Clothes make the man?

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Barbie

1 Peter 3:3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.

rather….1 Peter 3:4 You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.

Our granddaughters visited this past week, eager to open the toy/book closet and bring out our one and only Barbie.  Thinking about her and the many outfits Mattel has launched over the years caused me to reflect about inherent versus infused versus imputed righteousness.

Since the Fall our essence is no longer inherently righteous;in other words, righteousness is not part of our nature. But some people try to dress themselves, like Barbie, in good works, thereby APPEARING righteous.  Then there are those who believe that the righteousness obtained by Christ’s death on the cross and His perfect obedience can be infused in us, thereby altering our nature. But that is not what the Bible teaches. In fact the 16th century reformers emphasized the historic, original biblical teaching that our righteousness  is by faith alone, through grace alone because of Christ’s work alone.

Since this reckoning or crediting of justification comes from Christ, it is an ‘alien’ righteousness, from outside of us. It’s more akin to an outfit that Barbie’s owner dresses her in.  Just as the doll’s garments cover her, so too Christ’s works cover us. It’s a false conclusion to think then, that ‘as are the clothes, then so too are we‘.  The clothes don’t make the man or woman, they COVER us.  Similarly, Christ’s righteousness cancels our sin in God’s books.

Even with the Barbie example in our minds, we can still be self-righteous and be unaware. Pleasure in any of ‘my’ obedience or good works weakens me so I succumb to pride and all of Satan’s other ploys.

As protection, I try to remember to ask the Holy Spirit to remind me of ‘the truth’.  Daily I mentally don the kind of apparel that my heavenly Father prefers, what Peter teaches:

  • a quiet and complete trust in God that eliminates all fear despite desperate circumstances.
  • spiritual armor that both protects and strengthens my faith, my most valuable God-given gift
  • my attitude towards us, specifically dressing myself as per Paul’s instructions: Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Col 3:12

The question that puts me in my place, as a dependent creature is this:

Maria, what are you trusting in this day to guarantee your salvation and eternal life with the happy, holy Triune God ?

Sarah, Sex and the Hall of Fame

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Sarah and Abraham have a baby

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. Hebrews 11:11

The above verse resolves the perennial debate between those who pit James against Paul in this tricky question of doctrine:

  •  Which is sufficient for justification –  faith or deeds?

How is that?  Consider…..

Sarah was long past the age of childbearing and her husband was no longer virile when she overheard the angels assuring Abraham that in a year’s time she would give birth to a baby.

Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”…Genesis 18:12-14

So what happened?  Did Abraham and Sarah trust God’s message to them?  His word certainly affirms that they did.

Abraham believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3b repeating Genesis 15:6)

**

Impossible situations

What struck me the other day is that both Paul and James are correct.  Abraham and Sarah DID trust as fact the unbelievable news that they would be able carry out the physical sex act together AND conceive AND give birth to a baby. And based on their counting as true God’s promise, they physically came together in a sexual union and the aging body parts worked and…voilà…9 months later, Isaac was born.

Do you see how considering God’s word as good as reality the foundation for the actions that follow? It’s not an either faith/or action but a both/and way to live!

Let’s bring the Sarah and Abraham illustration into our lives. Where are you facing something too unimaginable for you to believe God could or would actually do the ‘impossible’?  Have you sensed God directing you to take a step of faith and trust Him to work through you, accomplishing something that common sense, or intuition or worldly wisdom say COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE DONE?

God commands us to**:

  • confess our unbelief and admit we need help to trust Him
  • believe him and roll each and every heavy, worrying situation onto Him.  Next we are to…
  • pull out one of God’s promises of future grace and relying on that,  we are to…..
  • move out and take the action, step by step as He shows us.  Finally, we are to…
  • give Him thanks and praise when He has done the ‘impossible’ through us and in our situation

(**the above formula comes from Pastor John Piper in his acronym APTAT – admit, pray, trust, act, thank)

What helps me is to rest in the assurance that if God commands this kind of obedience, then He will help me each step along what appears to be an obscured road.  Reassuring to me is the FACT that His word promises light for the next segment of the journey and at the right moment.

