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Quiet Times In God’s Presence

Jeremiah 29:11-14a:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and will bring you back from captivity.

God clearly calls us to His presence and assures us that if we seek Him wholeheartedly we will find Him.  In His presence, we find security, our needs met, our future assured, and we are freed to hope.  In His presence bonds are broken and we are brought back from captivity.  In His presence we, with tired spirits and burdened souls, come home.

Like the hymn says,

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”*

What prevents you from purposefully spending time in the Lord’s presence?**  Busyness?  Debt?  Conflict?  Not enough hours in the day?  Something else?

Excuses.

What keeps us from coming into God’s presence is not a lack of time – we all have the same 24 hours in each day.  It is not long working hours, crying children, or a myriad of errands to be run.  No, the problem is not external circumstances.  The problem is even greater than our mixed up priorities.  We have met the enemy and he is us.***  The problems lies within the coldness of our hearts toward God.  It is not the habit of the sin nature to seek God.  It turns away from God, supposing it has better things to do.  But God says,

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with one another, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law” (Galatians 5:16-18).

In other words, we who are in Christ are no longer held captive by our old selves, but are free to obey the Spirit of God who indwells us. The Holy Spirit transforms us from self-centeredness to God-centeredness.  We respond in faith, lifting the pitcher of cool, clear water to our parched lips and opening our throats to receive its pouring.  God says,

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

God calls us, draws us, and enables us in Christ to find Him.  Living in His presence, habitually spending time with our heavenly Father, is less a choice than a matter of faith and obedience.  And God says we will find Him, we will enter His presence, and we will find rest for our souls when we seek Him with ALL of our heart.


* Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Helen H. Lemmel, 1922: Public Domain

**The Practice Of The Presence Of God, Brother Lawrence, 17th C.

***By Pogo, a comic character created by Walt Kelly, 1970.

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Making God Happy: Three Essential Steps … Not!

 

Dreamstime image used with permission

The righteous requirements of God were given to His people in Exodus 20:1-17 and are known today as the Ten Commandments.

  1. No idols
  2. No graven images
  3. No taking of the Lord’s name in vain
  4. Keep the Sabbath
  5. Honor your father and mother
  6. No murder
  7. No adultery
  8. No stealing
  9. No false witnessing
  10. No coveting

Written in stone.  Unchanging.  God is holy and so also must His people be.  Selah and amen.

On the whole, it seems fairly simple.  Do and don’t do.  Easy enough. For most people, it’s a dream position, isn’t it?  “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

Making God Happy: Three Essential Steps To Holiness

  1. Learn the Ten Commandments,
  2. Do and don’t do accordingly;
  3. Reap the results.

Simple!  Nothing complicated here.  So easy a caveman can do it, right?  Let me ask you this: Have you ever lied?  Cheated?  Stole something?  Ever disrespected your parents?  Ever done something they told you not to do?

Sinner!  You’re in good company.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Every one of us is guilty before God.  And you’d better believe that we are reaping the results.  The Israelites had the whole sacrificial system in place to deal with their mistakes.  Whenever they messed up, they just sacrificed an animal or two … or two thousand.  Now, before you starting searching the yellow pages for Animal Sacrifice, think first about the sheer number of bulls, goats, and turtle-doves they actually sacrificed over the ages because of sin.   And yet, “Every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11).  What?!

We have all sinned.  No one has completely kept God’s Perfect Ten.  So why bother sacrificing those poor animals if doing so does not take away sins?  As a Christian you are thinking, “Because the wages of sin is death!”  How right you are.  Blood is required for all sin.  “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).  The constant problem of sin is the reason so many animals were sacrificed.  

But, you say, if sacrificing animals didn’t completely take away sin, what good was it?  “But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” Even in terrible situations, God can bring out good. Rest assured no Israelite could forget about sin for very long.  The daily blood and guts of an animal sacrificial system was undoubtedly in-your-face to remind them.  The sinful state of their hearts could not be avoided.  They were constantly aware of the discrepancy between their hearts and God’s standard of holiness.

