Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Test for Loving God

If you love Me, keep My commandments.
John 14:15

The New Year is racing on with days flying and politicians talking about change. Maybe they are right. Change can be good. But when it comes to living the Christian life, some of the best habits are old ones. The best habit I ever developed came to me years ago through the ministry of a blue, plastic box and I hope it never changes.

I was at a point in my life when children and trouble finally sanded through my youthful veneer of Christian slogans. With tears and curses I concluded the Christian life was not just difficult; it was impossible. Sins kept sticking to me like globs of black tar. The situation might have proved desperate had it not been for a cheap, blue, plastic radio.

I can still hear them in my head: J. Vernon McGee; Theodore Epp, Billy Graham. They pointed the way to a clean life and I wanted desperately to follow. Although I was hundreds of miles from family, isolated in a farm house and surrounded by the boredom of babies and endless chores, the voices from the blue box offered something I desperately needed: hope.

One principle they taught was the art of daily cleansing. They said every night I should look back over that one day and identify each sin then confess it. The plan sounded easy enough. Sins weren’t hard to find. I was constantly losing my temper, swelling up with self-pity, resenting responsibilities, lying. The list was long and I wanted release but the first night I tried confession, I hit a snag.

There was no place in our tiny home for privacy! At last I settled on the bathroom. It was private, had a lock and if I worked the timing just right, no one missed me in the late afternoons.

One would think that hours of morbid introspection while kneeling by a bathtub would lead to depression and it might have if the voices coming from the radio hadn’t given guidelines that preserved sanity and kept me afloat.

First, they taught confession must be specific. If a sin had no name or I couldn’t give a concrete example of where I had committed it that day, guilt feelings were to be ignored. No floating guilt or general misery allowed.

Second, no sin was to be confessed twice. Once confessed, the subject must be dropped. Even if I had to confess the same sin a dozen times, each new confession must be connected to a new circumstance. No rehashing of past events once they had been placed at the feet of the Savior.

Third, they said I should never get off my knees without saying, “Thank You.” God promised to remove my sins as far as the East is from the West, No matter how I felt about the situation, I should trust Him to be faithful to His word.

At first the exercise was uncomfortable. It was like asking God to take out my daily garbage. But, I desperately wanted to be free so I kept coming back and falling by the edge of the tub.

Radio’s no longer come as large, blue plastic boxes; i-pods and digital broadcasting have changed the world. Still, I keep coming back to the simple system of daily confession and acceptance of forgiveness that I learned so long ago. It’s the only way I know to remain emotionally free. That’s a prize worth having. It’s also the best way to keep one of Jesus’ last directives, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.”

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Never Alone

I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you. John 14:18 NKJV

Some writers have identified the torment of hell as total isolation. [1] Drifting forever completely cut off from others and from God. Alone. Always and forever, alone. Conversely, the promise of Jesus is to come to us [2] dwell with us [3] and never, never leave us alone. [4] His very name is Immanuel: God with us! [5]
The contrast between these two concepts is startling and given a choice we wonder why anyone would ever choose loneliness? But we do.
We choose to be alone when we disobey. Sin is like a dimmer switch. Slowly, one act of disobedience at a time, our awareness of God’s fades until we no longer sense His presence. We feel alone.
We choose to be alone when we let the busyness steal our time with Him. Life is a pressure cooker and clocks can be cruel task masters. Unless we intentionally plan time alone with God and discipline ourselves to keep that schedule, moments turn into days then weeks that we have spent no significant time with Him. We feel alone.
We choose to be alone when we refuse to be silent before Him. Because God is our source and our needs are many, too often we spend the precious moments with Him reciting a laundry list of complaints and requests. When we’ve check off the last item, we dust our hands and race back to life in the fast lane and wonder why we feel alone.
The good news is that our feelings to not shape reality; truth does. And, the truth is Jesus’ promise that He would not leave us. We do not face the world alone. Indeed, we do not face a single day or moment without Him. He has never left us orphans and never will.
[1] Randy Alcorn, Deadline. C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce; [2] John 14:18; [3] Revelation 21:3; [4] Matthew 28:20; [5] Matthew 1:23

Friday, January 13, 2012


Whatever you ask in My name I will do it that the Father may be glorified. John 14:13 (abridged)

Before He went away, Jesus gave the astounding promise that we could ask anything we wanted—anything—in His name and He would do it. He even told us why He would grant our desires; because doing so would glorify the Father.

