Life without Christ

Leave a comment

Phil 3:8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (NLT)

My mother-in-law resides in a retirement community in downtown Seattle. Her lifestyle is limited by her modest means, but she lives among some very wealthy couples who, in non-Covid times, travel a lot. It appears that few of the residents are followers of Christ, as measured by attendance at on-site Bible studies or the demand for transportation to local churches on Sundays.

Is there a connection between wealth, travel and the status of one’s soul? Maybe. I’ll echo what a myriad of Christian authors down through the ages have maintained: this fallen world is NOT meant to satisfy the soul.

As a child, teenager or young adult we don’t know this. Life DOES seem exciting – going off to college, diving into a career, finding a mate, starting a family. But as we age and change patterns of work and life, all the possible life experiences, no matter how diverse, lose their lustre, their thrill. Ravi Zacharias has captured this fact by stating:

“The older you get, the more it takes to fill your heart with wonder, and only God is big enough to do that.”

I’m guessing that the wealthy octogenarians who cruise in luxury or fly to lush second homes can’t escape the sense that ‘all this doesn’t satisfy the way it used to!’ (are they even courageous enough to articulate that feeling so explicitly?)

At 63, were it not for the gift of being a Christian, I would be depressed thinking about decreasing pleasures as one ages. In fact, this week I’ve been pondering just what my life would be like if I did NOT know Jesus Christ. Why this topic? Something I read caused me to take a few minutes to write down what I would miss most were I not a follower and disciple of Christ.

If I didn’t know Christ, if I weren’t in union with Him by grace through faith, then I would…….:

  • Lack knowing the meaning and purpose of life. This is SO important to me. It stabilizes and undergirds me. Many people search and search for the meaning of life, intent on knowing why they are here. Understanding the big picture reassures me. I don’t have answers to a lot of my questions, but one thing I am confident in is: WHO God is and WHAT He has done and WHY He created the world and everything in it.
  • Be bereft of constant fellowship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. As a little sister of Christ, I’m constantly chattering to Him as I go through my day. Out loud, I remind myself why I can rely on Him. I know the Lord is WITH me, always.
  • Have no access or right to all the promises that are in the Bible. These promises of supernatural power, provision, wisdom, protection, correction, comfort are mine because of Christ. They are my treasure.
  • Be deprived of hope for the healings and rescues that God CAN give, even though He doesn’t always give them. This kind of relaxed, confident hope allows me to leave the outcome in His hands.
  • Live with Mike in a marriage that was deprived of the freedom to love and be loved in spite of sin and selfishness. Priceless is a husband who is both brother in Christ and true friend.
  • Know that I would never again see loved ones. Now I am certain that I will SEE and be with fellow Christians, like my Mom, who have gone on before.
  • Lack the power-filled intercessory prayers of many brothers and sisters in Christ. Furthermore, I would not have the blessing of my own growing faith as I pray for others and watch God come through for them.
  • Be rocked by my suffering and that of family, friends and world. I don’t know all the reasons for an individual’s suffering. But what I do know is that God is good, that He uses the suffering He ordains/permits to make us, His adopted children, more like Jesus.
  • Have NO confidence that all the injustices in the world will be paid for, justly and perfectly.
  • Have no amazing, joy-filled future awaiting me, but only judgment and a forever future set in ‘outer darkness’, one filled with anguish and despair.
  • Not be able to let go with peace some dreams that probably won’t be fulfilled in this life, on Earth 1.0.
  • Have NO friends with whom I can be really real. Now I have many genuine friends, most whom I have yet to meet! The bond of Christ creates instant connection.
  • Not enjoy reading my Bible and Christian authors every day. I am richly fed.
  • Be deprived of recognizing when I commit sin, so I can repent, ask for forgiveness and be cleansed!

This gift of Christ’s forgiveness and union with Him satisfies me like nothing else. Knowing Him makes all the difference in my life. Without a doubt, I am much happier than when I was younger.

And with Paul, I can say that any created thing, as beautiful as it is, cannot compete with the gift of knowing God personally and intimately.

Finally, I appreciate the fact that I will NEVER run out of things to marvel over. I like it that God is BIG enough to satisfy me forever.

Looking forward to when Jesus comes back and I get a new body to go with forever life on Earth 2.0!

When did God wake you up?

Leave a comment

How do I know if I TRULY believe?  What if I am fooling myself in thinking I have saving faith?

Have you ever feared or wondered if you really were saved?  In other words, is the faith you have, I have, is it enough and is it the ‘right’ kind of faith?

