Applying the Gospel while making the bed

My kids came to me arguing that someone called someone a name while they were trying to make one of the beds in their room. Stretching the mattress pad over the bed is a little harder than normal since we bought them a foam mattress topper and our one daughter kept doing it the wrong way. Apparently the other one got frustrated with her repeated attempts to succeed by doing it the wrong way and that’s when the fight happened.

As we talked about it the Holy Spirit brought a lot of clarity to my mind. Less than two hours earlier in our family devotions I had prayed that God would help us functionally apply the Gospel to our everyday lives like when the dog is sick or we fight with our siblings (or our spouse). He very graciously answered that prayer.

I explained to them that rather than be frustrated, she should be thankful for the picture that trying to stubbornly make the bed incorrectly after being given guidance provides, because it is a picture of our relationship with the Lord. The Gospel tells us that we are precisely like that – insisting on doing our own thing to our own detriment and God patiently waits for us. He does not exact retribution for our stubborn pride because He has already poured out 100% of the wrath for the sin of every Christian onto His beloved Son Jesus. All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us to his own way, but the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

We had a very good talk where my daughter, by God’s grace, saw exactly how helpful this picture was and how she failed to imitate God as she is commanded to do as His beloved child. There was no yelling, no screaming, no punishment – just pointing her to the Gospel so she could glory in how wonderful Jesus is. Only a few years ago I would have yelled at them, told them to stop fighting because it was unloving and sent them back to their room. God is very, very good.

Establish the Work of Our Hands – II

In my last post I talked about Psalm 90:17 as it relates to my current situation and some of what it means that Moses prayed that God would establish the work of Israel’s hands. This time I’d like to talk a little about how that plays out in the lives of people like me and others who have lost a job, seen income reduced or are otherwise affected by the economy right now.

To me the most important thing to remember here is that Moses looked to God to establish the work of their hands. He had a nation of 2,000,000 people at his disposal and he still turned to God to establish the work of their hands. I am reminded of the verse “Unless the LORD builds the house the laborers labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Moses knew that to be true and he trusted God who is completely trustworthy to be the one who directed their steps and established their work. I am a very proud guy and I am often very tempted to think my success is up to me rather than trust God in this way.

More than that, I think it’s important to remember that God is not impaired by economics. Things can be very bad in the economy and God can do what He wants anyway. Do you remember the story in 1 Kings 17. God sends Elijah to meet a woman who is supposed to feed him. This occurs in the middle of a terrible drought and things are so bad for the widow she plans to use all she has to make one last meal so she and her son can eat one last time before they die. Her economic situation was much more desperate than almost anything anyone with America, Canada or Europe’s safety net permits. Yet God provided for her so that her flour and oil did not run out (even though she KNEW there was only enough for one more cake left).

Why did God do this? It wasn’t to be nice to the widow. I presume there were other families equally desperate during this time and we don’t have any records of God being so merciful to them. The reason He did it was to feed Elijah in a way that brought Him glory. God established the work of the widow’s hands to promote His glory.

This is where I start thinking about Job 42:1. After seeing the error of his thinking, Job confesses “I know that you (God) can do all things. No plan of yours can be thwarted.” God does have a plan. His plan might not have anything to do with our economic prosperity or America’s re-emergence as the single global economic superpower. But whatever His plan is, it will not be thwarted under any circumstances.

Are you out of a job as I am? God’s plan for you will not be thwarted. He has promised to provide for your needs and He will do it. You much be humble enough to accept the means of provision He decides. In the New Testament, that seems to be one another love shown by members of your local church.

Are you okay for now but worry about the future? God Himself will establish the work of his faithful servants and there is no cause to worry. There is nothing unemployment rates or national debt or the “wrong” president or Congress can do to stop that.

Are you comfortable living in the generous welfare the country has provided? With extended unemployment benefits, discount health insurance, food stamps, mortgage reductions and so many more things it can be tempting for even a believer to get content in his or her laziness. Remember that Moses prayed that God would establish the WORK of their hands. Paul said those who didn’t WORK shouldn’t eat. One of the very first commands in the Bible was for Adam to WORK in the garden. God invented work and we should seek to glorify Him in whatever work He gives us to do.