I know very few Christians who have not puzzled over this verse and some have fallen as they claimed what they believe to be a clear promise from Jesus, yet did not receive the thing they asked. I certainly don’t have the complete answers to this mystery, but a small light began to glimmer when I read the verse using a different name for God.

Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Looking at Jesus—knowing how He acted, what He said and how He felt—showed humanity the unseen God. It was probably the clearest picture of the Father He could give, but it wasn’t the only one. He also said “God is Spirit” [1] and later His closest earthly friend taught us, “God is love.” [2] All of these words and examples help us wrap our mind around a Being who is in truth beyond comprehension.

I don’t think we stretch the meaning of this verse too far when we insert other scriptural words for “Father.” Although the technique is not without limitation, the Father is God, and God is love. For better understanding, the verse might be read, Whatever you ask,…I will do it that Ultimate Love may be glorified.

How could prayer— especially “unanswered” prayer—glorify (exalt, lift up) Love? The scenarios are not as difficult to imagine as one might think.

We show (lift up) love’s patience [3] when we don’t immediately receive what we ask but keep believing. We experience love’s humility [3] when we ask rather than demand and leave the final decision to our God. We demonstrate the selfless nature of love when we allow His choice to be first [4] and love’s trust is displayed to angels, our own heart, and a doubting world [5] when we refuse to accuse God of being unfair [4] simply because we don’t understand.

John began his memories of Jesus’ last hours by saying, “Having love His own who were in the world, He [Jesus] loved them to the end.” [6] Love was the reason for Calvary [7] and ultimate, pure, perfect love is a reflection of the nature of God. When Jesus answers our requests, yes, God’s love for us is glorified (exalted, lifted up) and when He answers our requests, no or wait, our love for God is shown to a skeptical world.

[1] John 4:24; [2] I John 4:8; [3] I Corinthians 13:4; [4] I Corinthians 13:5; [5] I Corinthians 4:9; [6] John 13:1; [7] John 3:16

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Untroubled Heart

Let not your hearts be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. John 14:1

Last minute instructions. Goodbye endearments. Farewell speeches. Final words before death. We place a lot of value on what someone says in their last moments with us. The pressure of parting brings important things to the surface while the extraneous is stripped away and the few things we really want others to remember take center stage. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that John spent almost one forth of his gospel [1] describing the last six hours Jesus spent with those he loved before crucifixion tore them apart.

From sundown until just after midnight, Jesus shared His last meal with the disciples and took a walk with them through a garden. He must have had much on His mind, but two themes that keep recurring in John’s record are assurance that He loved them and encouragement to trust God’s wisdom no matter how hopeless the situation might look from earth’s view.

From now through Easter, this blog will highlight scattered fragments of what Jesus said that night. I trust that by doing so, we can tune in on a little of the same encouragement He shared with them and our hope will grow one step stronger.

We start with today’s verse. Jesus looked at the confused, weary friends gathering around Him and said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” He even repeated the words twice so He must have been especially intent on them getting the point. [2] They must never “let” their heart be troubled.

Have you ever wonder how we could possibly choose whether or not to be troubled? I always felt trouble came to find me and my choice had little to do with it. Yet, Jesus said we should not “let” our heart go that direction.

Part of the mystery resolves when we understand what Jesus meant by “troubled.” The word He used is not what we think of as concerned or even worried but to struggle with unsure connections; to be agitated, shifting, or rootless. We “let” ourselves be “troubled” when we have a choice of clinging to our trust in God’s character and power or letting our hand slip away as we grab for things of earth searching for security.

For example, we “let” our heart be troubled when financial pressures mount and we either ignore His instruction of good stewardship or thrash about for earthly solutions ignoring the fact that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. We “let” our heart when we mentally strip God of any resource for “practical” help with daily issues. We can’t choose whether storms will come. We can’t choose which emotions we will or won’t feel. But we can choose our hope.

As we face a new year, listen to the news, grow a year older, watch the economy, or rehears the many ways things can grow wrong in life, don’t forget: You can “let” not your heart be troubled if you will choose to keep your eyes on Him.

[1] John 13:1-18:1 approximately 6 pm to midnight. [2] John 14:1; 14:27