I occasionally flirt with these thoughts.  But when I think about how I now enjoy reading and studying my Bible, I find reassurance.  Not that one is not a Christian if one doesn’t read his Bible.  There have been and will always be illiterate Christians, young and old.

But since for years I never READ my Bible and now it’s what I look forward to most each morning, I fall back on that change in desires as a substantial piece of evidence for having genuine faith.  That’s evidence for me.  I DO know that there are Bible experts who are not believers, even some pastors who are not authentic Christians.  So, when I say I love reading God’s Word, it’s because I NEED it.  I come hungry to the Scriptures. And those few times when I feel stone cold and NOT hungry, then at least I know that I need this kind of spiritual feeding.  The French sometimes cajole their children with this advice: “Eat so you’ll be hungry!”

I say all this because I found reassurance of the genuineness of my faith this morning from reading William Perkins.  Perkins, a preeminent reformed protestant theologian (1558-1602) shaped many fellow English scholars and pastors in Tudor times.

Perkins Here’s what I copied in my journal from chapter 17 of his writings:

(Caveat: this is not a step-by-step process I’m writing, just some conclusions.)

When Jesus endured the curse of the Law in my place, I, too, as one in union with Christ by faith, was set free from the law.  Romans 8:2 goes like thisFor the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

This good news means that I don’t have to heed the hard but righteous taskmaster of the Law who has one standard: “Do this and live!”

Perkins writes on page 73: The law requires perfect obedience at our hands, yet God of His mercy looks more at the will to obey than the perfection of obedience. (bolding is mine)

When I was 16 and 17, sitting in the Episcopal church, nonchalantly assuming I was a believer, I NEVER wondered or worried or even pondered about my faith?  Sadly, I was not one of Christ’s, though I had been baptized and confirmed and participated in youth group each Sunday night.

What comfort I draw now, knowing that the Father accepts as enough the DESIRE to believe, the WILL to please Him through obedience, the LONGING to have a Savior. That I know that I don’t have to keep proving myself is one evidence of my belonging to Jesus, of being IN the family of God. Savoring and resting in that freedom pleases Him!  For it means I take Him at His word.

In many ways, I am thankful for having that pre-believing time of indifference and nonchalance. I know what it felt like to be on the other side of the dividing line.  I DO rejoice most days with amazed thankfulness and praise for the God who woke me up to my sin and to the Savior.

Power to obey Jesus

Leave a comment

What is the most difficult command God has given you? And how did you respond?

The other night, right before turning out the light, I read a brief devotion about Peter’s cry for help as he was sinking amidst the stormy waves. Jesus chastises him with question, “Why did you doubt?”

I’m thinking, ‘Hello, Jesus! it’s not every day an ordinary man tries to walk on water. Can’t you give him a break? Can’t you give him an attaboy for attempting to do something no one else has?

Curious to see what more might be in the text, I looked up the passage in my bedside-table Bible.

Matt 14: 28 – 32 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

Did you notice that Peter actually DID take some steps on the water without sinking?  How is that?  I think there are two conditions that he met:

– Jesus gave a command

–  Peter believed he could obey Jesus’ command

So, what happened?

Peter changed his belief.  At first he believed that just by the power of Jesus’ summons, he COULD do the beyond-ordinary feat. But all of a sudden, his fears and what he saw around him felt MORE real and true than Jesus’ word to him.

Let’s take Peter’s successful steps on top of the water and think more broadly. Does his experience mean that you and I CAN obey the commands God gives us? I think so. But the power is not in us. What I draw out of this scenario with Peter and Jesus is that:

  • Believers CAN obey (and are expected to obey their Lord)
  • But not without God’s power.

I’m reminded of Mike’s 2 favorite verses:

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; APART FROM ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING.

Phil 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

Back to the other night. As I lay pondering these principles drawn from Peter’s experience, other commands came to mind:

  • Do not fear
  • Do not be anxious
  • Cast all your cares on me
  • Be holy
  • Love one another
  • Think about what is true, right, beautiful, praise-worthy, excellent etc

The list goes on and on. What’s new for me is the realization that we believers, grafted into Jesus, are not only expected to obey but we are to count on, depend on Jesus’s grace so that we CAN obey.

How does that help?

Practically, with my sinful default temptation of fearing the future and not trusting God!

The last couple of days each time I’ve been lured into sin, I’ve stopped and reminded myself of this FACT:  Maria, you CAN obey this command.  Not only CAN you, but Jesus expects you to given his promised grace. He provides the power and strength TO obey. No command of his goes out to the world without supernatural ability for believers to obey.

