Are your circumstances affirming you or Him?

There is someone who is currently ruining my life with their every move. They may not know it, but they are. The real problem is that I can’t tell them that they are and ask them to disconnect themselves from my world. I have to just live with them. I need to make the most of my day-to-day while they fail to disappear.

I wish God would intervene and finally remove them. But, for now, it seems that He still has a plan for their continued presence. As you may have noticed, I’m running out of patience for that plan to be drawn to a close. In fact, I wish God would find a new plan–since His plans seem to have a tendency towards the long-winded and I really don’t like this one. I haven’t felt comfortable with the plan since I first sensed its advent and that doesn’t seem to be changing much.

Discomfort is not my preferred spiritual condition. My idea of a first-rate God-manifesting plan for my life would look like an increase in my natural inclination to love God and His ways. But that doesn’t seem to be in sinc with God’s plan. He exposes my natural inclinations as being interminably committed to sin. There is no option of keeping these inclinations alive; I must put them to death and let God’s heavenly inclinations live in me. But I do not always feel ready to go on the mortification path.

The parts of me that feel most familiar are what I identify myself with most closely. To put them to death feels like putting myself to death. My idea of growth leaves death conspicuously absent; while God’s idea is that it be the center of all true life. Therefore, if my inclinations are not in conformity with His will, I do not enter them into a reform program, I cut off all life from them and let them shrivel up and pass away.

I am not normally a person given to glorifying death, but as a Christian, I must recognize that death has become the doorway through which glory shines through. Because of Christ, Life has descended into the depths of who we are and made us alive in Him. But, we must not neglect the fact that Life (that is, Christ) has also warred against all that is contrary to life and obtained irreversible victory over all such evil. The only way that we can live lives that consistently recognize these truths and persist in not neglecting them is that we beat our bodies into the kind of submission to them that Paul talks about.

We give up hoping for a magical transfer of grace that will override our hearts and make us perfect. Rather, we accept, with pure gratitude, the grace that has already been given to us, enabling us to walk in the footsteps of our Master. We do not fear death and all its tortures because of the hope that Christ brought out of it to us. We glory in the very things that burden our souls with a desperation for holiness.

Needless to say, I don’t really know what God is doing here–it’s a business that’s foreign to me. A little too foreign, if you ask me. I wish–if He must be intent on keeping His plans what they are–that He would be a little more generous with what He discloses to me of what they are about. But, somehow, not knowing the whys is proving to be more beneficial to my faith. It is stretching me to see that God’s wisdom is superior to mine in all circumstances, not just when it’s easy to offer God a high-five.

I’m learning to trust in ways that I couldn’t if everything was just as I liked it. In that case, faith would take a backseat in my life. Without trials, I would be free to trust what I see more than what I don’t see. I would be unpleasing to God in my walk and I wouldn’t even know it because it would all feel “just fine” to me. My earthly ways would be able to play out without any checks. Yet, because I am challenged, God is enabling me to look beyond what comes naturally to me to what could come supernaturally to me.

I wouldn’t be able to “see” God as clearly as I do now if the necessity of anticipation was not laid upon me. I’m voluntarily opening doors in my heart that I never would have if I wasn’t so in earnest that He come be a part of my existence in a more profound way. Because everything is not right–with me or my ideal-divorced circumstances–I’m learning to long, not just for more of God in my life, but for His presence to change me to be more like Him. His Spirit is the only true perfection I know. And when everything else is tainted, it is such a joy to know He is the One person who is impervious to the manipulation of evil.

Then, as I deepen my fellowship with Him, I long to be like Him in new ways. It’s not that He troubles my self-esteem, but He puts a hunger in my heart to know more purity at my core than I do presently. He makes virtue oh so appealing–for with Him it’s not a show; its the quiet, yet constant, revelation of who He is. And, when I’m with Him, I can’t get enough of that revelation. Nothing else in the world matters so much as receiving more of Him. No, nothing.

So, the person that rankles my flesh can go on rankling my flesh for as long as God sees fit. After all, that person pushes me toward Christ with a force that convinces me God has determined to work on me through them. Yes, I continue to struggle but, if you think about it, everything is working out. My faith is being worked out. My relationship with God is being worked out. And sin’s power in me is being worked out of me. Yeah, I’d say that is a pretty intense work-out session…one with lots of benefits (even when it’s sweaty and I want to quit because I think it all hurts too much). In the end I’ll be in the shape God wants me to be!

 

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You darn minimalist!

Let’s settle for less, okay?

(I know, that sounds nothing like me–unless I’m being sarcastic. I hope you’re not offended if that sounds like you.)

It’s just that I never like having the least possible amount of anything. I mean, come on! Would any of us say “let’s settle for less” if there was a chance put before us to be wealthy, famous, healthy or glamorous? (See, I don’t even settle for less with my lists–I make them rhyme! Aren’t you proud of me?)

I don’t think so. We would all go for as much as we could get. So why do we treat our spiritual life as something we’re not willing to nourish and protect to the full? What leads us to assume its inferiority to other things in our life? Why does our spirit’s profit not drive our every acquisition?

Because most of what profits us there impoverishes us somewhere else, right?

I wish this were not the case–that we would allow one area of ourselves to be totally mismanaged because doing so might cause another to suffer. Does this even make sense? Where is our sense of living for the whole?

Maybe it is dead in the wake of extravagance and over-the-top living which can only be accomplished in small areas of our lives. One part of us has become spoiled and willful. What shall be the cost of not restraining it? Stretching to exhaustion every other part. And all to serve the one which gives nothing back to the rest.

This is the nature of the flesh. It does not give back to us or anyone else. It is selfish and manipulative. It has a cutthroat mentality that cannot be curbed unless is turned on itself. This is the only way to keep your spirit alive. Confrontation like this is not a worrisome case of taking things too far; anything less would be to let things go too far.

Don’t believe me? Take a good look at your flesh–what feeds it but sin? And how about the spirit–what feeds it but holiness? Which would you like to characterize you? It’s as simple as that. I can’t tell you what to do, but be sure that one of these–the flesh or the spirit–will!

I can’t find ME in Humility!

You’ve emptied me in a new way, Lord. I don’t know what to think of Your activity this time. Am I okay? What are You doing? Can I trust You with a completely new thing?

I know I can, I just know at the same time that I don’t want to! I want You to be more understandable, nicely fitting into what I was already was hoping for. AGGH! This is hard. Waiting on You must become waiting for You. Am I really so far off from that?

I like to believe that I’m okay and You like to show me just how un-okay I am. You’re humbling me in ways I never expected. Most of my inclination is to just plead with You to stop. Somehow You hold onto my spirit, causing it to still blossom in Your presence.

I want a life that is far more happy than this. A humble heart does not seem to be worth all this! I want ease, not accountability. Popularity, not purity. Besides I can’t even see any fruits from this. If You’re going to do such a holiness-motivated work the least You could do would be to impress me with the great measure of reward I will receive from it.

But that would that really be part of humbling me successfully? Isn’t the point here for me to see my emptiness and the unreasonableness of my pride? How can that be accomplished if pride and its demands are yet acknowledged and shown great respect by Your Spirit? How can I expect my spirit and flesh to thrive at once?

Revel in these things

Do you find it possible to revel in God and the things He is doing for you when He invites you to settle into obscure places? Can you be satisfied when He chooses to bless your spirit while allowing your flesh to be afflicted with painfully incapacitating cramps?

Is it necessary for God to fulfill your natural ambitions for self gratification in conjunction with His own ambitions for the mortification of self in you?

Can you see pain through the eyes of redemption?

Is there a desire for true life at whatever cost it may come– wherever place it may be found?

What matters more: comfort or contentment? One demands a certain set of circumstances, the other welcomes whatever the Father includes as a necessary part of His plan for your sanctification.