The Law – all those commandments resulting in all those offerings – had a purpose.  The purpose of the Law is to lead us to Christ.  First, the Israelites had to perceive the holiness of God.  Second, they had to recognize their own sinfulness.  Third, they had to come to understand that sinfulness is not merely outward behavior, but a condition of the heart.  It is the same today.  We sin, not because we weren’t paying attention or because of a mistake, but because it is the very condition of our hearts.  We are rotten to the core.  No matter what good we may do or what love we may give, it is always, always infected with the disease of self.  “As it is written:  There is none righteous, no, not one; there is no one who understands; there is none who seeks after God …” (Romans 3:10-11, from Psalm 14:1-3 and Ecclesiastes 7:20).

The law was designed to show us that sin and death have penetrated to the very marrow of our being.  Because the commandments reveal sin, we realize we are sinful.  And no matter how hard we try to clean up our act, we cannot, and in any event it is too late.  Already we have sinned.  Already spiritual death has overcome us.  We have behaved, and continue to behave, according to the dictates of our heart.  Sin is not just a set of behaviors that we sometimes do.   No.  Sin is a heart issue. It is ever-present within us.  “As in water face reflects face, so a man’s heart reveals the man” (Proverbs 27:19). We don’t just sin; we are sinners.  We cannot change this.  We need rescue.  We need salvation.   We need Christ.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). As sinners, our very life is required of us.  Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.  We are truly caught between a rock and a hard place.

But here’s the good news: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  Only Jesus kept God’s commandments perfectly.  This is why, when Christ willingly gave his life and died on the cross, his death satisfied the righteous requirements of the Law.  The evidence that God’s justice was satisfied in Christ is seen in Christ’s words, “It is finished” (John 19:30).  The result was the resurrection.

When we confess our sin to God, when we believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, our sins are forgiven and we are saved from eternal death.  “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25).  Do you believe this?  Do you?

Are you saved?  Have you availed yourself of the free gift of salvation and forgiveness in Christ?  If so, then ask God to continue to help you to seek His face that holiness would be your heart condition.  If not, please pray in sincerity something like this:

God, I believe you.  I have not kept Your commandments.  I confess that I am a sinner.  I believe that Jesus’ death on the cross fully paid the debt of my sins and that You raised him from the dead.  I place my trust in Jesus who died that I may live forever with You.  Amen.

If you prayed this, please tell someone!  Talk to a Christian friend or pastor.  And email me.  I’d love to pray for you.

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on September 7, 2010 in Adventures in Bible Study

 

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Following Through

The difficulty in deciding to follow Jesus lies not only in that initial leap of faith, but in the long and arduous journey of following through.  Temptations abound to draw us off track, the worst of which is simply habit. Since I cut up that “emergency” credit card, which had assisted so proficiently in landing me thousands of dollars in debt, I have been amazed by how much I relied on it to ease me through my cash-poor life. A mere two days after shredding the card, I found myself in line at the store handing back a hefty portion of groceries because there wasn’t enough money in my wallet.  I’d shopped without considering the cost because I was so accustomed to using my credit card to fill in the financial gap between what I wanted and what I needed.   Thank you, merciful God, that the cashier and two ladies behind me in line were as sweet as pie about it.  It was pretty embarrassing.

The next day, I almost had to get out of the latte drive-through line because I’d forgotten to check for cash in my wallet.  I rarely carry cash because it has been so much more simple to use credit.  That way, it wasn’t necessary to figure out ahead of time whether or not I had enough money with me.  Fortunately (or not), my wallet held a few dollars and I didn’t have to get out of line.  Then this morning, while online, I ordered some small thing and it wasn’t until I began to type my credit card information that I remembered I don’t have one anymore.  Old habits die hard.  In fact, old habits take a long, long time to die.  They die kicking and screaming.  Old habits die making a terrific scene.  It’s been less than a week since I gave up credit and I’m thinking already of giving the old habit an Oscar for Best Drama.

It is so automatic a gesture to reach for the credit card that at first I didn’t quite know what to do.  My brain simply froze for a second or two.  Even worse was the sharp prick of fear in my gut, “What if I want and can’t ever have?”  For a moment I saw myself as a teenager, hungering for everything and affording nothing.  I remembered the popular girls at school when I was thirteen, with their noses firmly in the air, saying, “We don’t like you because of your clothes.”  Like a flash of lightning, I suddenly saw what money had come to mean for me – worth, freedom, control, success, self-sufficiency, a kind of “I don’t need you” layer of protection against those who will not like me.

What does money mean to God? “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.   You cannot serve both God and money.” Clear as a bell.  Well, amen.  It makes perfect sense, does it not?

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

Hmmm.  I’m sure I want to serve God only, but what if God views food and clothing with so little interest as to warrant shopping at only Wal-Mart for the rest of my life?  Oh, say it isn’t so!   I happen to appreciate well-made, high quality goods.  I mean, Wal-Mart is all right in a pinch for a dish drainer or a trash can, but I prefer to shop for my clothes elsewhere.  Mind you, I’m not talking about dropping $1200 on a pair of Jimmy Choo’s.  I just want to shop J. Jill, Land’s End, LL Bean, and the like.

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”

Yes, but God, they eat worms.

“Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?”

I’m short and round; obviously worrying hasn’t worked well for me.  In fact, that’s a good way of saying that even though buying clothes increases my endorphins, it’s really only an illusion of control and self-sufficiency.  While I’m busy feeling good about myself and in control of my life, the opposite is really true.  That is why I must trust God to provide. Even so, Lord, I just want to mention that I prefer beautiful things.

“So why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Good point.

“Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

Wow.  You really do love me, God!  Silly me, of course you do.  Jesus didn’t die for the birds of the air or the grass of the field.  He died for me, and silly, silly me, He didn’t die merely to clothe me well.  My eyes were on my circumstances, not my Lord.  I’m sorry, God.  Dress me according to your will, not mine.  If creation is any measure of your taste, I’ve nothing to worry about.

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

That’s right!  Seek first the kingdom.  Seek God.  Look to the cross for proof of my significance.  Trust and obey.  And God’s provision satisfies.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about it own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:24-34).

Thanks, God, for smoothing out the furrows on my brow.  You know you rock, God.  It won’t be easy, but I’m kind of looking forward to the challenge of following through.  Love you.



 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 21, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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If Wishes Were Horses, We’d Be Out Of Debt

I wish I’d known from early on how to properly handle money.  I wished I’d know how to develop a budget and to spend and save accordingly.   I wished I’d had, but I hadn’t.

I remember starting off at 17 in my first apartment with a spanking new checkbook and the assumption that the bank couldn’t know about any checks I might write because they would not be present when I wrote them.  I was very silly in those days.  For a brief moment, I fantasized about all the things I could buy without anyone being the wiser.  I was clueless.  I had no idea that all checks make it back to the bank.  Fortunately, I was wise enough to know that if it were so easy, everyone would be doing it.  Somehow the bank knows.

I remember also the mathematical circumstances of my first student loan.  Having followed the directions on the application to determine the amount of interest over the life of the loan, I immediately convinced myself I was mistaken, math not being my strong suit.  The interest amount was so shockingly high I was sure it couldn’t possibly be allowed.  So I went ahead and borrowed … every semester of every year I was in school.

I wish I’d possessed basic knowledge (and maturity) about credit and interest rates and the horrors of debt collection.  Growing up we never had money so I learned nothing about it except its lack.  We mostly lived in hand-me-downs and shopped for school clothes once a year at places like Jamesway and the Big N (on par with K and Wal-mart).  We never ate out.  Our breakfast cereals were primarily Wheaties or Raisin Bran.  Ma figured they’d last longer if we didn’t like them.  True.   Super Sugar Smacks were a step up and we got them some of the time, but cereals like Trix and Booberry were way out of our league.  When money was especially tight, we ate meals of rice, milk, sugar, and cinnamon.  We should have been grateful that we always had food on the table (remember those starving people in China?), but hey, we were kids and most kids aren’t grateful.