NEVER does our God envision us muscling through to obedience with our puny human strength.  That’s not only impossible, but absurd.  Rather, He expects us to rely on the fact that we are in union with Christ. We have access to His power. At least 80+ times the phrase ‘In Christ’ is written.  We are not alone.

So, brothers and sisters, be encouraged. And don’t forget that each time we disbelieve our Lord, we have been equipped to repent and receive immediate forgiveness. Obedience not only pleases our Holy, Triune God, it makes us happier.

 

 

Fruit of the Spirit – a different angle

Leave a comment

Calling all abiding branches!

Here is a simple question:  If you are abiding in Jesus – that is, if you are connected through the Holy Spirit to our Holy Vine, Jesus, are you close to Jesus or distant?

Picturing grapes or tomatoes, it’s easy to see that the fruit-producing branch keeps company with the vine beCAUSE of a live connection.

Another question: What are we branches to look at or fill our minds with while we abide in and stay connected to Jesus’?

That’s easy – where do we find any news of Jesus?  In the Bible.  So the most logical place to find food for our minds is the gospel accounts of Jesus’ actions and words as well as the writings of the prophets and apostles.  The Gospels furnish us with his words of truth, to include promises of blessings and woes.

With those ideas in place, let me relate to you what I saw this week when thinking about the fruit of the spirit.

I started to wonder:  Could it be that fruit emerges the more we look at Jesus’ fruit?  Could it be that the ONLY way for us to bear God-produced fruit on our branch is to LOOK at Jesus’ fruit?  If healing from snakebites came to Israel from gazing at the bronze serpent, might not that principle be at work here?

After all, who do you know who tops Jesus in showing agape love, calm joy, unhurried peace and contentment, fretless patience, genuine kindness not only to inquiring Pharisees but to ‘untouchable’ women and sick mothers-in-law as well, goodness to the undeserving, faithfulness to his heavenly Father (not to mention to us), ‘controlled strength’ – aka meekness and finally…….. supernatural self-control when spat upon, mocked and tortured?

I know I make the Christian life of discipleship more complicated than necessary.  Do you find yourself doing the same? And aren’t we all just plain exhausted by all this doing and trying?

What would it be like JUST to trust our good shepherd when he makes us lie down near him? What if all we ‘had to do’ was to feast on him and be satisfied in him?  How?  by resting in what he has already done.

The more we turn to him for our provision and cling to him, the more natural will be the harvest in our lives.

I think we often TRY to produce the fruit ourselves.  But that is not what we see in nature?  After all, what tomato branches resolve to put forth tasty Heirlooms for the picking?

Nature doesn’t work that way nor does Jesus call us to this alien way.  I think he says something like, ‘Don’t work for me, just fill up on me.  Look to me and be satisfied in what I have already done for you and others and what I have taught awaits you.

It is THAT contentment which makes for ideal fruit-bearing in us, the branches.

And when we DO accept his way, the pay off is categorically better: A harvest for others (patience, self-control, and kindness) and plenty of produce for us (joy and peace and feeling God’s approval).

 

 

What are you holding on to?

2 Comments

cell-phone

“Go ahead, cancel it!” I decided, after hesitating somewhat.

On the phone with Verizon, I took the plunge and dropped the insurance on my iPhone.

My husband once read to me from a book on risk assessment how the mind works counter-intuitively.  Because our cars come with airbags and we buckle safety belts before releasing the brake, we take more risks as drivers.  If a knife were imbedded in our steering wheel with its sharp point aimed at our chests, we would drive more cautiously.

So it is with owning a cell phone without insurance.  Wherever I am or go, my eyes swivel, or my hand reaches for my pocket.  I make every effort to keep track of that trusty companion.

Hebrews 10:23  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.

If my iPhone, which is designed to become obsolete and wear out, calls forth such intentional care and surveillance on my part, what about my blood-bought faith and inheritance from God?

  • Does how I cling to Jesus provide even a bit of evidence to the world about what I really value?
  • Am I AS vigilantly committed to protecting my faith as I am to protecting that electronic device?
  • How does my love for Jesus and desire to live daily in union with Him translate into behavior?
  • Do I strive to stay alert to catch His signals and please Him?
  • Am I as quick to turn to the Bible to search for His promises when I have a problem, as I am to Google a solution for a sticky situation involving my cell phone?

Sometimes it’s the questions that motivate me more than my certainty about something.

My seat….

4 Comments

Ephesians 2:6

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.

My Seat

Thank you, Father, for raising me from the dead and giving me new, different and everlasting LIFE. Thank you for the seat you have assigned me.

