All I Have Left

The Lord is my portion; I promise to keep your words.  Psalm 119:57

How many times have I described the Lord as ‘all I had left’ – after something of great value was taken away?   “I lost everything and God was all I had.”  Really?  It’s as if the real things of value were removed, leaving me with some stray object, God. The truth is that I have God plus whatever else I enjoy.  God is my portion.  Housing, food, relationships, employment are all extras.

I have been in a position when employment was removed and our family lived not knowing where our next meal would come from.  Did I believe at the time that the Lord was my portion?  I don’t think my heart was alive enough to Him to internalize that.  However, our family lived in prayer for provision and God was faithful.

I have been in a position to lose precious relationships, in death and in life.  Did I experience God as my portion?  Thankfully, yes.  Some of the losses were so staggering that I don’t think I would have survived mentally and emotionally if God had not strengthened my soul and been my companion.

For anyone to really say, “All I need is God” and mean it, it must be tested in the wilderness of need.  I don’t wish that on anyone nor am I sadistic enough to crave any more wilderness lessons for myself.  However, should they come (and they probably will), each of us has the opportunity to press in to the One who satisfies our soul.

The psalmist who wrote Psalm 119 is full of promises.  His heart pours itself out like a young person in love, making vows for life.  One thing is clear though, he is not starry eyed and inexperienced.  He has suffered.  His proclamations of love are intense because the pain was intense.  His love language is made up of spiritual grit, a grit carved out of faith that was built in hard times.  So is mine if, when tested, I trust and don’t curse.

You are my portion, God.  I promise to keep your words for the days I have left on this earth.  Amen

Making Someone Feel Worse With My Good News

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12 

Someone else’s shame is so easy to feed and I can do it without knowing it. How? By sharing my good news with a person who is experiencing struggles in the very same area as my victory.   Here are a few examples.

  • I’m in the peak of health and have just finished a 5k. I’m excited and want to share my success with a friend. The problem is, that friend has physical limitations. She is struggling with her health and discouraged by what she can no longer do. By sharing my good news in great detail, she feels worse but may never tell me because she loves me. There should have been a filter on my storytelling.
  • Over lunch, someone very well off financially shares news about their upcoming trip to Europe. She forgets the fact that one of her friends at the table is barely making ends meet. Nonetheless, stories of exotic travel continues. It’s very possible the woman who is fighting to stay afloat already feels shamed. Many wealthy people believe that if someone is poor, they had to have done something wrong. There should have been a filter on the storytelling.
  • You get together with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. You go armed with pictures and stories of your children, even your grandchildren. Talking about them brings you such joy. The problem is ~ your friend and her husband are struggling with family issues. Your friend lives wondering what they are all doing wrong. Without thinking, you share story after story about your family. Your friend is polite as she listens and long suffering as she looks at all the pictures. Meanwhile, while she cares about you, her grief has doubled. She’s too ashamed now to talk honestly and finds that her stories are caught in her throat. Shame has won. There should have been a filter on the storytelling.

You might be asking, “Shouldn’t the person who is hurting be able to share in someone else’s joy?” The answer is yes but the other person’s news should also be told with some sensitivity. If you’re the one who is fighting despair, a flood of good news feels far more painful than a simple condensed version. Applying a filter to my storytelling fits in with Paul’s words from Colossians. I clothe my ‘stories’ with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, and gentleness. To regard my hurting friend as more valuable than the joy I would get from telling my good news is what Jesus would ask of me. If I love her more than I love myself, if I am her servant, I refrain from exacerbating the pain inside her already wounded heart.

Help me prayerfully anticipate my audience – being willing to edit a story or two. Amen

 

Using What I Learned From a Religious Past

He [Jesus] said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Matthew 13:52

Every child of God should be constrained to share their faith and to tell the story of their relationship with Jesus. The storylines differ from person to person. Some have come to Jesus with no history of Christianity whatsoever. They have had no teaching and must get to know their Lord without the benefit of familiarity. This has its benefits though. Their heart is a clean slate upon which God can write.

Others, like me, have come to Jesus with years of Christian history under their belt. We have been saturated in church culture. We know a lot of scripture and can espouse many of the doctrines. Much of this was learned under the heavy hand of legalism, and let’s face it ~ Hasn’t it been tempting to throw it all out and start fresh with Jesus?

In this short parable, Jesus makes it clear that the most effective teacher uses the new and the old. He reaches into the archives of the teaching he was given and realizes that even though the teachers were flawed, the doctrines were usually sound. And if sound, they are treasures.  Part of maturity is to be able to value the truth apart from the messengers who delivered it. While they often marred the face of a gracious God, God used them to build a rock-solid foundation of scripture into the spiritual fiber of their young people.