It’s not as though my mom didn’t try to educate us about the value of a dollar.  For a short time I had a nickel allowance.  Eventually, I graduated to a whole quarter, even fifty cents.  That was an exciting time, because we could still buy penny candy at the gas station.  But then Ma couldn’t afford allowances anymore and so we got nothing.  As far back as I can remember, when we kids asked for something that cost money the answer was almost always “No” because as Ma said, “If I do it for one I’ll have to do it for all six.”  There were six kids in our family.  That’s why we never got Booberry – that little box would not have survived six kids chowing down two or three bowlfuls each.

As a teenager, I never went to the mall.  There was no point in doing so.  I didn’t even know that teens hung out there.   Even as a young adult I didn’t care for the mall.  It was too overwhelming.  Everything I saw I wanted, yet I could afford nothing.  It seemed like everyone in the world was there buying things except me.  Why did they have money and not me?  After college, I had money in my pocket for the first time.  The mall became a fun place.  Shopping made me feel happy and hopeful, like I could become that person I always dreamt of being.  The self-confident, popular people I met all dressed stylishly and went places and did things that cost money.  I wanted to live like them, be like them.  It appeared as though money could and did bring love and good times and I wanted it.  Oh, how I wanted it.  So I spent every available penny I had on buying a little chunk of that heaven.  Even though I paid my bills paid on-time, I saved nothing, but spent it all.  And then I discovered the wonderful world of credit.  The more money I made, the more I spent.  It was never enough.  Eventually it all landed on the card.  And what a ride it was!  Month after month I paid the minimum amount without understanding what that meant.  By the time I learned the truth about credit, the habit was firmly entrenched and my debt was in the thousands.

After getting saved, I began to learn about God’s perspective on money and debt through many avenues such as Bible study, Christian Financial Concepts, and a wide variety of secular money management lessons.  Yet even with education, debt does not disappear magically.  I learned a lot over the years, but practiced little.  Budgeting gave me a great deal of hope until some unanticipated bill messed it up and I had to rob Peter to pay Paul.  Getting back on track was nearly impossible because unexpected bills came in the mail on a fairly regular basis.  If I’d not had credit card debt, I could have paid these bills immediately and without difficulty.  If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

“Will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their victim” (Habbakkuk 2:7).

I’ve struggled with consumer debt most of my life.  Even though I’ve tithed since the beginning, practicing self-control has not come so easily.  Letting go of greed and gluttony is far easier said than done.  Our culture waxes on self-indulgence, indeed our very economy is based on it.  I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it.  I certainly did not want to deny myself.  You know what really stinks about it all?  God enabled me several times in those years to completely pay off my credit cards only to find me a year or two later, to my shame, even more deeply in debt.  Isn’t that pathetic?

A few years ago, I paid off my cards yet again.  Grabbing my scissors, I cut them into pieces, all but one, that ridiculously ill-named “emergency credit card”.   There has never been an emergency for which it was required, but I am, once again, thousands of dollars in debt.  This time, however, I’m certain I’ve learned my lesson.  Actually, I learnt it years ago.  I just didn’t follow its advice.

But I’ve been praying for God’s help.  I have confessed my sin of greed, self-indulgence, and a total lack of discipline and self-control.  I’m repenting.  It has been 2 months since I last pulled that emergency card out of my wallet.  Today, I put it through the shredder.

I want to live free, not only of consumer debt, but of the mold and shape and size the world says I must be in order to be accepted.  My significance is in God.  I am a Christian; the world will never accept me.  Selah.

But God says I am His beloved and He is mine.   He tells me to not worry for He will provide for me (Matthew 6:25-34) .  I have fixed my eyes on Jesus and am running the race in such a way as to get the true prize, a crown that will last forever (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

What about you?  Where do you go when you are sad, bored, lonely, or hurting?  Do you, like so many of us, spend money to feel better about yourself?  I’ve heard it said that the way we handle money speaks volumes about our spiritual maturity.  Feeling convicted?  Get help.  Go to God in prayer.  Confess and repent.  Determine in your heart to walk that way no longer.  And may the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

I have decided to follow Jesus.  I have decided to follow Jesus.  I have decided to follow Jesus.   No turning back, no turning back.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on August 17, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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