March 23, 2018

Fun? Or Joy?

Sometimes a bad dream ruins a good night’s sleep. I had one of those where some people were having fun, but what they were doing distressed me. Getting back to sleep was impossible. However, the Lord put a song into my mind and as I praised Him. The dream was not real, and He changed my distress to peace, even joy.

I’ve had people say they didn’t want to be Christians because that would ruin all their ‘fun’ which suggests that some ‘fun’ activities would not win God’s approval or please the church. Maybe so, but the good news that any so-called fun activities disapproved by God and His people are replaced with something far better.

Jesus speaks in general that instead of those who “come only to steal and kill and destroy,” He has a better plan. He says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Abundant means “considerably more than one could expect or anticipate.” Is abundant life better than fun?

The Lord adds specifics to this abundance. He promised His disciples: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) Answered prayer is awesome, and joy is far richer and longer lasting than fun.

Perhaps some have a false idea of fun. For one thing, it totally depends on circumstances. On the other hand, God is the source of joy and it is ours as a gift. Things that turn us away from God might be fun for a while, but like the wise man said, some things seem right at the time, but lead us down a dark path.

Jesus probed at the motivations that cause people to reject Him:

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:17–20)

What do darkness lovers really believe? Is their philosophy of life like my dream where life’s pleasures seem fun at the time, yet fades because it is fake fun that depends on activities, things, other people, stuff? In some ways, that kind of fun is like my dream — at some point it goes poof and is gone.

Dreams are usually illogical too, but the Bible definition of faith seems to fall into that same category:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

Fun-lovers can see what gives them pleasure, but they cannot see God or the results of faith until they experience it. Yet biblical faith is more than the verbal description. The Bible describes by what happens to people who have it. Hebrews 11 gives many examples, and yes, some faith-filled men and women die — persecuted for their faith. (Need I say that everyone dies?) Some give their lives to serve in harsh and demanding conditions — yet there are categories of ‘fun’ ruin health, mental stability, the capacity to think with wisdom, relationships, and a host of other important things in life without anything to show for it. Faith produces a different set of values.

Faith also comes with the gift of the Holy Spirit who gives us attitudes as we live our abundant life: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23)

Faith means freedom from the tyranny of selfishness and sin. Faith means fullness and meaning in life. Faith means intimacy with God and insight into His plans for this planet. Faith means forgiveness and freedom from guilt. Faith means total delight in doing His will. It means power and a sound mind, wisdom, hope, assurance for the future even the future after this life is over. Loving Jesus makes me extremely happy. My search for ‘fun’ never satisfied me as He does.

Jesus, You gave me emotions that I might experience life in its fullness. Never let me be satisfied with ‘fun’ if it means abandoning the deep joy that You give, a joy that carries me through good times and bad, and never leaves me wishing for more perks to keep my mood up!

March 22, 2018

Light, darkness and His glory

The Bible is full of metaphors and other figures of speech that help readers understand what God is telling us. One of the easier ones, at least for me, is light and darkness. I like light, but too bright hurts my eyes. Darkness is okay, but not total as running into walls or tripping over shoes on the floor is dangerous.

In the Bible, light suggests nothing hidden, no areas of confusion or being unable to see. Darkness is the opposite. Yet this metaphor goes farther than our personal experiences and represents much more . . .

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5–7)

Obviously, God is the ultimate light. He sees and knows everything. Because of sin and human frailties, I cannot do that. These verses suggest light and truth go together, but I’m not able to see and discern every lie. I mishandle the truth myself. I also fail to walk in the light that I do have, falling short of my own standards, never mind the higher standards of my holy God.

These verses tell me darkness is more than not being able to see. It is also not being able to have fellowship with God even though He loves me dearly. To remedy that, I must get out of the dark!

Another factor of darkness is how I can walk around in it saying I know and have fellowship with God, but that does not fly with Him. To say it is a lie. Practicing the truth is not only knowing it but walking by it, living the life that God’s truth describes and being truthful concerning where I am in that walk.

Another gauge of where I am walking is my spiritual relationships with other Christians. Fellowship is an interesting and often misused word. Christians can meet, sing, have coffee, and do all sorts of things together but no have fellowship. Genuine fellowship involves sharing the life of Christ with each other. If I am walking in the dark, that will not happen. Relationships will be superficial and mere ‘human’ (even fun) if they are without the precious openness and light of the Holy Spirit.

How does anyone get out of the dark and into the light? The answer is right after these verses:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

It is a simple answer — be honest about where I am. Yet if I am in the dark, how can I see where I am? This enlightening is the work of the Holy Spirit! He continues to bring light and life to all His people, correcting, encouraging, instructing, and drawing us continually to God, to the light. The enemy tells me lies — I tell myself lies — but greater is the One who lives in me, whose desire and task is to keep me in His care and walking in truth.

Many times, I have prayed, “Lord, You are the Savior. I need saving. Save me.” As Tozer says, the Holy Spirit comes with the light of truth in one hand and the blood of Christ in the other. What the light reveals, the blood cleanses.

Jesus, You are so wonderful. I was not like the moth drawn to the flame but was more like some horrid creature drawn to darkness, yet You took hold of me and pull me away from the fate of living lies in oblivion and thinking I was okay. You continually steer me toward the light and the truth — not only to show me where I was and am now, but to show me the glory of Yourself!

March 21, 2018

Pride and humility

Humility is a difficult virtue. I’ve said it before and say it again . . . just when a person thinks they are humble, they have lost it.

Pride is easier to identify. James paints pride as trusting the things of this world instead of trusting God. He goes so far as to label pride ‘adultery’ and following after the devil . . .
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:4–10)
James is one of those black and white people who call things what they are without any fudging. However, he has a redemptive spirit too, for he gives the solution to pride. He tells those who are unfaithful to God that God is always faithful to us. He opposes our pride, but He gives more grace. If my proud heart submits to Him, I am able to resist the devil — the one who keeps yammering at me to trust myself and anything else but God.

Not only that, when I draw near to God, He is right here, ready to forgive and help me out of that pride-pit into which I have fallen.

Tozer calls truth a “glorious but hard mistress” who never bargains or compromises. This world is fallen, making the path of truth a steep and difficult climb. My way is messed up by sin and sin makes the way of God not only strange, but hard to follow.
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:17)
The only way to win in that conflict is to submit to God. Otherwise, the flesh and the devil will overcome all good things and fill my life with yuck.

All that said, some days are more challenging than others. I can yield more easily to the God who makes life peaceful and comfortable than I can to the same God who tests me with all sorts of situations and predicaments that are tense and difficult. Nevertheless, the word is the same: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

Jesus, today I feel like two things that are far from the words ‘submit’ or ‘resist’ and closer to ‘flee’ and ‘give up.’ I need grace to resist that pride that yells at me that ‘I deserve better than this,’ and more grace to submit to several challenges You place in my path, and even more grace to stand against the devil and tell him to get lost.