It took me a long time to value my history in the church. I swung the pendulum the other way and over-corrected. For a while, I threw out the hymns. I also stayed away from anything that resembled ‘hell, fire, and brimstone.’ I shunned all messages that lacked the blend of truth and grace. Eventually, I was able to make a move back to the middle. The hymns became new to me. The scriptures I had memorized were available to me in prayer, also in my attempt to encourage others. I understood their context without having to engage in a lot of study. God opened my eyes to see the treasures and helped me discard what had been unprofitable.

In this ministry and by the grace of God, I am able to teach from the old and the new. God has done a new work of grace in my life but each experience has been built upon, and has been accentuated by, the foundation of learning that has served me well.

This mixture is what we are to pass on to those who come after us. Mentoring must be balanced with love-driven education and experiences with Jesus. Otherwise, knowledge taught outside the context of a relationship with the Savior will become a burden, not a joy. When I sit and learn at the feet of Jesus, my teaching will become contagious and the learning, effortless.

If there is more of the old I need to embrace, reveal it. If there is more I am to discard, let it surface. Be the sifter, Lord Jesus. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Becoming a Legitimate Fruit Inspector

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Matthew 7:15-18

         Jesus offers this parable to His audience just after warning about judging others. That message, plus this one, addresses what is one of the most misunderstood messages of our Christian culture ~ that under no circumstances should we judge others.

         So is all judging wrong? And if wrong, why would Jesus bother to tell us about false prophets being bad trees? He obviously wanted us to beware of them and He gave us signs to identify who they were. I contend that this is righteous judging.

         My husband’s father, a well-known evangelist, when calling a spade a spade, was often accused of judging. His answer was both comical and truthful. He said, “I am not judging. I am fruit inspecting.” That’s biblical.

         What I can learn from this parable is that wolves do exist and with God’s help, I can recognize them. A righteous person bears good fruit and a wolf, as well as any unbeliever, bears bad fruit. If I believe that good fruit is defined as simply doing good things then I am spiritually immature and run the risk of being deceived by people with an agenda.

         Good fruit is to do good things for the sole purpose of glorifying God. As a child of God, I am to do everything to the glory of God. Period. I don’t do anything good for my own reputation and self-gain.

         This definition is critical and clarifying because I see unbelievers (and wolves) doing good things all the time. But if I possess Spirit-driven intuition, I realize that they are incapable of doing anything good with the intention of giving God glory. That is not their intent. They are, either, driven by human compassion at best or driven to the desire for power and recognition at the very worst. I must be a prayerful fruit inspector to tell the difference.

         What is a good example of a wolf in the Gospels, according to Jesus? The Pharisee who stood up to pray in public and said, “I’m glad I’m not like other people.” He then listed all the other people’s sins. (Luke 18) Not only was he unaware of his own innate sinfulness, he thought himself better than anyone else, and he wanted others to know through the use of public prayer. Jesus was clear that this was unrighteous. Bad fruit.

         Can I truly identify good fruit and bad fruit? Do I know myself well enough to know the difference in my own heart? I need to start there or the deception that goes that goes with my own sin will blind me when I need to understand others in a way where I am protected from spiritual wolves.

Foster and birth greater fruit inspecting skills. In Jesus’ name, Amen

My Need To Make Someone Pay

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold.  Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan.  “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’  “Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt. “When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened. His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt. Matthew 18:23-34

I see how this plays out. Let me illustrate this by what I envision.

*********************

One day, God allows me to stand on the precipice of heaven. I see the incredible landscapes, but more than anything, I see the King of Glory in all of His radiant beauty. I cannot look at him for I am unclean in His presence. I cry out above the din of the angelic worshippers. “Lord, my sin! I want to be with You but I am a condemned woman and have no access to Your kingdom.”

“What if I forgave everything you’ve ever done against me?” He asked.

“Would You really wipe away all my offenses?” The thought is too outrageous. Knowing how great the chasm between Him and me, I am hopeless that such forgiveness would exist. Yet, I ask again out of desperation. “If that is possible, please do it. I repent. Please forgive me.”

 Jesus comes close and whispers in an intimate way. “I will forgive Your sins and erase Your offenses. I declare You holy, Christine. One day soon, You will come and live with me here. It’s a sure thing.” Overwhelmed by His mercy, I return to my life.

Sometime later, someone close sells me out without a thought. The wound is unexpected, extremely personal, and sends me into a chasm of pain. The betrayal was senseless and no matter how hard I try to figure out the evil done against me, I can’t. I hear the King of Glory whisper in my ear. “Forgive them, as I forgave you. Remember the vastness of your offenses against me.”

