learned about the Holy Spirit that she realized that is who had been teaching her truth "from inside."

Never forget the anointing that you have received from the Holy Spirit.  Listen to that small voice who is teaching, reminding, and abiding in you. 

And so have been introduced to this whole idea of abiding....and that is the key. Abiding refers to our focus, our trust. Abiding in him is all about where do our thoughts go first when we face problems, when we get kicked in the face with life, where our thoughts also go when good things happen and we give thanks. 

There is so much more in these verses but we will be looking at these same themes again. Lord willing, in the next lecture, we will look more deeply at that wonderful word “abiding.” John heard the truth of abiding from Jesus himself with the illustration of him being the vine and our being the branches. It must have made an impact, since it is one of those truths that John talks about over and over and we need to get it too. You see if we understand the idea of abiding, we won't be looking for love, security, things, and success in our world...the unbelievers and what they are trying to say will have absolutely no effect on our belief. Our focus will be on Jesus, as we praise and thank him over and over for the salvation he has accomplished in us...because we have passed from death to life.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The truth of the Gospel never ends

[Catching my breath and as I stop for a cup of tea....
 Won't you join me as I soak some Light into these winterized pores...]

I am so thankful for friends who share good reads with me... That is how I found each one of those books I recommend on the right side of this column. Check them out.

Now there is another one...on my Kindle...to read a few minutes every day, and think about all day.

Comforts of The Cross by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick.  There are other books she has written that I will be checking out...getting one for my grandbaby's parents, Give Them Grace, Dazzling Your Kids With The Love of Jesus.  Wish I had had that about 40 years ago, maybe I would have understood grace better.

More than anything, after all these years of living, of sinning, of loving, of hurting, of failing, of needing, of trying, God is still working in me...leading me further to more understanding of the gospel, that Jesus paid for it all.  Of the fact that he wants me to focus on him and what he has done for me...not on what I have or haven't done.

Yesterday, reading this in Comforts of The Cross, truth hit deep ....

"The gospel teaches us that instead of focusing on ourselves and our closely clinging sin, we've got to focus on, to consider, Jesus. We've got to look away from our sin, whether because it's alluring and drawing us toward it or because it's condemning and pushing us into ourselves and away from our Savior. We must patiently focus all our attention on him. We've got to think on, ponder, or consider, Jesus. Every aspect of the gospel is meant to encourage us in our war against sin. Of course, we should be aware enough of our sin that we seek to repent of it and are grateful for the cross, but that's not where our thoughts should settle."

Satan has us right where he wants us...out of fellowship with God....feeling like a failure once again. We spend so much precious time trying to do it right or not do it wrong.  And then when I fail yet one more time,  I think, "Great, I did it again!  I will never get this right! What must God think of me?"  And that leads me to ignoring God, because he wouldn't even want to be around me, after all he is holy and I am anything but.

So once again, I am learning, it is not about me and my pleasing God...it is about being pleased by and finding delight in my God who sees me clothed in the righteousness of his Son.

I John 4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

In studying for that lecture on I John I am looking deep at the word abiding.  Beautiful how it rolls off the tongue...abbbbidddding..................... like it just wants to stay there....not fall off the cliff. And isn't it good to remember that steadfast love and faithfulness is always part of God's abiding in me...

And now...back to working on the lecture.  More later.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Evidence of belief...love

Time for tea and some musing.  I thought maybe a picture of a tea table might help us take a deep breath and a little time out. Enjoy...

Funny how life goes...
   It is February 1...the month of Hallmark's "love"
        And in a few days I get to talk about some verses in I John. ....
             A book about fellowship with God,
                  A book about fellowship with one another.
A book about how we know we belong to HIM...
    Because we love one another.

So I've been thinking how I see God loving our one anothers through His own children....

   You pray....the Spirit enables us to pray for each other--for good things, for hard things, for growth, for peace, for healing, for fun things, for grace, for love for our one anothers.
   You listen....God enables us to listen well...to hear the pain, the heartache, the silent prayer requests, we listen for the joy to be shared, for the increased faith, the increased trust and then He helps us affirm each other.

   You encourage....at the Spirit's nudging, we say words that uplift, we write words that arrive at the perfect time...when needed, the corners of our lips turn up showing our sisters that things are all right in the world because God is on the throne.

    You do...."For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

And here I want to camp for a little while.

When hard things happen to others, children of God or not, we wonder, we question, and sometimes we are stunned. But God in his grace uses those times in many, many people's lives to grow them as they reach out to help, as they sacrifice time, money, energy to help.

They learn to do things they never thought possible, to give like they never thought they could, and they find the strength and energy to do what seemed impossible. They find words to say, that they didn't know were in them and they find tears to shed and love to give that they didn't know was in them.

They learn that God is good, and faithful, and true. They learn that his ways are perfect bringing Him glory and honor and praise as he works everything out for our good.

And so we who see these actions of loving one another in our lives...we know we abide in God and God in us.  What a wonderful promise.