...a weekly devotional

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Resentment or Sanctification?

"Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled." 
-Hebrews 12:14-15

You may have seen infomercials for "Insanity Workout," well, my husband and I have been doing these workout videos together. It definitely lives up to its name. Usually at some point during the workout I am laying on the floor in the fetal position gasping for breath! I have also noticed my increasing habit to grumble at the video instructor and complain at the super-human athleticism of the spunky people in the video. The reality is it has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with me. Their energetic attitude highlights my frustration, and their flawless form accentuates the ways I am doing it wrong and need to improve. 

The same thing happens in relationships. Often we can be quick to criticize and resent another person, when the reality is that we are frustrated with them because they highlight areas in our own life needing sanctification. 

Let me offer some examples:
  • The annoying co-worker or boss that we dread running into on a daily basis. We use the excuse that we have conflicting personalities, they are not a very hard worker, or they do not appreciate all the work we do. The reality may be that we resent them for drawing out our own impatience and polite pretending. They highlight how self-absorbed we really are. 
  • A husband sits with his wife at dinner while she talks through the details of her day, recounting various stories about the children. He tries to be interested, but inside he is bored and distracted by things at work. He thinks about a few of his buddies that are much more interesting, funny, and stimulating to be around. He uses the excuse that he and his wife do not have much in common anymore. The reality is that they have a family and life together in common and he is making excuses for his own selfishness, apathy, and misplaced priorities. 
  • A friend of mine is parenting a child with some learning disabilities. She admitted to me that while her child can act immature, be disrespectful, and presents extra challenges, the reality is that this child constantly points to her own parenting flaws. She is constantly confronted by her bad attitude and short-temper. She asked me to pray that she would not resent this difficult situation, but instead she would use it as an opportunity to grow. 
I understand every situation can be different and pose unique challenges. People can be incredibly difficult and you can attempt everything to work at the relationship. The problem is we are all sinful, selfish, and imperfect people. Are you willing to allow the conflict with others to help you acknowledge the sin in your own life and the personal opportunity for growth? Gary Thomas says, "when disagreements arise, the natural tendency is to flee. Rather than work through the misunderstanding (or sin), we typically take a much more economical path- we search for another church, another job, another neighborhood, another friend, another spouse."1 Beware of merely running away from the ways God is using difficult situations to confront your sin. Be careful not to let bitterness and resentment take root. Hebrews 12:14-15 warns that when we allow bitterness to have a foothold it prevents us from pursuing sanctification. When this happens we can miss out on God's grace, and it can even keep us from seeing God. This is why all throughout Scripture we are told to reconcile our relationships with others before coming to the altar of God (Matthew 5:23-24; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37; Matthew 6:12-15; Ephesians 4:31; 1 Timothy 2:8). So what will the choice be, resentment or sanctification?

Let me end by sharing the beautiful, and rather convicting prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

1 Gary Thomas, "Sacred Marriage," Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. pg 162. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Right Thinking = Right Fruit

"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'"
-Matthew 7:15-23

I have always had a fascination with gems, diamonds in particular. No, I would not consider them to be my best friend, but diamonds possess a unique beauty that is unparalleled. The reason for this beauty is the way they reflect the light. Since they are multifaceted one can examine the diamond, then turn it slightly and the light is reflected in a whole new way. 

The many attributes of God are similar to the multi-facets of a diamond. You can be transfixed as you consider one of God's characteristics, then gaze at another attribute and be left in total awe. I have been reading A.W. Tozer's "The Knowledge of the Holy." In it he examines various attributes of God and how they relate to one another. One particular quote stood out during my reading:
I think it might be demonstrated that almost every heresy that has afflicted the church through the years has arisen from believing about God things that are not true, or from overemphasizing certain true things so as to obscure other things equally true. To magnify any attribute to the exclusion of another is to head straight for one of the dismal swamps of theology; and yet we are all constantly tempted to do just that.1
I am a firm believer that the foundation to our faith begins with right thinking about God and His Gospel. 

Matthew 7 gets at the heart of this issue. It is a passage that is often gravely misunderstood. Verses 16 and 20 says, "you will know them by their fruits;" but this is usually taken to mean that we will know someone is a Christian by his or her good works. However, when we examine this verse in context, the opposite is actually true.2 These "false prophets" demonstrated all kinds of good works- even prophesying and performing miracles, but what they lacked was a proper view of God and a correct understanding of the Gospel. So Jesus says to them, "I never knew you; depart from me."

We all know people or religious groups that are nice, charitable, and relatively moral. But all these good works are not what matter. Is the Jesus these religions teach about, the Jesus of the Bible? Is the Gospel they share the Gospel preached in Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord"? If not, they are still lost in their understanding and separated from God. 

What matters is the foundation of our doctrine. This is the fruit that should truly distinguish us. The Gospel, also like a diamond, is filled with simplicity and complexity:

  • Simplicity: God is holy, we are sinful and, therefore, separated from God. The punishment for our sin is death. Since we couldn't get to God, He came to us. He sent His Son, Jesus, to take our sin on Himself and die in our place. God offers His Son as a free gift to us that we respond to through faith and faith alone. That is Romans 6:23! 
  • Complexity: We could spend the rest of our lives unpacking the truth of that simple Gospel. I also believe that almost every attribute of God can be seen in the truth of the Gospel- His love, justice, holiness, grace, sovereignty, mercy, and the list goes on and on!