But I don’t connect with the memory as I should. My anger is too stirred up against my nemesis and I feel the need for swift justice. “I know! I’ll withhold forgiveness and turn my back to them.” I say to myself. “I will decide when they’re really sorry. Until then, I will make them pay.”

**************************

The degree of another’s sin against me, no matter how heinous, is nothing like the degree of my sin against God. The key to being willing to forgive others outrageously, just like Jesus forgave me, is to stay in touch with my own fate without my King’s mercy. Jesus said it this way, “He who has been forgiven little loves little. But he who has been forgiven much, loves much.”

Oh King of Glory, My King of glory, show me again what I would be without Your salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen

You Who Are In Heaven

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. Genesis 37:23

Joseph was stripped of his royal kind of robe. Jesus was stripped of his robe, too. The momentary humiliation didn’t change the destiny or the spiritual identity of either. Jesus stayed in touch with that but I suspect that Joseph did not. History would prove that the brother’s destruction of the robe of many colors and treating their brother like a criminal would do nothing to stop Joseph’s ascension to a royal position in Egypt. Their sin against him only propelled it.

Jesus was God’s Son whether anyone acknowledged it or not. If the accusation flew that he was only the illegitimate son of Mary, Jesus was still God. When the crowd publicly humiliated him by accusing him of demonic possession, Jesus was still God. When His family eventually turned on Him and believed Him to be mentally unstable, Jesus was still God. When He hung on a Roman cross and died the most degrading death in existence, His spiritual status did not change. Jesus was still God.

If ever there were a world in which I needed to settle my spiritual identity, it’s this one. It is growing more and more unfriendly to the name of Jesus Christ and anyone who is associated with Him will experience discrimination. If a barb from a parent can lay me low for four decades, how will I survive if a community ostracizes me? If unfair criticism from a local spiritual leader sends me into hiding, how will I sustain the intentional diatribe of non-Christians who are looking for things to mis-represent?

No ill-treatment in this world can change my status in heaven. Heaven is what counts; it is eternal. Earth should be discounted; it will pass away. Though I am hated here, not one ill feeling comes from the Father who calls me His. While earth bestows the basest kind of shame, God bestows the heavenliest kind of honor.

The only way to stay in touch with these beautiful realities is to read a Word that is eternal, not temporary. Whatever it says, I can stake on it being true forever and ever. Today, I may be Joseph in a pit. Tomorrow, I will be reigning with Christ.

Every time Jesus was crushed, He looked up until He felt Your favor. I lock my eyes on You. Amen

Hiding The Light Of The World

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:46-47

Was it difficult for Joseph and Mary to give Jesus a normal upbringing? Was he just one of the villager’s children? Scripture doesn’t say but as Michael Card encourages believers to read the Word with their God-given imaginations, we can wonder. In this one account from Luke, Jesus goes to the temple when He is twelve, asks a few questions, offers some insights in response, and the scholars are amazed.

How do you hide the Light of the world in a dark and oppressive Roman society? In Nazareth, there very well could have been stories among the villagers about Jesus. Though His first public miracle was at the wedding at Cana, did things happen earlier that could only have been explained by the word ‘miracle’? We’re not told but I find it interesting that Mary turned to Jesus at the wedding and casually asked if He would do something about the fact that the wine had run out.

This child, Jesus, was also divine. He was also the One who spoke the world into existence. How could His words have been common, even as One Incarnate? As He saw the broken world around Him, wouldn’t He have addressed it on more than one occasion? Surely He would have seen parents, brothers, and extended family members get sick. Surely there would have been demonic manifestations near Him in everyday life. I wonder if the presence of God, resident in Christ, caused cataclysmic reactions at various points in His childhood. It could be that God Himself veiled the eyes of those around the Christ child to protect His identity until it was time for Him to begin His ministry. But surely something extraordinary happened in the temple when Jesus was twelve. This we know ~ His divinity was on display that day.

What does all of this mean for us? When God gives a gift, there is no indication that it should be used indiscriminately. When God entrusts His disciple with spiritual abilities, they should remain inoperative until God says it’s time to use them. Thirty years of age is a long time for Jesus to wait to be released into public ministry. In God’s wisdom, there were thirty years of preparation for three years of ministry.

You and I may be aware of spiritual gifts that lie in waiting. We strain to exercise them and second-guess God’s wisdom of how long we must wait for the door of our calling to be opened. Could it be that God raises up a disciple for forty-five or fifty years before commissioning him/her to realize their usefulness? Could there be a lifetime of preparation for a few short years of ministry?  Could destiny follow decades of obscurity? In God’s economy, yes. John the Baptist was a flash of Light but never, according to Jesus, did anyone burn brighter.

Oh, the mystery of Your ways. For every place that I wait for You, I submit to Your wisdom and timetable. Amen

Save