Establish the Work of Our Hands – I

I was meditating on Psalm 90 recently. It is the psalm where we get the fairly well known verse “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” What caught my eye this time was the final verse (verse 17).

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

I have been praying (and ask you to pray) that in light of my new self-employment, that I would wholly trust not in my skills or my smarts or my contacts but in the Lord Almighty who loves me and has promised to take care of me. For my personality and temptation patterns, this idea of self-sufficiency is a huge current struggle with sin. It is interesting to me that Moses – a guy who had led two million people out of Egypt and defeated nations – would be asking the Lord to establish the works of their hands rather than rely on themselves. He was much more “qualified” to rely on his resume than I am.

Perhaps you have never faced that temptation of self sufficiency. As I’ve shared my prayer request with others, the vast majority tell me they are much more likely to be tempted toward either anxiety or inferiority, believing that God would not do anything through them. If this is your life, I have two reminders for you.

Remember that God Himself has promised that you will do things for Him. Ephesians 2:10 says “For you are His workmanship (literally His poems), created in Christ Jesus for good works He has prepared in advance for you.” The same God who promised to begin the work He began in you, promised that He has prepared work for you to do. What an encouragement! The sovereign god of the universe who could simply accomplish every goal with one word from His mouth has invited you and I to do good works, and more than that has prepared them especially for us! WOW.

The second thought is that all this happens inside the context of God’s majesty being shown to us. Verse 16 makes that clear:

Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.

God does want us to do good works but the goal of them is neither simply our prosperity nor our popularity. God’s special purpose in inviting our work is to show Himself as a majestic God able to work even through such weak and fallen vessels as us. If anything, this makes it even more amazing – we have the chance to be used by God as He establishes the work of our hands in work He has prepared in advance for us. He has promised to succeed in completing the work He began in us. He wants men to see our good works and glorify Him. We can have confidence in that promise because that same God raised Jesus from the dead to show the world that nothing – not even death – can get in the way of his mission.

As humble servants we can echo with Job, “I know that you can do all things, no plan of yours can be thwarted.” (Even his plan to work through us to establish His kingdom both now and forevermore.)

Selfish is as selfish does

I was recently in an online exchange with a lady justifying her family’s shooting off fireworks nearing midnight. She responded to a post where I said that I was thankful that the blood of Jesus covered the sins of people pursuing selfish pleasure like using fireworks late at night when people are trying to sleep. Her response to my initial note about this (on a public bulletin board):

What a ridiculous thing to say. How about we show a gracious attitude one or two days a year (4th of July and New Years’ Eve) to the families and friends enjoying each others company and celebrating the holiday. It wasn’t even completely dark until 9pm last night. It took us over an hour just to set off the little package of fireworks and sparklers we bought to entertain our 2 and 3 year old. The big fireworks at the lake were still going off when we went inside so I am sure there were those who came home from that and set off a few more at home. My kids were excited, our 3 dogs were crazy, my husband needed to get to bed so he could get up at 6am this morning. Big deal. It is one day a year.

Saying that doing fireworks 2 hours after dark on the 4th is sinful and the comments about selfish pleasures, horrible death of Jesus on the cross and repentance in relation to fireworks 2 hours after dark on the 4th of July (yes, that needs repeating) is absolutely asinine. It is those sort of comments that lead non-believers to think that Christians are a bunch of judgmental yahoos. A gracious attitude goes much further.

I didn’t know whether she was saying she wasn’t selfish, that selfishness wasn’t sin or that Jesus’ death isn’t required to cover sins like selfishness. Based on her thought on graciousness, she clearly doesn’t understand the Gospel at all. I am stuck by how many people in the south are just like this – defending their own righteousness rather than simply embracing the free gift. Grace only makes sense in the light of our sinful unworthiness. The simple fact is this lady loved her pleasure more than the peace and well being of those around her. She could have chosen to stay home so her husband could do their fireworks earlier, could have chosen to do their fireworks at another time or place, could have taught her kids that the laws about fireworks and disturbing the peace should be honored, even if it cost them something. She chose none of these but rather to feed her own desire to see smiles on her kids faces and good “family time”.