I didn’t pick this seat. You selected it for me.

I’m sorry for all the times I compare my seat with others’, longing for a different one. Forgive me for the many times I get out of my seat, just like those squirmy boys in my French class.

Help me to trust that You know just what I need in a seat.

May I practice sitting contentedly in my seat. After all, I’m going to be spending a long time next to my older Brother and knowing how kind and loving You are, I bet my seat will turn out to be just the one I would have picked out had I known all the facts. Amen.

What are you attached to?

Leave a comment

Did your attachment tendancies start with a pacifier or your favorite ‘blankey’?

linus Or were routines, like story-time right before bed your go-to comfort? Whatever it was for you as a child, you probably have some items or practices or even a person in your life that make you feel more secure.

Reading 2 Chronicles 26 about King Uzziah of Juda this morning raised the matter of attachment. Here’s how verse 5 reads:

He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.

The French translation of this verse adds a richer understanding.  The verbal phrase reads:  “Il s’attacha à Dieu…” (He attached himself to God…)

This amplification feels like a quartz vein shot through with gold, worth the effort to mine it.  Here are 2 questions to kick off our digging:

  • Why do we attach?
  • and, how do we attach?

First, why do we attach?

I think humans and animals are wired by God to crave certainty and security.  But He has designed us to look to Him to meet that need, not to anything He has created.  Given that the Fall fractured both us and all of creation, we are misguided. We look for substitutions for God that FEEL real.  For even though God is as real as anything we can see or touch, He is spirit, thereby immaterial and invisible to us at present.

On to the second question –  how is it that we attach?

Primarily by thinking about, talking about, keeping near, and treasuring.  A small child keeps his blanket close by.  A crying baby calms down with his trusted pacifier. When I was bulimic, I grabbed cookies or M&Ms to tame the stress.

For some, a variation of attachment might be an acted-out routine that has brought peace. I know friends who routinely undertake remodeling projects as a diversion from anxiety or for stop-gap immediate relief some go shopping or clean out a closet (me!)  More dangerous measures include gambling, porn indulgence, use of drugs or even some extreme sports.

(If you are curious to learn about some non-biblical, psychological reasons for attachment, here is a link to various views.)

Beyond inherent and obvious dangers, what’s wrong with the above attachment items or practices?

The only reason that counts is simply this: these stress-relievers are just as uncertain as the uncontrollable circumstances that bring suffering.  When LIFE happens, pressuring us, what if we are circumstantially kept from our go-to stress reliever?  Maybe that’s the origin of the expression ‘going postal’! Our God knows there are times we humans explode in anger or act otherwise irrationally.

God offers a different way of handling life’s uncertainties and stress, one that the apostle Paul learned.  This morning, while reading a bit of Puritan pastor William Gurnall’s teaching on holding on to faith in the Triune God, I glimpsed a connection to Paul’s teaching on contentment.

You are familiar with this early Christian boasting in having acquired the ability to be content in all circumstances.  ‘All’ included the gamut of experiences ranging from physical comfort and ease all the way to the many times he suffered beatings, imprisonment or calumny from his fellow Jews. (Phil 4:12)

I think Gurnall provides the method for Paul’s method of ‘learning’. Gurnall writes that in times of blessings, plenty and the absence of suffering, we should practice  “Keep(ing)…(our)..minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” Col 3:2

Then when the times of suffering and deprivation come, we should be more equipped to continue to feed ourselves on the rich truths of heaven, the expectations of one day enjoying our inheritance presently kept for us by Jesus.  Directing our imaginings Godward takes practice. You’re probably like me.  My thoughts DO NOT automatically tend toward meditating on the ‘diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ’ (Jonathan Edwards). It takes effort to dig and work a groove in my mind, through much exercise.

I mention Edwards’ line above about what to think about when meditating on Jesus. Because when I first considered devoting time to building a habit of thinking about ‘things above’, my first reaction was:

  • just what should my mind focus on?

John Piper gave me a clue when he quoted Jonathan Edwards in a sermon I recently heard. An example of these very different but astonishing qualities of Jesus would be how He is both the Lion and the Lamb.  Powerfully fierce and humbly submissive, all at the same time.

There ARE multitudes of rich treasures to be mined in the Bible.  And I think this is what is meant by God’s teaching us to ‘attach ourselves’ to Him.  We attach primarily by what we think about and talk about.  If I’m attached to my children, then I will pull out pictures and extol all the cute things they do.  Likewise, if I’m attached to God, I will boast in how great He is.

