This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Mother's Love

A frightening event happened in my family this week. A kidnapping attempt was made on one of my nephews. As I understand the story, my sister and her son were walking down the sidewalk when a man driving by stopped his vehicle and tried to take my nephew. Through my sister's actions, the support of some bystanders, and the intervention of two passing paramedics, the intended crime was prevented.

I want to think about my sister's actions as a loving mother. She did everything she could to protect her child. She held tightly onto him even when the kidnapper got right in her face and even when she was knocked over. She called out for help and for those nearby to call the authorities. You see, she couldn't make the call herself, because her arms were wrapped around the boy she loves. There was no way she was letting go of him.

That's the way mothers are made. They care for their children even at great personal loss or risk. Though this fact makes my sister and her son no less a family, the truth is that she adopted this little boy when he was almost a year old. I find that significant because of this aspect: she did not carry this boy in her body, she did not place her life on the line to bring him into the world, she did not nurse him, and she did not have the care of him during his most vulnerable months.  Without those components, she still displays the true love of a mother.

This love seems to be an inseparable bond, and I can only imagine how that fierce love would be reinforced by the bonding aspects that my sister was not able to experience during those early months of her son's life. True mothers cannot abandon their children or stand callously by while danger comes to their offspring. Interesting, another woman on the scene (a mother also, I suspect) threatened the perpetrator with her umbrella.

It would seem that nothing could break this bond between a mother and her child - that this love would be insurmountable. Sadly, if we listen to the news long enough we find this is not always the case. Shockingly, there are too many cases where a mother leaves her child to live in squalor and filth while she pursues her own pleasures or remains absorbed with some man (or men) who are not her children's father. There are mothers who leave their children under a bridge to die or who kill them before they are even born. A recent story in my area involves a woman who for days was unaware that her son had starved to death; she lived in the same house, but didn't care for the child at all and didn't see him for months at a time.

These stories are sickening and repulsive. We can't imagine how they could possibly happen. In fact, the Bible asks this question: "Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb?" (Isaiah 49:15a). We want to think the answer is a resounding "No," but, as the above stories illustrate, there are cases in which a mother actually forgets, ignores, and turns away from her own child.

The power of the Bible's illustration comes from the extreme rarity of such abandonment. There is probably no stronger bond on earth than that of a mother for her child, especially an infant. When asked if a mother could forget her little one, we immediately want to answer, "Of course not." Only when we stop to consider do we have to admit, "Well, I suppose it could happen, but those are really isolated cases."

Realizing how abnormally unusual - in fact, almost impossible - it would be for a mother to forget her child, let us consider the rest of the verse. "Even these [mothers] may forget, but I will not forget you" (Isaiah 49:15b). If we consider the mother/child love that seems unsurpassable, there is a love that is even greater. A mother's love will on rare occasions fail, but God's love will never fail. He will always remember His children.

Love sometimes puts up with a lot. With any child there are the messy diapers, the puking, the loads of laundry, the temper tantrums, the messy tables and floors, the potty training, and so on. With some children the challenges can be even greater. There can be un-chosen challenges like physical or mental impairments, and there can be chosen challenges like rebellion or involvement in a bad crowd or dangerous habit.

A mother continues to love in spite of those challenges. She may be saddened by them, overwhelmed by them, or wearied because of them, but she still loves her child. I certainly hope this never happens, but if my nephew were to become involved in some of those bad choices, my sister would still love him. If he were to defiantly leave her in years to come but then return, she would willingly receive him.

God is like that, too, only more so. Remember that a mother's love can fail, but God's never does. God puts up with a lot - from the common and standard shortcomings of mankind to the outright rebellion, dangerous habits, and wrong choices. He is not happy that His children do those things, but He continues to love them and is always ready to forgive and receive them. In the context of Isaiah 49, the people believed God had forgotten them, but He assures them, "Oh, no. That is impossible. Your names are written permanently on my hands. You belong to me forever, and I will never forget you."

"The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.'" Jeremiah 31:3 (NASB)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

God Knows Me

There are many things that God knows regarding me. Actually, He knows everything about me, so the following study is by no means exhaustive. These topics, however, are ones specifically mentioned within the context of knowledge, and I believe they are comforting and reassuring.

First, and most important, God knows that I belong to Him. "I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know me" (John 10:14 - all verses NASB). "Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, 'The Lord knows those who are His'" (II Timothy 2:19). God redeemed me and claimed me as His own, and that is something He will never forget. His actions toward me are based upon His knowledge that I am His child.

Second, God knows every detail of my daily life. "You know when I sit down and when I rise up. . . . You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways" (Psalm 139:2a&3). How intimately does He know me? "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matthew 10:30). Nothing about what happens to me escapes God's knowledge. He knows my past, and He knew it when He chose me. He knows when I have joy and victory, and He knows when I have sorrow and defeat. He knows when I have a bad day, facing challenges and temptations, and He knows exactly what blessings to send and what kind of help I need.

Third, God knows my thoughts. "You understand my thought from afar" (Psalm 139:2b). Sometimes spouses know what each other is thinking, but God always knows what I am thinking. This is a challenge to me to guard against wrong thinking, but it is also a comfort. When I have no one else to share with, or when I am not in a position to be able to verbalize my thoughts, God knows them. If I state some of my thoughts out loud, others might think me crazy or insincere, but God knows my thoughts as they really are.

Fourth, God knows my heart. This is a wonderful truth, because my heart is so hard to understand that I don't always know it myself. "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds" (Jeremiah 17:9-10). God knows the darkness of my heart, things that are perhaps hidden to me or that I am reluctant to yield, and He can work appropriately to bring those things to the light so they can be healed. He also knows the positive intentions, desires, and passions of my heart that maybe I can't yet verbalize or figure out to express, and He guides me toward those good ends when my own knowledge is incomplete.

Fifth, God knows how I should pray. I don't always know that. Sometimes the burdens and needs are too deep for me to express or too puzzling and complicated for me to begin to understand, but God knows the exact prayer that should be offered on my behalf in every situation. "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26). What a comfort that when I am completely lost, I can still come to God, and the Spirit prays for me. When my prayers are wrong based on my faulty knowledge, the Spirit presents those prayers with the knowledge of the will of God.

Sixth, God knows my future. He knows the needs that will confront me. "So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:8). God knows His plans for me, and He knows how to take every life situation and use it to accomplish His good purposes. "But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10). This is the wonder of the Christian life. God knows the best results for me, and He knows how to bring about His planned result for good no matter how things may seem to me. When God looks at my life, He sees a happy ending. By His grace, that will be continued progress toward sanctification, culminating in the day that He takes me to heaven where I will finally "be like Him, because [I] will see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2b).

I am so thankful for what God knows about me. His great knowledge, far superior to my own, compels me to trust Him. Anyone who knows as much as God knows cannot fail to understand me and my needs, and He cannot possibly make a mistake.

"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" Romans 11:33 (NASB)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Why Here?

Several years ago God worked in an intricate and very distinct way to bring me to my current geographic location. There was no doubt whatsoever that God had directed my steps away from numerous other possibilities and guided them to this particular place. After such clear guidance, it was a little shocking and humanly incomprehensible when the teaching position lasted only one school year.

Why would God do that? I confess that I don't know the answer, but here is what I do know. God places people precisely where He wants them for the precise purpose that He wants to work in their lives. Somehow, through ordinary or dramatic means, God gets people to where He needs them to be in order to accomplish His will.

Consider Abraham's servant who went to seek a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24). The uncertainties of the journey notwithstanding, God led the servant to the right town and directly to the well where Rebekah was approaching. While the servant obeyed Abraham's orders, God put him in precisely the right place in order to provide the right bride for Isaac.

Jacob also needed a wife. As God's chosen heir, he needed a "good start" for the nation, both in family and in flocks. Not the first-born, traditionally he would not have inherited his father's resources. A sibling rivalry and a parent-led deception produced a family friction so intense and dangerous that Jacob had to flee for his life. God led him precisely to the house of Laban, where he acquired his wives, family, and wealth (Genesis 28).

Joseph was used by God to spare the lives of the entire nation of Israel, and the time spent in Egypt was purposed by God to allow the nation to multiply and flourish. To get Joseph to that location, God had to first put him in the right field where a man could answer his question (Genesis 37:15). God then led Joseph on an unusual journey from Potiphar's house to prison to the palace so that he could be where God needed him to be (Genesis 39-41).

Moses was placed in a basket that floated to just the right spot to be found by Pharaoh's daughter so that he could have the experience of growing up in the palace in preparation for the work that God had for him to do in delivering the nation of Israel (Exodus 2).

The spies showed up at the house of Rahab, the one person who feared God and was willing to help them as Israel anticipated their initial conquest at Jericho (Judges 2).

Gideon, at the prompting of God, ended up outside the very tent where a man was recalling his dream about Israel's conquest; the incident provided encouragement for Gideon in his difficult task (Judges 7:13).

Through following his father's orders, David, who would normally be tending sheep, arrived at the battlefield to hear Goliath's challenge (I Samuel 17). His subsequent victory delivered Israel's army and helped to prepare the way for David's kingship.

Elijah was led precisely to the house of a specific widow in a small town so that his life could be spared in the midst of famine (I Kings 17).

Elisha was at work plowing the exact field he needed to be in when Elijah came by to pass on the role of prophet (I Kings 19:19).

Four lepers in danger of starvation, whose own people could not even take care of them, inexplicably approached the enemy camp (II Kings 7). There they found provisions sufficient for themselves and the rest of the city.

Daniel and his friends were chosen as having potential in their captive land. In spite of their precarious protest of the preparation process, they rose to important positions of respect during the captivity (Daniel 1).

Nehemiah ended up in the palace as cupbearer to the foreign king, where he was instrumental in the return of captives to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1).

Although she was a foreigner, incredibly Esther became the queen, which placed her in the right position to protect her people from slaughter (Esther 2).

In the New Testament, a government tax brought Joseph and Mary to the town where Jesus was predicted to be born (Luke 2). Levi was sitting at the hated position of tax collector when Jesus passed by to call him (Luke 5). Zaccheus had the unusual idea of climbing a tree from which he met Jesus (Luke 19). Blind men and lepers were at the right place by the side of the road (Matthew 20, Luke 17, John 9), the sick man was at the pool of Bethesda (John 5), the widow bereaved of her son was in a procession passing by Jesus (Luke 7) - all in the right place to receive Jesus' help. Philip obeyed God and went to a road in the middle of the desert in order to share the gospel (Acts 8). Paul and Silas were in jail in Philippi as God worked through them to start a church in that place (Acts 16).

Some of these divine geographic placements seem amazing and incredible, while others seem horrific and confusing. Some of them involved extraordinary arrangement of circumstances and many were part of an intricate long-term plan which was not evident at the time. Humanly speaking, some of these placements required obedience, while others rested entirely outside the choice, control, or understanding of the person involved. Regardless of the seeming right and wrong, the confusion or senselessness, the routine-ness or unlikely-ness, God worked to put each person precisely where He wanted him. God's wise plan was then revealed, showing the necessity of each person being where he was.

So in what position do you find yourself? A job change, job loss, or relocation? The loss of a house through disaster or financial difficulty? Far from family, or living with them? A college based on the majors it offers or scholarships available? A sickbed, hospital, or nursing home? Single, married, or widowed? A new geographic location for whatever reason? A particular position at church, or a lack thereof? An unexpected ministry, or one you can't escape? In each of these and many more, God has you exactly where He wants you and where He needs you to be so that He can accomplish His purposes, which you may or may not understand. God knows what He is doing; if He wanted you somewhere else, He has proven Himself entirely capable of moving you.

"The steps of a good man are established by the LORD, and He delights in his way." Psalm 37:24 (NASB)

"The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps." Proverbs 16:9 (NASB)

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28 (NASB)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Empowered by Grace

The purpose of this blog site is to provide help and encouragement in the journey toward godliness. It is intended for those who hold that goal before them and strive toward it. In the previous post I examined spiritual victory and maturity in light of two important responses to struggles - subordinating the emotions and taking captive the thoughts. These responses indicate a determined resolve and a focused effort on the part of the believer. Today I want to examine a critical reality: the believer cannot by his own efforts achieve godly maturity.

It is natural for someone seeking success in any area of life to set goals and work diligently toward them. In general, successful people are those who doggedly and persistently pursue their objectives in spite of the challenges that arise and regardless of the time needed to achieve success. In many areas of life, self-determination and persistence can make up for significant deficiencies in opportunity and natural ability. In the spiritual realm, however, there is no level of fortitude, self-motivation, or willpower that can bring about spiritual maturity.

When it comes to spiritual maturity, progress and success belong to God, not man. The apostle Paul wrote this of himself and other church leaders, "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God" (II Corinthians 3:5 - all verses NASB). Paul recognized the critical work of God Himself to make any believer what he ought to be or to prepare that believer for God's work.

Why is God's work so necessary? In part, it is because man is so incapable of even knowing his own heart. "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). If man did fully know his own heart, he would shudder at the darkness found there. It is common to consider oneself to be better, nobler, and more respectable than reality. Even believers are often oblivious to the deficiencies of their own hearts. Without realizing the need, there is not even any motivation to pursue something more.

In addition to the difficulty of truly knowing one's heart, man is incapable of following through on what he has purposed. Even if he firmly maintains his desire and commitment, he simply cannot by his own strength achieve what he has determined. Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). It is Jesus' help and Jesus' intervention that enable a believer to do anything worthwhile.

A more sobering reality than needing God's help for the outworking of spiritual goals is that a believer needs God's help to even desire those goals. Even when a believer thinks himself to be fully committed and surrendered to God, how often does he find himself wandering and struggling? The firmest resolve and the most sincere decision can quickly fade into apathy and neglect. To the believer's shame, too often his spiritual ambition is anemic and his desire stifled. Much as one would like to think that he will grow spiritually because he has resolved to do so, in reality it is God who provides and maintains that resolve. "For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). Without God's fanning the flames of willingness, there would be no hope for the working out of those desires.

The key ingredient that God provides to spur spiritual maturity is His grace. Grace is quite simply God's help - divine enablement. That help takes many forms and can enable a believer mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically. Grace from God makes possible things that could never be achieved by human strength alone. Again Paul records this testimony: "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me" (I Corinthians 15:10). Paul acknowledges his diligent effort in pursuing godliness, but twice in the verse he makes it clear that his effort was helpless without the grace of God. It was God's grace that had made Paul who he was.

How does one procure this grace? Quite simply, he admits how much he needs it. Humility before God indicates a heart that realizes its own inadequacies. Humility reveals a believer who knows that he cannot prosper or even survive on his own. With this acknowledgement of need and helplessness, he comes to God for divine enablement, asking God to do for him and in him what he cannot do on his own. God loves such displays of humility, and He responds by pouring out his grace on the one in need. "But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, 'God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 3:6&8a).

Yes, the believer is to draw near. He is to seek God. He should, as the apostle Paul mentioned, labor to become what God desires. All of those actions indicate a humble recognition of one's need for God and a submission to the work of God. The humble efforts, however, depend for their success on the grace that God gives to the humble heart. In response to heart humility, God flames the desire for maturity as well as working out that maturity in the life.