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12

 

Are you a one-thing person?

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Psalm 27:4

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.

I’ve been distracted on and off this week by various good things.  We spent some delightful days with friends Joe & Mary in the rich, rolling farmlands of southwestern Missouri.

48 - Mary talks to chickens

Before this week I actually thought I had NO relationship with Missouri! Come to find out, not only was one of my daughters-in-law born in St. Louis, but also I had spent a week in St. Louis at a foreign language conference 3 years ago.  And I learned that Ferguson is part of St. Louis.

One topic that pulled away my energy and gaze was the possibility of modifying our eating/exercise routines.  It turned out that Joe cooks and eats ‘paleo’, following a certain gal’s version of food choice/prep. He also introduced us to the ‘Happy Body’ workout routine.  I devoured both books prominently perched in their kitchen.

What I noticed was that for a few days, my mind obsessed and was jazzed more by THOSE topics rather than in the eternal matters of MEGA value.  Listening via podcast to some God-centered talks by John Piper and others brought me back to my senses.

Yesterday, on our last leg of the trip home, I was meditating/reading Matthew 6:33: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

When you start to look at the significance of EACH word in a verse, fresh insights pop.  Here is what jumped out and sunk in for the first time:

  • SEEK – we don’t spend time hunting for something we don’t value.  So Jesus is saying in effect, “Make my kingdom your treasure”
  • SEEK – the objective is not obvious to the casual observer.  Effort and focus are needed. ‘Duh!‘, you say.  I realized that I can’t see/seek more than one thing at a time.
  • FIRST – heretofore, I thought first was more ‘chronos’-oriented.  But I looked up the Greek word for ‘first’ and it’s PROTOS (Strongs 4413), which means – ‘above all, top priority, chiefly’
  • KINGDOM – hmm, what am I going to do with a kingdom when I find it?  Certainly not conquer it, nor visit it as a tourist. I’m seeking a kingdom in order to find the King. He is what’s important. And if I find the King, I will be submitting to Him.  Lots of implications here!
  • HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS – not mine.  My life is not to be about adding more ‘subtitles’ or beefing up my résumé.  Who am I trying to impress? (if I’m honest, it’s YOU!)  But seriously, if I find this Kingdom and submit to this King, then I’ll be wearing the uniform/the colors of one of His gals, not my own colors.  And compared to those clothes, even my best show-offy threads are but grubby, stinky, fit-only-for-the-bin rags (see Isaiah 64:6)
  • ALL…ADDED – did you notice that there is nothing else we are counseled to seek once we have found His Kingdom? Everything we need (the stuff we angst over and which Jesus gently takes to task both His listeners and us His readers)

Here are some other verses that back up this ONE-THING orientation I sense God is calling me to cling to:

Luke 10: 40 to 42But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

After those verses, I can see that this ONE-THING focus is really about adopting or choosing a ONE-THOUGHT or ONE-TRACK mind.  In fact the Greek word for worried is MERIMNAO  (3309) or ‘thinking about many things’.

My favorite verse in the entire Bible – Psalm 84:11 actually addresses this mental posture as well.  God promises NOT to withhold any good from those who walk/live uprightly.  And wouldn’t you know it, ‘upright’ or TAMIYM (Hebrew 8549) means to be all in one piece, to be integral as opposed to scattered.

All the above to say this:  that when other stuff is front and center in my mind, I give away pieces of my life.  When I’m focused on Jesus, His good news, my status as an adopted child of the King, all that God the Father has given me, including the forever presence of my supernatural Counselor-Comforter, then Life and ‘Shalom’ return to me.