Contrary to what a material naturalist might argue, we are NOT deterministic beings.  We have been given the gift of imagination, of choosing what to think about.  Paul knew that. Therefore, I think his secret of learned contentment was harnessing and directing his thoughts God-ward.

That encourages me.  I know that I have plenty of time when my mind can float.  I do have the power to direct and focus those thoughts.  I CAN practice a new and different way of thinking.   I want to build up these mental and spiritual muscles of my mind during those periods when I’m not struck down by suffering.  Then when pain does come, I will know how to flee to my true refuge.

I’ll leave you with the French exhortation:

Attache-toi à Dieu!

When you look, what do you see?

2 Comments

Fish on a plate

I heard of a freshman bio professor whose first lesson to his eager students was to study a fish on a plate and write down everything observed.  That’s it – no other instructions.  The professor even left the classroom leaving the students on their own.  Not very happy with the paucity of direction, some jotted down a few items and departed with a shrug.  Others added more, as they waited in vain for their biology instructor to return. Eventually, they pushed back their chairs and made their way to the door in puzzlement.

Two days later, students streamed into the class, sure that they were at last going to hear a lecture from this renown expert.

Same fish – again!

Same assignment – again!

Different reactions this time.  Pockets of grumbling, some annoyance, sighs of resignation…..  The professor didn’t stay around to respond.  A few entitled students packed up in a huff, muttering about not getting their money’s worth: others, remembering that they actually cared about the semester grade, settled down to add to their fish list.

The next week, to their initial but short-lived relief, the professor did not abandon them to THE FISH!  Instead, they felt some well-deserved humiliation when he gently chastised their impatience.  Explaining why observation was a skill worth developing, he opened up to them the primary task of a scientist.

Whether this event actually took place or it’s a ‘fish tale’ is not so important.  And in fact, I did hear a pastor recount seminary experience when his professor staged the same kind of exercise, using a single Bible verse.  They were to write down 50 points or thoughts generated from careful meditation of that one verse.  Again – a similar reaction of disbelief and initial frustration.

But the point is this: we often look without seeing.  To our detriment.

Isaiah 6:9 – And he (the Lord) said (to Isaiah), “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’”

Not wanting to miss any more spiritual nourishment than I have already, I’m learning to ask myself key questions when I study a verse, forcing myself to linger IN a text, studying a sentence, questioning word choice.  Years of listening to John Piper preach have helped me pick up some of his habits of the mind.  That man treats God’s Word like a tenacious dog with a bone, gnawing and enjoying it for all it’s worth, determined to get every last molecule of taste and pleasure.

dog and bone

Two places I’ve recently parked are the following:

God, via Paul, commands us to pray by/with the Spirit.

  • 1 Cor 14:15 Then what am I to do? I will pray with my spirit [by the Holy Spirit that is within me], but I will also pray [intelligently] with my mind and understanding; I will sing with my spirit [by the Holy Spirit that is within me], but I will sing [intelligently] with my mind and understanding also.

I’ve often tried to sort out what is meant by praying by/with the Spirit.  But the other day, the phrase ‘by myself’ surfaced in my conscious mind. Startled, I realized I had not yet pondered the question that seeks distinctions.  By what other means/power/source could one do something if not by/with the SPIRIT?  And specific to this verse, what OTHER ways of praying might there be?

  • by superstition
  • by myself
  • by rote repetition
  • by duty
  • by force of habit
  • by guilt
  • by fear

But God does not leave us to choose our means of prayer – if we are adopted children of God the Father, then we have His Holy Spirit in us permanently. Most assuredly, God means us to pray effectively by MEANS of and in DEPENDENCE on His supernatural power.  Knowing His intention, who would want to rely on himself?

Here’s one more example, a pair of verses with a word worth lingering over:

  • As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you KEEP my commandments, you will abide in my love. (John 15:9-10)

What does KEEP mean?  you keep what is valuable, you hold on to it, you guard and protect it.  Yes, one of the meanings the Greek word offers is ‘do or perform’ (tareo – Strong’s # 5083) but I can DO a duty without treasuring or wanting to please the one who issues the order.  I DON’T want to be a DUTIFUL daughter of my heavenly Father.  I want to WANT to please Him.  I think the key, at least for me, is to meditate and try to grasp the stunning news that Jesus loves me in the same way the Father loves Him!  Only by starting there, the magnitude of His surprising love for us, can I be drawn to wanting to please God.  Only by repeatedly returning to His love, do I WANT to walk in union with Him where He leads.

May it be said of me, “For the joy set before her, she walked with Jesus, enduring whatever she, in union with Jesus, suffered.” Joy

%d bloggers like this: