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, June 24, 2017

I Can't

Humans are weak and fragile. The Bible provides the negative extremity regarding this topic: "For apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). People are absolutely powerless. Job described himself as "the weak" and "the arm without strength" (Job 26:2). Heman said, "I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength" (Psalm 88:4). Various verses compare man's weakness to grass that withers, flowers that fall, or vapors that vanish.

Since mankind is so weak, it is wonderful to know that God is not weak at all. "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?" (Jeremiah 32:27). "He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless" (Isaiah 40:23). "It is He who made the earth by His power" (Jeremiah 51:15). "'To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal?' says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars. . . . Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing" (Isaiah 40:25-26). "Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power" (I Corinthians 6:14). "And what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might" (Ephesians 1:19).

The next consideration provides hope. One could ask of God's strength, "How does that help me?" Actually, God pays a great deal of attention to weak people, not just out of pity, but because He wants to do His work through them. "Who is like the LORD our God, who is enthroned on high, who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap" (Psalm 113:5-6). "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong" (I Corinthians 1:27).

Hope increases when the believer realizes that his mighty God gives some of His strength to His weak followers. "Strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might" (Colossians 1:11). "He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. . . . Those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary" (Isaiah 40:29&31). "I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). "For I am the LORD your God, who upholds your right hand, who says to you, 'Do not fear, I will help you'" (Isaiah 41:13).

How can a believer receive this divine power? The simple answer is that of expressing dependence. The needy believer must acknowledge his own weakness and cry out to the mighty God who can help him. The believer must rely on God alone to do through him what he cannot do on his own. "Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know" (Jeremiah 33:3). "I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm" (Psalm 40:1-2). "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might" (Ephesians 6:10). "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. . . . My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit" (John 15:4&8).

When divine power is shown through weak mortals, how great can that power become? At the very least, it will be enough to do the job, but that is a bare minimum. In reality, God's power is enough to do what man cannot imagine to be possible. "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness'" (II Corinthians 12:9). "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed" (II Corinthians 9:8). "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Ephesians 3:20).

This study began with the negative extreme - the realization that man is so weak he can do nothing on his own. Now the study has reached the positive extreme. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). There is no limit to what someone can do when he is relying on God and His strength to do what God has asked him to do. Nothing is impossible. Great things are possible.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind the reason why a mighty God uses weak people. "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves" (II Corinthians 4:7). "To keep me from exalting myself" (II Corinthians 12:7). "So that no man may boast before God" (I Corinthians 1:29). No matter what God does through people, they are still weak, and rightfully He must receive the glory for what only He can do.

"He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. . . . so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything" (Colossians 1:17-18).

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Too Short

One of our church's missionaries admonishes, "We have to reach the dead before they die." Unsaved people live a short time before being lost forever. It is also true that Christians have to reach the dead (and otherwise serve God) before we die. Believers also live a short lifetime of opportunity.

Lately as I think of all that I could or should do for God, I realize I don't have much time. Based on my health history, I don't expect to live a long life. While I'm not aware of any reason for imminent death, life is uncertain, and anything can happen.

As I consider my life and service for God, certain phrases come to mind. I think of the hymn text, "I wonder have I done my best for Jesus?" No, I haven't. I think of the famous quotation: "The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to Him." I haven't been that person. I think of the common aspiration of wanting to "make a difference," and that hasn't been as true of me as I would like either.

I haven't fulfilled these goals, nor have I come really close. Those goals of perfection cannot be accomplished by mere humans. My thoughts go to the Bible for a statement that God presents as a more realistic goal, that of hearing His welcoming words: "Well done, good and faithful slave" (Matthew 25:21).

I want to be able to hear those words some day from my Savior. Those words don't require a prominent position, abundant talent, or humanly-evaluated success. They simply require faithfulness - doing what God has assigned day after day, week after week, year after year. They require serving God with earnest effort and a sincere heart.

That is encouraging, because while most of my life has been spent in full-time Christian service, recent years have not been. Now I spend most of my life just making a living, with little time or energy left for serving God. The things I do for God seem small and limited, but God doesn't require my service to be grand, life-encompassing, or full-time. He simply wants me to faithfully do what He asks.

I don't know why God has chosen my current situation for me. My service for Him involves little things that come in scattered segments of an hour or two at a time. As I obey God, however, those acts of service really aren't so small. He chooses the size of the tasks and the proportion of my life that they comprise.

As I consider the avenues of service God has given me over the past seven-and-a-half years (of which I was in full-time ministry only one year), I am reassured as I realize that the ministries I have done and am doing are all in direct answer to prayer. At various points throughout these years, I have prayed the following prayers.
·        "Father, I'm unexpectedly unemployed. What do You want me to do with this time?"
·        "Father, I'm unexpectedly out of Christian service again. Will You give me some way to serve You?"
·        "Father, the way I want to serve within the church is not available to me. What can I do to be involved?"
·        "Father, I want to share the gospel, but I'm not sure how to go about it. Will you show me some 'fishing territory' or a good way to share the gospel?"
·        "Father, I want to do more. Will you give me opportunities?"