Is it okay for your life to become a mission field–a designated area that God can freely position Himself and His instruments to make of You a person who honors Him with everything, no matter how humbled we are by our fledgling resources. Our God can use anything for His purposes; indeed, He knows no boundaries for His glory–do you?

Humor me, I need Humiliation!

Humiliation. When’s the last time you experienced this? When I face something as painful as this, I wonder, what good could come from this? What am I supposed to be learning that I may still benefit herein?

If you have been the object of humiliation enough times, you are alert for it. You may even live in fear of it. Where will I find it this time? When will it happen again? It would not be surprising if you have made a goals that are centered around it — whether that be to avoid any occasion that could possibly serve it, or to become masterful in the art of recreating situations similar to previous instances so that you can feel in control this time.

For myself, I chose the former strategy and worked hard at it. Pride is a marvelous impetus for this sort of proactivity, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Since I had plenty of it, I had plenty of reasons to protect myself and an equal number of systems to accomplish this.

I thought I was doing well. What could hold me back now? I wondered. I had myself in a perfect shell and saw no way for anyone to poke through and discover my shame. Well, like most fool-proof plans, mine wasn’t as perfect as I thought, neither were the problems I faced as predictable as I expected them to be.

Not only had I grown accustomed to anticipating and avoiding situations that presented the occasion for another to compromise your confidence, but I worked hard at developing a flawless public presentation of myself to work as an added buffer.

Anyone who has been the object of humility enough times, will likely turn to reprocessing these moments of shame and reorganizing the elements originally involved. The shame incurred on such an occasion does not rub off as a matter of course, just as a bit of soil on your favorite garment. Soil on the soul cannot be lifted by the one who wears it, and no attempt to personally manipulate its effects to live well again.

Serious work must be done. But, how is it to be done and what can such operations be expected to look like?

Though there are a lot of ways that the subject of humiliation could be addressed, I would like take the focus we have here from Isaiah 30:3.

Therefore the strength of Pharaoh Shall be your shame, And trust in the shadow of Egypt Shall be your humiliation. (NKJV)

According to Scripture, our greatest humiliation is not in what someone can do to us, or in who we are, but how we have turned against God. He is the One who has declared our worth and has traced out our limits and potential, but we pretend that we are the makers of ourselves. The very idea of God claiming connection to everything that we are is unnerving, and so we deny it.

And yet everything of our humanity disturbs this idea — we can do nothing in our own strength. Everything we have comes from Him. We are in no position to guarantee anything, we rest on God’s mercies whether we acknowledge it or not. Our next inescapable proof waits only for the next disaster or sorrow that will bring us back to our knees. Why else would Scripture so blatantly declare our inability to make ourselves what we ought to be? We must see that it is obvious. Ezra 9: 7 leaves no question:

From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today. (NIV)

But humiliation does not end with us, God is involved in this epic as well. In the final four verses of Ezekiel 16 we observe our Maker’s intended conclusion to our spiritual failure:

“Nevertheless, I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.

“Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you receive your sisters, both your older and your younger; and I will give them to you as daughters, but not because of your covenant.

“Thus I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD,

so that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation, when I have forgiven you for all that you have done,” the Lord GOD declares.

Clearly what God would stir up in our souls is a deep humiliation of the soul — the realization of one’s sin and how this has wounded the heart of God. This goes far beneath the level of mourning the consequences of our sin and wishing that we were perfect for our own sakes. The desperation of agreeing that Christ’s atonement is our only hope takes hold when we identify ourselves as the only reason that God would ever suffer at the cross and yet He did anyway — for reasons too holy for us to understand.

Abiding in Christ — the Priceless Lamb of God who sacrificed Himself for our sins — we would sooner live by the counsel of Provers 25:6:

Don’t work yourself into the spotlight; don’t push your way into the place of prominence. It’s better to be promoted to a place of honor than face humiliation by being demoted. (Msg)

We would recognize the honor the Father has placed upon Christ, and we would rejoice in how He has brought the fulfillment of all God’s promises to deliver us from our sin and restore us to Himself.

Our prayers would become one’s centered on Christ, we being people that would most gladly accept humiliation for the cause of Him who acquaints us with all that David reflected of the Savior prophetically.

Let us offer the Words of Psalm 132:1 to God in our gratitude for Christ (whose place in the Psalms David’s name first held in ancient times):

[ A Song of Ascents. ] LORD, [earnestly] remember to David’s credit all his humiliations and hardships and endurance–(Amp.)

Thus before God, we find in Him the conclusion of the whole matter:

Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:]Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained,

But stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being.

And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross!

Therefore [because He stooped so low] God has highly exalted Him and has freely bestowed on Him the name that is above every name,

That in (at) the name of Jesus every knee should (must) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

And every tongue [frankly and openly] confess and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (Amplified Bible)

Craving Contentment More Than Ease

Does that sound like a strange thing, or what — craving contentment more than ease. That is the opposite of where I found myself today. I wanted as much ease as I could manage. Isn’t it funny that that is our first response to hardships, when God would give us so much grace and insight through our trials — the same ones we’ve prayed for, ones we couldn’t get anywhere else?

On Sunday, God got my attention with a message by Jace Hudson, talking about trials. As I look back, it was kind of like God was sneaking up on me and giving me a gift, a gift I wasn’t as aware as He was that I needed, but one He was faithful to present, and impress on my heart anyway.

I must admit, that I was sitting there, not expecting much from God, feeling a little spiritually numb, I guess. Then, God just began addressing me exactly where I was. Two statements that stand out to me are from Jace’s comments on the morning’s text, 1 Peter 1.

1) God uses trials to help us, not hurt us, a fact I have heard, but according to a rule I had not attributed to Him: God only allows those trials (in our lives) that are necessary. (We) have been saved from so many trials that just weren’t necessary.

2) He will do the protecting! And how kind of God for us that all He has us do is have faith.

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble believing those things. Like number one, God may only allow those trials that are necessary (v. 6), but when I feel pain my flesh is powerless to agree with that. I do not want to believe that life is “both a mixing of sorrow and joy,” in my self-centered interest I would rather blame God and insist He remove it all immediately.

Yet, how comforting his second point is then, God is doing the protecting. Though I may not like how He does it, I do not need to assume that burden. There is a heavenly lightness in living by faith; no, not in doing nothing, but in attributing all strength and hope to God, in walking not according to what I can secure for myself, but what I will let Him reward me with, undeservedly, in His timing.

Help me, Lord, to forsake arrogance and cling to You for life. Let me not consider what I “ought to deserve” when I should feel cast down by trials and temptations, but what You did not deserve and chose to bear in my place anyway. I want that to be my light, the shining beacon that guides my way in every storm of life. As You Wish.

I, Peter, am an apostle on assignment by Jesus, the Messiah, writing to exiles scattered to the four winds. Not one is missing, not one forgotten. God the Father has his eye on each of you, and has determined by the work of the Spirit to keep you obedient through the sacrifice of Jesus. May everything good from God be yours!

What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.

I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.

You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.

The prophets who told us this was coming asked a lot of questions about this gift of life God was preparing. The Messiah’s Spirit let them in on some of it—that the Messiah would experience suffering, followed by glory. They clamored to know who and when. All they were told was that they were serving you, you who by orders from heaven have now heard for yourselves—through the Holy Spirit—the Message of those prophecies fulfilled. Do you realize how fortunate you are? Angels would have given anything to be in on this!

So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”

You call out to God for help and he helps—he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living.

Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.

Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it. Your new life is not like your old life. Your old birth came from mortal sperm; your new birth comes from God’s living Word. Just think: a life conceived by God himself! That’s why the prophet said,

The old life is a grass life,
its beauty as short-lived as wildflowers;
Grass dries up, flowers droop,
God’s Word goes on and on forever.
This is the Word that conceived the new life in you.

1 Peter 1