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It’s Not About How Well You Are Going

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”  Matthew 5:13

Yesterday my wife and I were driving through the Hill Country trying to find a little Texas town.  We missed our turn from one two-lane highway to another and found ourselves going West instead of South.  I was driving very well.  I was under the speed limit, two hands on the wheel, lights on for safety.  But none of that mattered because I was going the wrong direction.

When we have sin in our lives there is only one answer.  We can’t study the Bible enough to make our sin satisfactory to God.  We can’t give enough of our money to justify ourselves.  We can’t preform substitute service taking care of the sick or feeding the hungry so that our sin becomes OK.  That sinful activity, those base thoughts, those worldly feelings, are no good to us no matter how we try to dress them up or compensate for them.  That sin has to be tossed out.

Yesterday I had to humble myself, admit I was going the wrong way and turn around.  I had to go back to the turn I missed and head in the right direction.  That is what repentance means, to turn around and go another way.

Bible study is extremely effective for growing in Christ.  Sharing what we have – money, time, and energy, is a commandment of God.  But when it comes to sin, humble repentance is the only medicine that will cure us.

Trying to grow in your walk without repenting would be like my wife and I trying to get to our destination yesterday, going the wrong direction, by just trying to drive more carefully.  We could have been the best drivers ever all the way to the Pacific Ocean and still never reached our goal.  Today, save yourself time, frustration and further distance from our Father.  Repent of your sin and get on track to a fuller relationship with Him.

The Power of Magic Words

 

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Romans 1:21

As children we are taught that some words are magic.  You know what I mean.  Words like “please” and “thank you”.  As adults we know those words aren’t magic, but just like magic they can certainly open doors for you.  It is polite to say “thank you” when someone does something for us.  But we know it’s not about the words.  It’s about the messages those simple words carry.

When we say “thank you”, we agree that we were not owed what we received; that someone gave us a gift.  You don’t say thank you for being repaid a loan (unless you thought you might not be repaid).  If anything, when we say “thank you” we are now the ones in debt.  We owe the “debt of gratitude” to whoever blessed us.

When we say “thank you”, we agree, in, that instance, that we are less powerful, less wealthy, or less capable than the person who helped us.  They did something valuable for us that we could not, or had not, done for ourselves.  They were the provider.  We were the ones provided for.

To be thankful is an act of humility.  It is a moment when we acknowledge that other people can do things for us and that we are not complete, in an of ourselves.

No wonder people like for us to tell them “thank you”.  It conveys all manner of good messages.  And no wonder people don’t like it when we fail to say “thank you”.  That is when we deliver the opposite communication.  That is when we say we are owed more than we received, that we are superior to those who gave to us, and that we do not need anything from others.

When we fail to say “thank you” to other people, it’s rude.  When we fail to say it to God, it’s deadly.  Romans 1 goes on to describe the swift fall into darkness awaiting those who take this attitude towards God.  As deep as that darkness goes, it all starts with simply failing to be thankful.

Today, let’s acknowledge God’s generosity and Lordship, and our own helplessness.  Let us say “thank you” to God, and walk in the light.

Pray for More

You keep him in perfect peace

    whose mind is stayed on you,

    because he trusts in you.  Isaiah 26:3

If we listen to our prayers over time, they tend to take on a familiar theme.  We ask for things we need.  We pray that we will close that big sale, get that good grade, or earn that next promotion.  We pray frantically that we will get through traffic and make it to an important meeting on time.  We pray that we will be able to afford a big enough house for our family, a big enough car for our job, a big enough lunch for our stomach.

Wanting those things is not necessarily wrong, nor is praying for them.  They represent good for us.  Success at work or school can make us feel affirmed.  Getting out of traffic can bring tremendous relief and peace.  Having the money to buy what we need can bring a great sense of freedom.

But what if instead of praying for these material things, we prayed for what we really needed?  What if we prayed for affirmation, for peace, and for freedom?  Wouldn’t that seem to be a more direct way to get what we really want?

Of course, the problem with praying for those things is that it would turn the means to our achieving them over to God.  And that is not what we want.  We don’t just want affirmation, peace and freedom.  We want to get it by the means we have chosen.  The Lord does not promise us that.  His Lordship is bigger than the ability to give us what we want.  His blessings require faith.

The Lord has a world of wonder to bestow on us if we will let go of our requirements and accept His love the way He wants to give it.  Let’s raise our prayers to a higher level and give God the freedom to bless us however it pleases Him.

To Know Him is NOT to Love Him

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? James 2:19-20

In post-modern America, much of our regular spiritual activity revolves around knowing the Lord.  We study the Bible, privately and in groups.  We attend church expecting to learn something new.  We, collectively, spend millions of dollars a year buying books and videos so that we can learn more of our God.  Sadly, that is where it often stops.

Why do we want to invest our time and treasure in study?  Simply put, we know the Lord is the source of all the good in our lives.  The more we know of Him the more we delight in His love, take pleasure at being in His presence, and are comforted by His provision for us.  The better we know God the more excited we become about His future plans for us.

What can be missing from all this knowledge and devotion is the requirement of obedience. How often do we open our Bibles, not praying to be shown more of Him, but praying to become obedient to whatever He will show us?  Scripture does not generally promise blessings to those who know God, but to those who obey Him.  The Bible was not written just to inform and enlighten us.  It was written for us to obey.

Those demons that James is referring to in our passage for today knew the Lord.  They recognized Jesus in His earthly ministry and knew exactly who He was, even when the crowds to whom Jesus was ministering had no real idea.  They knew His power.  They knew His plan.  The only relevant difference between us and those demons is that they were committed to disobeying Him.

Let’s reconsider our spiritual center this week.  If our life of faith is only a life of knowledge, let’s turn the focus back where it belongs, to a life of obedience.  Our love for God will not be expressed in our knowledge.  It will be expressed in our obedience.

May You Quickly Forget

Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”  Genesis 41:51-52

Hardship and suffering are a common thread of the human experience.  Some of us live easier lives than others but there are lots of kinds of pain and everyone has some.  The thing that makes us different is how we react to our suffering.  Some become wise while others turn bitter.  It is very much a function of the direction we are looking.

When one is in the middle of suffering, being self-focused is entirely expected.  The fact that Christ was concerned for the welfare of His mother while He was dying on the cross is extraordinary.  (See John 19.)  But before it was over, even Jesus cried out in thirst.

It is what happens after the suffering that makes all the difference.  Some people can’t take their eyes off themselves.  They dwell on their suffering and re-experience it over and over.  They burn with anger for whomever they blame for it.  They invest everything they have to try and avoid more suffering in the future.  They worry, and burn, and suffer, and imprison themselves in their own past.

Others can forget.  They forgive whoever caused their problems.  They accept the peace and joy that followed the easing of their suffering.  They don’t worry about what will happen next.  As a result they can turn their focus outward.  There, in the world outside themselves, they find others in whom they can invest.  They find people to whom they can minister.

And as they invest in ministry to others, those investments bear fruit.  They get to join the Lord in making a difference in the lives of others.  There may be no greater joy, and it all begins with forgetting.