God has answered every one of these prayers by presenting some area of ministry for me. That is encouraging. It shows me that God wants to use me. It shows me that when I offer myself to Him, He provides avenues of service. His answers have not typically been dramatic, but God has repeatedly given quiet guidance and asked for my simple obedience.

God always wants to use people who are available and willing.
·        When God called Abraham to a difficult task, Abraham replied, "Here I am" (Genesis 22:1).
·        Joshua declared before all the people, "As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15).
·        When God called Samuel, Samuel responded, "Speak, for Your servant is listening" (I Samuel 3:10).
·        David stated, "I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8).
·        Isaiah volunteered, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8).
·        Mary yielded, saying, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 2:38).
·        The disciples prayed, "Grant that Your bondservants may speak Your word with all confidence" (Acts 4:29).
·        Paul proclaimed, "For to me, to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21).

When Christians respond in like fashion, God is pleased to provide areas of service. They are not always grand; they simply require an obedient yielding to God's purpose, followed by faithful service. "Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?" (Romans 9:21).

I am still praying, "Father, can You make a way so that my service for You can become a bigger part of my life as opposed to secular work?" I don't know what God's answer to that request will be. Maybe He doesn't intend such a life for me, but I do know He is pleased with the willing heart that prompts the request. I also know He will provide me with ways to serve Him and with the energy to do so for my remaining days and years.

"As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, . . . soon it is gone and we fly away. . . . So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:10-12).

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Friendship: Part 2

The previous post was about becoming God's friend and about how God extended the most profound level of sacrificial love to the most unsavory and unlikely of recipients. This post examines how to maintain and improve a friendship with God. Since God created relationships and declares Himself the Friend of believers, it is not surprising to see similarities between human and divine friendship.  

First, the depth of both human and divine friendship can increase. Deepening friendship is achieved through faithfulness over the passage of time and by increased commitment to the relationship. God is always faithful and is already committed as deeply as possible to the friendship. The challenge then lies with the believer, who has a tendency to waver or to be complacent. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8). A believer must commit to God long-term regardless of difficulties and obstacles and must determine that he wants to go deeper with God.

Second, both human and divine friendships flourish as the friends maintain similar interests. Friendships benefit when similar interests persist but suffer when those shared interests diminish. A believer who wants his friendship with God to thrive must be interested in what is important to God: the gospel, the church, families, and righteousness. The deeper the common interest, the deeper the friendship can go. If, however, a Christian devalues the gospel, minimizes church, weakens his family, and ignores righteousness,  while pursuing interests that God does not share, friendship with God will suffer immeasurably. "Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4).

Third, neither human nor divine friendships can prosper without frequent, honest, and clear communication. A believer must communicate with God often by hearing from Him through the Bible, both personally and corporately; one conversation per week is hardly enough for a deep friendship. Additionally, great damage is done by substituting popular thought, personal opinion, general impressions, and careless instruction for careful, accurate, and methodical study of the Bible. "Your testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors" (Psalm 119:24). While God knows man's heart, speaking to God in prayer is also important and beneficial. Prayer helps a believer to identify what is in his heart, to focus on his relationship with God, and to express his deepest thoughts to God. "Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us" (Psalm 62:8).

Fourth, human and divine friendships prosper when people spend time together. Even though no detrimental effect is planned or desired, friendships suffer when the amount of time together decreases. The causes of the decrease can be innocent and practical; nevertheless, the friendship is no longer the same. A Christian cannot be careless about his time with God. Instead, he must purpose to protect that relationship by diligently guarding against anything that would hinder his church attendance, Bible reading, and other time with God. "If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another" (I John 1:7).

Fifth, neither human nor divine friendships continue effectively when faced with long absences. When friends move far away, whether for a year or permanently, the friendship changes dramatically. The friends reassure themselves, "We'll always be friends"; this may be true to some extent, but inevitably something of the closeness is lost. Similarly, God will always be the Friend and Savior of His children. When a believer ignores Him for weeks at a time or walks away for months or years, however, he loses something valuable, and there is an unmistakable impact on the friendship. It is possible to return and rebuild that friendship, but there is definitely a price to be paid for extended absences. "A voice is heard on the bare heights, the weeping and the supplications of the sons of Israel; because they have perverted their way, they have forgotten the LORD their God" (Jeremiah 3:21). "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7).

Sixth, strong human and divine friendships are built on trust, forbearance, and forgiveness. One must overlook shortcomings, give the benefit of the doubt, restore fellowship, and believe in people's stated intentions even in the midst of failure. Refusal to make these concessions erects damaging barriers. God is not the one who struggles here. As He looks toward men, He is long-suffering and always ready to forgive. God understands human weakness and failure. He rejoices to grant forgiveness and to restore fellowship. As a believer looks toward God, he must remember that God never fails. There is nothing to forgive God for and no reason not to trust Him, but unfortunately a Christian sometimes makes it seem that way. He gets bitter at God, accuses Him of making wrong decisions, and argues that He has failed. A believer is wrong to think or act in these ways; not only is there no valid basis for these reactions, but they also drive damaging wedges into the relationship. "You are good and do good; teach me Your statutes" (Psalm 119:68). "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Relationships require the investment of time and work. God offers all the time in the world, and since He is both powerful and perfect, the relationship is no work for Him. A believer must commit his time and effort to growing his relationship with God. He must earnestly seek to eliminate obstacles that would cause damage, while pursuing efforts that promote a deepening friendship with the best Friend possible. The reward for such effort will be dramatic.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Friendship: Part 1

I'm not an expert on friendship, but I have enjoyed some good friendships. I've also misunderstood friendships enough to have learned something from that perspective. One observation regards the formation of friendships - what brings friendships about, and more significantly, what doesn't.

Often unconsciously and benignly, we try ineffective approaches to friendship. One common tactic is trying to make someone be your friend. You can't force friendship. If someone doesn't want to be your friend, you can't make it happen by persistent attempts or repeated invitations.

A second unsuccessful approach is trying to convince someone to be your friend.  Arguing convincingly about how much you need a friend or how much that person seems right for you may produce a sense of guilt or obligation, but will be ineffective in establishing true friendship. The targeted person might agree that you need a friend, but will defer that role to someone else.

A third ineffective tactic is trying to earn friendship. You can't buy friendship by spending money or giving gifts. You can't earn friendship by doing special things for people. True friends will perform those actions because the friendship already exists, but not to obtain it. A friendship on this basis will not be genuine or lasting.

I believe the best foundation for friendship is mutual interests and similar personalities. You typically get along with others who are like you. Common bonds can be based on church, work, life status, hobbies, background, or family connections. As far as personality, friends often have in common that they are shy, bold, talkative, adventurous, easy-going, reserved, serious, or other qualities. The qualities you possess seem right and comfortable to you, and you appreciate them in others. Part of personality compatibility involves being reasonably likeable; friendships will struggle if there are glaring personality flaws, destructive habits, or anti-social behaviors.

Rarely, we might experience or observe  a friendship that contradicts everything written above. It is truly special when, out of a generous heart of compassion, someone deliberately chooses to befriend someone who needs a friend, although neither common bonds nor likeable personality exist.

"God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God" (Romans 5:10). "You were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds" (Colossians 1:21).

These are just three verses that describe the condition we were in when God reached out to us. We were sinners, enemies, alienated and hostile. Using human analysis, this friendship shouldn't have happened. We had nothing in common with God and didn't share a similar personality. We had glaring personality flaws and anti-social behaviors that would have discouraged anyone else from even trying.

God offers the most incredible example of a generous heart of compassion. No one else has ever approached the level of His deliberate overtures toward someone who desperately needed a friend. No one else has ever been willing to overlook so much.

The wonder does not stop there. We recognize differing levels of friendship, distinguished by the depth of expression of love. In the human realm, there are some rather shallow friendships. From that minimal position, friendships exist at every level of a spectrum until we reach friendships in which one person sacrifices for the other, perhaps even risking his life. In general, the amount that someone is willing to sacrifice indicates the depth of love.

Here God's love shines superior once again. "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). "Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God" (I Peter 3:18). "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross" (I Peter 2:24). Our amazing God actually offered the ultimate expression of friendship to us when we were completely unlovely and in no way inviting or welcoming His friendship. That is incredible!

In considering human friendships, two aspects have probably been the most painful and disappointing to me. The first is the realization that many friendships are temporary. People's lives change, people move away, and many other things happen to effectively end a friendship as far as practical manifestation. That will never happen with God. His love is eternal, and He will never leave me and never forsake me.

The second disappointment has been in realizing that a friendship was more valuable and meaningful to me than it was to the other person. I often considered someone to be on my "top ten friends of all time" list, only to somehow discover that I was one of hundreds for them, nothing more than a casual friend. Again, this will never happen with God. He loves me with a level of love that I can't even imagine. There is never a danger that I will lose my importance to Him or my special place in His heart.

Charles Gabriel wrote a wonderful hymn titled "My Savior's Love."

1. I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus, the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean.

2. For me it was in the garden He prayed, "Not my will, but Thine."
He had no tears for His own griefs, but sweat drops of blood for mine.

3. He took my sins and my sorrows; He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary and suffered and died alone.

4. When with the ransomed in glory His face I at last shall see,
'Twill be my joy through the ages to sing of His love for me.

Chorus: How marvelous, how wonderful! And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous, how wonderful is my Savior's love for me!           

"No longer do I call you slaves . . . but I have called you friends. . . . You did not choose Me but I chose you" (John 15:15-16).