Father – thank you for reminding me each time I’m sucked away by some other compelling, luring, competing possible ‘first thing’.  Thank you for the vivid contrast I feel when you bring me to my senses, once again.  May I not wander off any more THIS day.  And when I awake and it’s a new day, be so kind as to remind me straight away of WHO and WHAT is my ONE THING, so I can live and feel WHOLE.  Amen!

Mag Obsession

Sure remedy for anxiety – it’s as close as your face!

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No matter our maturity as Christians, we still struggle with worry and anxiety.  We all know that we are supposed to cast our cares into our Father’s lap, but earthly matters tend to dog our minds, keeping us sleepless.

worry

Jesus’ remedy against worry (which also serves as an explicit command to refrain from worrying – Just stop it!!) seems simplistic on the surface.

  • Matt 6:33 (don’t worry about the ordinary but necessary stuff of life, like non-Christians) But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and ALL these things will be added to you.

What struck me the other day were the first 3 letters of the command SEEK.  We’re to SEE, to LOOK UP from our immediate and pressing concern.  And what is the object we are to seek out?  God’s Kingdom.  

Now what in the world does THAT mean?  First things first, let’s hearken back to where we might have heard this phrase. One obvious place is in the Gospel of Mark, that quick-paced eyewitness account of Jesus’ ministry. Right from the get-go, Jesus travelled around proclaiming the startling news that because HE was HERE in their midst as the incarnate God on earth, that the Kingdom of God had arrived.

I think that by intentionally SEEing this fact, the new government and what that implies, we can reboot.  That means we exhale our distracting thoughts and breathe in life-giving truths, like:

  • If Jesus has inaugurated His kingdom, then He is also ruling it
  • that He loves me (how do I know that? – if I am trusting Him as my righteousness, then I have already accepted the fact that He died for me on purpose.  That’s pretty strong evidence of love, wouldn’t you say?)
  • that I have an inheritance awaiting me in the near future and hundreds of grace-filled promises at my disposal RIGHT NOW in the midst of all these troublesome situations

So at the break of the new day, in every circumstance, whether segueing to a new task or initiating a difficult conversation or fulfilling an obligation, we are to stop and look up and SEE reality, which is this: “King Jesus is alive and well and at God’s right hand praying for us and talking to His and our GOOD Father”

Well, what about the 2nd part – the exhortation to SEEk His righteousness?

The term ‘righteousness’ is an example of ‘METONYMY’, that is – a shorthand term representing a concept.  For example ‘Hollywood’ is a metonymy that stands for the US film industry.  Or calling a white-collar managerial-level employee a ‘suit’, or the top generals in the army are referred to as the ‘brass’.

Righteousness

When Jesus calls us to stop being anxious like the pagans and SEE (consider, observe, remember, center back on, enjoy the fact of) evidence of His Kingdom, He also is reminding us to SEE Him.  The righteousness that goes along with the Kingdom IS Jesus.  Jesus is Jehovah-Tsedek, the LORD-Our Righteousness.

Again when we look up and center on Jesus, we lose the craziness.  The needs are still there, but we don’t have to panic or distract and fracture ourselves by all the pieces and layers of concerns.  Jesus has PROMISED to provide; He is trustworthy; we can therefore trust Him.

For those of you who are interested, here are Strong’s definitions of the two Greek verbs.   Do you see how close in meaning they are?

The Greek word for SEEK is 2212 or ZETEO – to search, look for, inquire, demand,

The Greek word for SEE is 3708 or HORAO – to notice, perceive, recognize (and understand)

By the way, I heard a pastor mention that the most common command in the entire Bible IS the verb to SEE or LOOK (1100 times).  We even use this verb in everyday parlance when we’re trying to make a point. Did you ever hear anyone say: “Lookit!” to strengthen his case?

It DOES matter what we focus on, whether we use our physical eyes or the eyes of our hearts.