I have sinned worse than most people and I never killed anyone to my knowledge. Most sinners are not axe murderers. Most sinners are selfish or unkind or angry with their spouse or like impurity. To God, sin is sin. He will punish all sin the same way. The best news is that all the punishment for all these simple sins, as well as the big ones, was already poured out on Jesus on the cross for all those who put their trust in Him.

Afganistan is not the worst war

I was thinking as I watched a news report about General Petraeus’ change of command ceremony in Afghanistan about how badly the war effort there is going. We were largely unprepared for what we encountered. We gave ourselves far too much credit for early successes and underestimated the enemy’s ability to rise up again. We didn’t wage war with the enemy in a way that would be ultimately productive. We kept changing who would be held responsible for the prosecution of the war. Our enemy there is crafty and doesn’t see this with results that are measured in days or weeks but in years and decades.

The greater war I am thinking of is the war against sin we all fight. Some of us don’t even seem to realize we’re in a war in the first place which is why so many are losing ground. Those who have not turned from their sin do so because the deceitfulness of sin has blinded them from the truth. Satan is like the Taliban or Al Qaeda times 100. He is deceptive and the father of lies. Christians who are no longer slaves to sin still fail to win these battles for all the same reasons the USA and NATO is failing in Afghanistan. We do not prepare for the battle that we’re in. We give ourselves too much credit for past victories over sin and forget that while it may not be standing at our door in an obvious way, it is crouching there waiting for any opportunity to attack. We often do battle sin in a way that sacrifices long term benefit for immediate results by using crutches like rules and emotionalism instead of being motivated by love for Jesus. We blame others for our sin because they antagonize or tempt us, rather than simply face the fact that we alone are responsible for our choices.

What’s a Christian to do?

  • Pray for the young men and women in harm’s way in Afghanistan. The news accounts break my heart as I see people in their early 20’s losing their lives in this war. Pray for the families they leave behind – that they would turn to the Great Comforter to be their strength and sufficiency.
  • Use the media accounts of the struggle of this war to remind yourself that you are at war with a deceptive enemy, but that the stakes are much higher for you – your soul and eternity.
  • Battle the deception the way the Bible says to. Hebrews 3:13 says 13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. God says a main weapon against the deceiver and is other Christians exhorting us – that is we should be coming alongside other people to remind and encourage them about holy living. It is a command, not an option. That also means that God has designed it so that we all need to be exhorted, as well as to exhort others.
  • We need to be alert. The Bible says ” Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Lions don’t jump up and down and announce their presence before pouncing on gazelles to devour them. The military uses sophisticated technology and recon teams to see the enemy coming so they are not surprised. We need to use the tools God has given us – prayer for ourselves and our families, the exhortation of those around us, a heart that grows in loving discernment (Phil 1:9).
  • Pray for the leaders whose decisions affect your battle with sin. Church leaders can make decisions that affect their people’s sensitivity to the war, their understanding of the severity and the consequences, and how prepared for battle each individual Christian is. We need wise leaders who see eternal things for what they are and lead us in the right direction – not fearing the battle but confident in the One who has already won it for us.
  • Finally, be confident that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to bring it to completion. I know it is easy for me to fall into sin, to lose a key battle, and to immediately become despondent or depressed. When we take our eyes of Jesus and look at our own performance it’s like forgetting about our secret weapon. If you are a Christian, all your sin has been paid for. Not most, but all. One of the great lines in any hymn ever written:

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

We should pray that good will prevail over evil in Afghanistan. We should ask God to save sinners there who are blinded by the deceitfulness of sin. We should pray that our young men and women fighting there would discern the crafty tactics of their enemy. Their success is not sure, but ours is. It was secured 2000 years ago when the Son of God volunteered to serve by bearing human flesh and dying in the place of sinners who deserved death. Praise God that we cannot lose what He has already secured for us.