We must build our good works upon a foundation of sound biblical doctrine. A proper understanding of God's forgiveness is the only way we are able to extend forgiveness to others. It is by grasping the extent of God's faithfulness that we can maintain stronger fidelity towards our spouse. Don't get me wrong, though, I am not excusing a life without good works. It was just last week that I highlighted 1 John 4 and emphasized that if we want to love God, we must start by loving people. Our doctrine should lead us to action, but beware of shallow or misled doctrine. Is there a sin controlling your life? What lie might you be believing about God? Take time to study some attributes of God, start reading "The Knowledge of the Holy," or just get into the Word and let it saturate your mind. 

1. A.W. Tozer, "The Knowledge of the Holy," New York: HarperCollins Publisher, 1961.
2. For further reading on this interpretation of Matthew 7 see pgs. 194-199 of J.C. Dillow, "The Reign of the Servant Kings," Haysville: Schoettle Publishing Co, 1992.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Love Well

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"
And He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."
-Matthew 22:36-40

I have only been married for a few short months, but already I have seen whole new sides of myself. Never before have I been so confronted with my own selfishness, short temper, condescending tones, impatience, and negative attitude. 

Prior to getting married I lived in an apartment on my own for five years. Things were organized to my satisfaction and whenever I threw a temper tantrum the only one that heard it was my pet fish. Now when things don't go my way or I am having a day that I want to pout, my husband is the recipient of all my grumbling. Gary Thomas says, "If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there's no question- stay single. Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you want to become more like Jesus, I can't imagine any better thing to do than to get married."1 Marriage becomes the context where love is put to its greatest test. 

In Matthew 22 Jesus highlights the two greatest commands in all of Scripture: Loving God and loving others. Between these two commands He uses the word "homoia" which literally means "of the same nature, like, similar."2 It is as if He is saying "this second command is just as important as the first one!" He places the two commands on an equal level. It implies the idea that in order to love God well, we must love others well. 

This same theme is picked up in 1 John 4:20-21- "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also." When John says "this commandment we have from Him" he is speaking of Jesus' words in Matthew 22; and notice that John doesn't see them as two separate commands, he sees them as one singular command.

If you want to love God well, it means demonstrating love to those closest to you. I recently attended my cousins wedding and I will never forget how the officiant ended the ceremony. He said "if there is anything you should remember about today, let it be this: 'be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you' (Ephesians 4:32)." That is how we are to love, by speaking kindly and responding with a soft heart rather than a selfish heart.  

Beyond this, the most surprising discovery since being married has been the way my husband, Jon, loves and accepts me despite my selfish faults. Most people see the fun-loving, entertaining, extroverted side of me, but only Jon is close enough to see the full package- all the good and all the, well, not-so-good. This is why Scripture constantly uses the picture of marriage to describe God's love for Israel and Christ's relationship to the Church. God designed marriage, not only to teach us how to love well, but also to demonstrate His eternal and unconditional love for us. "'It will come about in that day,' declares the Lord, 'that you will call me Ishi [my husband]...I will betroth you to Me forever'" (Hosea 2:16a, 19a). 

(1) Gary Thomas, "Sacred Marriage" Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2000, p 21. I highly recommend this book if you want further reading on this topic. His main premise is that perhaps God designs marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy. An excellent read. 
(2) Bauer, "A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament" 3rd Ed. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2000, p 706. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Running the Race

"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." 
- Hebrews 12:1-2

Five years ago I ran the Chicago Marathon. Anyone who has run this race knows that the first six miles are filled with excitement and adrenaline. During these first miles one weaves their way through the heart of downtown, next to lofty skyscrapers and familiar sights, all while being cheered on by thousands of spectators. But at about the half-way point monotony sets in. The rest of the race consists of a long, grueling journey west- running away from the city, followed by a never ending run to the south. When, at last, you turn back towards downtown for the final stretch of the race, the once lofty skyscrapers now appear like tiny specks on the horizon. This is about the point you are ready to throw in the towel!

Running with endurance provides a beautiful illustration for our various seasons of life. Sometimes life is filled with thrills, new adventures, and excitement. At other times, however, life feels discouraging, mundane, even painful. 

Even in a short time my race has changed course a number of times. Five years ago I was just beginning my Masters degree in Biblical Exegesis from Wheaton College. I was filled with anticipation and speculation about how I was going to change the world! One year ago I was working as a Resident Director at Biola University. This was my dream job. I spent most of my days meeting with students, mentoring, counseling, casting vision, and planning events to enhance the social and spiritual life of the residents. A couple months ago my race changed again. I gave up that job to get married and move to Hawaii with my husband. Sounds thrilling, right? Well, vacationing in Hawaii and living in Hawaii are two very different things. My days now consist of cooking, laundry, dishes, and Netflix movies. We occasionally go for a hike or head to the beach, but most of the time Jon has to work so I'm left at home. God has been working in my heart to embrace this newest change of course and to run it with endurance.

Each of us has a different race set before us. No matter what the race, we are told to run it with endurance, fixing our eyes on Jesus. How are you obediently running the race God has set before you today? Take that chance to speak up when you overhear your unsaved co-workers discussing religion. Spend a little time in the Word before logging onto facebook. Think of one thing you are thankful for with each t-shirt and pair of socks you fold instead of grumbling that this is the fourth load of laundry so far this week!

Above all, take time to fix your eyes on Christ. It is only by having this daily foundation that you will be able respond obediently to each step of your race. He ran the perfect race, and in the face of the greatest trial responded "not my will, but Yours be done" (Luke 22:42b). He endured the cross so that we could be reconciled to God. The very next verse in Hebrews says "For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb 12:3). Don't throw in the towel; remember, He ran for you and He runs with you.