And if Paul is correct, that we become more like Jesus by looking at Him, then why not really take Him at His word and shift our gaze from our very present and real worries to the very present, real and powerful Creator of the Universe, Jesus Christ who ALWAYS acts righteously.

taste and see

I

Exploring the gifts of Grace

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You & I live our life in the “you must DO this and DO that” world in order to “be X, Y or Z.”  I get tired of ‘DO’ing, don’t you?  Whether it is at work or church or in relationships, it’s all exhausting and unceasing.

Christianity is different.  Christianity is the only religion that proclaims DONE, not DO!  What other religion has its God seek out his creation?  What other God died for his people?

Consider Romans 14:17, one of my new favorite verses:  For the Kingdom of God is not (religious rules governing) eating and drinking, but RIGHTEOUSNESS and PEACE and JOY in (by means of) the Holy Spirit.

This verse explains the essence of Christianity.  Living as a son or daughter in the Kingdom of God is not about following rules.  Instead it’s about treasuring what accrues to us as children of God.  By grace, (read: ‘a gift’) we are given:

  • Righteousness.  This is the Greek word ‘dika-ios-oo-nay’ (phonetic – # G1343).  It means that since we have been justified by God, we have right standing with our judge, God the Father.  When we become a Christian, we are made a new creation; we are united with Christ. The most eternally significant benefit is that our sins have been transferred over to Christ and paid for, so justice is done.  And we also have had transmitted to us Christ’s perfect life, as a credit.

Righteousness that belongs to someone else (but given to us) is not just a New Testament concept.  Consider Jeremiah 23:6. God is called Jehovah Tsedeq – the Lord our Righteousness.  We are not told to seek our own righteousness; we already have his if we belong to Him.

What follows from being ‘right’ with God?  Peace!  Remember Paul’s opening in Romans 5?  “Since we have been justified….let us grasp the fact that we have PEACE with God..”

  • Peace.  This is the Greek word, ‘ei-re-ne’ (#G1515).  Irene is the lovely name derived from this concept.  Here’s how the Blue Letter Bible website describes this peace, “the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is.”  If we have peace with God, we can reason from the greater to the lesser.  That is, if God has taken care of our biggest and eternal problem, we can rest assured that He will work temporary peace in our earthly relations to the extent that we trust Him and yield to His will.

Finally, the 2nd benefit of being made ‘right’ with God through what Jesus has done for us, is JOY by means of the Holy Spirit.

  • Joy.  ‘Chara’ is the Greek word (# G5479) The world attempts to sell us temporary happiness based on obtaining  ‘stuff’, ‘achievements’ or ‘experiences’.  But happiness is fleeting.  What we are starved for is permanent Joy.  We are wired for Joy; that is why happiness seems so desirable.  But happiness is the cheap version of joy.  Think about what a great God we have.  He desires our joy.  He could have said, “the Kingdom of God is about RULES or PLEASING ME or BEING BEST in the Kingdom or SACRIFICE or any other depressing version of DO THIS IN ORDER TO”.  But God wants our true joy.  When our answers to prayer result in NO and our happiness seems threatened, let us remember that our Heavenly Father desires something far better than what we can ask or imagine.

The last few words of our verse, “…in the Holy Spirit”, are important.  We need to remember that we cannot go after righteousness, peace & joy in our own strength.  But the good news assures us that if we are born-again believers, we have had our nature changed.  Our essence is different, we are united to Christ.  This change is passive in the sense that we do NOT do anything actively to bring it about.  We receive NEWS of what God himself has done.  If we respond to this news by executing an about-face and trust (‘receive’) what He says, then this new nature is ours. What follows is the family right to have fullness of peace and joy.

A caveat as I end: the joy and peace that are available to us, given both our right standing with God and our new nature IN Christ, won’t come to our awareness automatically.  We have to RE-CALL them frequently. We have to remind ourselves of our RIGHTS, our current inheritance.  But what a small effort for such a marvelous gift!  Each time we succumb to anxiety or internal churn, we can repent (think of the military command to make an About Face) and return our thoughts to the truth of who we are, whose we are and what belongs to us as beloved children of God.

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