Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More precious than gold

We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28
So be truly glad! There is a wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure various trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold- though your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.
1 Peter 1:6-7

I could write a book on suffering (maybe I’ll get the chance to one day!) and how God works in our lives while we are suffering. Without delving into my own personal suffering- as hard as that is not to share and draw examples from- I will try to offer generalized encouragement based on my experiences and relationship with God.

As Christians, we’re quick to question God when we face a trial. We’re quick to complain to him and search for an answer as to why we’re going through something hard. After all, we love God and try to follow him right?

We’re quick to grumble “Why God, why? Why is this happening to me? It’s not fair! I love you and I’ve tried to be a good person. I didn’t do anything to deserve this. I just can’t take it. When will you deliver me from this awful situation?”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with asking God questions and running to him for comfort in our distress. But we’re not always meant to understand why we’re going through something (nor are we always meant to be delivered from it). In fact, more often than not, we don’t know why we suffered that loss or were dealt that bad card or how we ended up in this mess. It’s not even about fairness. We have to remember that we don’t “deserve” suffering nor do we deserve being spared from suffering. God loves us and forgives us because he is love and chooses to do so unconditionally- not because of anything we’ve done. We can’t do anything for him to love us more or less.

We must recall what Peter said: Beloved (Dear friends), do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering that has come to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you take part in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed (1 Peter -13).

And Jesus warned us: In this world you will have trouble, but don’t worry for I have overcome the world! (John 16:33)

Trouble, trials, pain, suffering, sin- it’s all part of this life on earth. It can’t be avoided and no one is immune. Suffering is not a punishment God casts on us because of our sin. It’s hard when we’re hurting so bad and searching for a reason why or someone to blame to not blame him sometimes. After all, he’s in control of everything right? How could he let this happen? If he loved me, wouldn’t he have saved me from it? I use to believe this when I was younger and didn’t understand God’s love for me. I didn’t understand the guarantee of suffering in this life- for everyone, Christian or not- and it’s ultimate purpose.

Instead of blaming, questioning, or complaining to God, we should take our hurt, anger and confusion to him- laying it all at his feet (Give all of your worries and cares to God for he cares about you, 1 Peter 5:7)- thanking him for the many blessings we do have (even if all that’s left to be thankful for is our salvation- what a gracious gift that is and it will never be taken away!) and praying to him for help to get through it; for him to turn it into something good.

We see in Romans 8:28 that God can and will work everything out (even all the bad stuff) for our good if we let him. This requires trusting in Him, not giving up our belief in his goodness and sovereignty, surrendering our need to figure it all out and fix it ourselves (that’s a tough one!). He loves to take something the enemy meant for harm and turn it into something that makes our life better and impacts other people for the better. The thing you are suffering may forever change you and your life, but it can do so in a positive way if it draws you closer to God, deeper in faith, making you stronger and wiser, and able to relate to other people going through suffering that need the hope you have in Jesus.

God sees what you’re going through and it hurts him for he has compassion towards you (As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion to those who revere him, Psalm 103:13. Because of God’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail, Lamentations 3:22). He’s well aware of the evil and pain in this world. He watches over the world and how people are hurting each other, sinning against each other, and it saddens him (Psalm 56:8). But he knows how it all ends and that one day there will be no more suffering!

He also watches how we handle suffering a trial. As we see in 1 Peter 1, trials test the genuineness of our faith in Him. It’s convicting to think about, but when I immediately jump to complaining, doubting, worrying, throwing a tantrum, hiding or going into self-protect-independent mode, then it shows God my faith in him is small. I’m making my problem (as awful as it may be) bigger than God is. If I’m quick to turn to God in prayer and thanksgiving, leaning on him for strength and comfort, asking for his hand on the situation and that he be glorified through it, then I prove that my faith in him is strong and mature. As the bible says, our faith is the most precious thing to him.

I love John Piper’s explanation for suffering: “God’s purpose for all suffering is for us to find more contentment in Him and less satisfaction in our selves and the world. The really deep lessons of life haven’t come through times of ease and comfort, but every significant advance made in grasping the depths of God’s love and growing deeper in faith has come through suffering.” We all handle suffering differently. The goal, as Christians, is to not rely on our selves or worldly things to make us feel better or to get through it.

We know God doesn’t bring suffering upon us, but when we are faced with it we shouldn’t be surprised or let it shake us up like an earthquake. For we know we will have to endure suffering of some sort on this earth. It is in our suffering that we’re able to connect with Christ like in no other way and understand the suffering he endured for our sake; That we’re able to display God’s supernatural Spirit in us to others and advance his kingdom.

For these reasons, we should rejoice and be glad! Take up our cross (the suffering personal to us) and follow Christ (carrying our burdens in the same manner he did) with surrender to God for the sake of his will in our lives and the lives of others. Praise be to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all of our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we have received from Him. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

Scriptures for further reading: Romans 8:28-30, 1 Peter 1:3-9, Philippians 3:7-11, Psalm 34:18-19, Psalm 86:15-16, Psalm 103:2-6 and 8, Jeremiah 31:25, Lamentations 3:21-32

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Heart matters

Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.
Matthew 5:8
Guard your heart above all else for out of it spring the issues of life.
Proverbs 4:23

I always took Matthew 5:8 to mean that those whose hearts were pure (clean, lacking in sin, innocent, well-intentioned, faithful. This was my idea of purity growing up) would be blessed by getting to see God in heaven one day for the way that they lived while on earth. This still may be part of the meaning, but perhaps it isn’t limited to just seeing God physically one day, long down the road when we enter heaven. Maybe it means that we will be able to see God here and now today in the day-to-day life we live on earth.

What I mean is, those who are pure in heart will be blessed by being able to hear God’s voice and feel his presence in their life. That’s what I think “see God” in this verse could also imply.

What does it mean to have purity in our hearts? Looking at the definition of pure, we get: unmixed with any other matter (such as worldly things); free from dust, dirt or taint (sin); free from harshness or roughness (such as anger, defensiveness, unforgiveness, coldness, jealousy); containing nothing that does not properly belong (Oh, I like this one! Anything that’s not of God and Christ-like); free from moral fault or guilt; marked by chastity; clean; having exactly the talent or skills needed for a particular role (I know this one is normally used to describe dog breeds- purebreds- but it could also apply to us having a particular role as one of God’s children).

Wow! I’m glad to have a better picture of what “pure” means. Now when I examine my heart for these things, I realize that some of these things are missing. This verse seems to imply that maybe I’m having difficulty “seeing” God because my heart isn’t pure. Not that our hearts will ever be completely pure since we’re still human, but they can be purified to a better place. God is in the business of purifying hearts. Jesus initiates our purification process and we can turn to him through prayer, surrender and obedience to become more pure like him. Then, we will be blessed for the purity in our heart by being able to hear from God better, feel his presence in our lives and sense his leading.

It’s convicting to think that the reason for my not being able to hear God’s voice when I pray and read the Word or feel his presence more often is because of me. If I’m harboring any unforgiveness, anger and bitterness towards someone then my heart isn’t completely pure. If I’m mixing myself in too much with this world and concerning myself with earthly matters more than godly, eternal matters then I’m not completely pure in heart. If I’m in a place of habitual sin or haven’t confessed my sin to God and turned away from it yet then my heart is impure. If my heart has any filth and dirt in it then it’s time to clean house. If I’m not walking out my role as one of God’s children and taking on the responsibility and reputation that comes with that then I’m not completely pure at heart. You get the idea.

So we can see where Proverbs comes into play as a warning to us to be sure to guard our hearts. Now we see why the heart is of such high importance! It makes sense that whatever we let into our hearts and dwell there determines the course of our life or the issues that arise in our lives. For example, if unforgiveness is in my heart then you’ll probably find evidence of a strained relationship in my life and constant conflict with that one person, or with everyone who sins against me. I have to forgive (let go and let God handle the situation or that person) in order to have a clean, peaceful heart. If I’m living in sin and aware of it but not taking it to God in confession and repentance, asking for help and trying to give it up, then it’s likely I’m struggling with getting his direction in my life and having any joy. If I’m filling my heart with cynicism, pessimism, negativity, jadedness or flat-out lies then how I live, make decisions, and relate to others will reflect what’s going on in my heart.

So let’s take an inventory of the condition of our hearts and purge of what’s not suppose to be in there. We’re promised to be blessed for it! I know I want to feel the presence of God. “You will show me the way of life, granting me fullness of joy with your presence,” Psalm . I love this verse. In other translations it says "In the presence of God is fullness of joy!" I also want to hear from God more easily when I’m seeking his counsel or comfort. “Seek his will in all that you do and he will show you which path to take,” Proverbs 3:6. By learning what his will is (found in studying his Word) and choosing to follow it, we will surely see God!

Father, thank you for your Word that teaches us what is right and how you would have us to live. Thank you for your Spirit living inside of us that convicts us when we do wrong. We know that you only discipline and correct your children; those whom you love. I pray that you show me anything in my heart that doesn’t belong there and help me to clean it out so that I may be able to see you, today and in heaven. Give me the grace to follow your will and have an obedient heart so that I may experience the joy of your presence. It’s in your Son’s name I ask these things, Amen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lord, give us this day our daily bread...

I named this blog “Daily bread and Living water” because of several verses from the Bible that changed the way I thought about food, about giving into temptations to sin, and most importantly, about God’s Word.

First, Deuteronomy 8:3 “He humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna. He did it to teach you that people do not live on bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” When the Israelites were wandering through the wilderness after Moses led them out of Egypt- out of slavery and imprisonment- to enter the Promised Land God had for them, they complained about the harsh conditions and not having enough to eat! Or food that tasted good, anyway and had some variety. This grumbling and their ungratefulness angered the Lord (rightfully so!) and he wanted to show them that He was sufficient. He was enough for them and He would meet their needs in his own way. When you research the definition of manna you find- the food miraculously provided for the Israelites in the wilderness during their escape from Egypt; Spiritual nourishment of divine origin; A fine, white, flaky  bread-like substance with the taste of honey and wafer. I love that he provided them- and provides us- with just enough of the physical nourishment they needed. He was purposeful in his decision of how and what to feed them (and his ways are perfect!) even though they couldn’t understand why all they were getting at the time was manna. But he wanted to show them while they were in the wilderness between Egypt and an uncertain future (from their perspective) that they needed him more than anything. That he was the one who freed them, who was guiding them into their future, and who cared for them.

Second, Matthew 4:4 When Jesus was being tempted by the devil in the wilderness, he was challenged to turn stones into bread. He was very hungry after fasting for 40 days and 40 nights. Yet, he responded to the enemy by saying “No! For it is written that people do not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” I love to see when the New Testament reflects back on the Old Testament and we see how woven, how interconnected the Bible is! Here Jesus is referencing what was said in Deuteronomy. He could have turned the rocks into food easily, but He knew and trusted in the Word of God. He knew that by giving in to the temptation to eat he would have tested and sinned against the Father.

Next, Jeremiah 2:13-14 “For my people have committed two sins against me- They have abandoned me, the Fountain of the Living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” This one really convicts me. So after fleeing Egypt and finally walking into the Promised Land that God led them into, the Israelites got comfy and didn’t really need God’s help anymore so they abandoned him. They started to rebel by giving in to all sorts of sins and worshipping idols. Verse 14 is my favorite- although most humbling- because it’s such a perfect description of what we do when we choose to give in to sins instead of obeying God and finding our satisfaction in him. When I came across this scripture a couple of years ago, I felt like it described in exact detail how I was living. I always felt frustrated and empty. I finally realized it was because I was chasing after things that only satisfied temporarily but made things worse in the long run. Giving in to sin satisfies us for a moment, then we’re left feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled again because God is the only lasting and completely good “nourishment” for our souls. We sin when we turn away from God (stop talking to him, spending time with him, obeying him) and when we turn to other things or people to feel better (instead of the only one who can truly bring us joy) In other words, idolatry. Note: Joy isn’t necessarily happiness, though it can be. It is contentment and peace even while you’re suffering. Joy is a product; a blessing of knowing God and knowing that he loves and forgives you, no matter what else is going on in your life.

Lastly, John 4:13-14 Jesus said, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” Similar to the last verses, in this one Jesus emphasizes that people pursue all sorts of other things to quench their thirst (the thirst and hunger we all feel deep in our souls, yearning for wholeness and meaning). This could come in the form of substances (food, alcohol, drugs), activities (sex, bulimia, exercise-bulimia, sports), objects (idols, money, material possessions), other religions, and people (politicians, celebrities, athletes, church leaders, friends, parents, love interests, our spouses, our children). There are so many choices we have of where to place our heart’s devotion. But God is the only one who deserves our entire heart, soul and mind (Luke ). He’s the only thing that can truly quench our thirst, for forever. Sinning leads to more sinning. Once we do something it’s hard not to do it again because the good feeling goes away and we have to give in to the desire over and over to get the good feeling- whatever that sin is. But Jesus promises that once we get a taste of him and know the real thing we won’t want any other kind of “water.” It’s like eating ramen noodles every day then one day finally having an extravagant, delicious meal like filet mignon and cheesy au-gratin potatoes and a wedge salad covered with bacon and ranch followed by a chocolate dessert of some sort (…you can tell I love food). You’d be like “where has this been all my life?! I didn’t know this was out there, it’s so filling and who knew food could taste so good!” That’s what Jesus is saying a relationship with him is like. Once you feel the fullness he provides, you won’t want the other stuff. Don’t settle for less than God’s best!

I created this blog as an extension of my original blog because I want to devote it completely to devotionals (Ha, pun wasn’t intended). These verses made me realize that even though we do need food and water to live (which God will take care of for us, Matthew -33), we also need to “consume” God’s Word daily. We can’t live our lives and deal with everything we go through- all the trials and decisions we face, all the tough emotions and temptations to sin, all the opportunities to not show love and mercy to others but to take offense and be hurt or angry- on our own. We need God’s help! His guidance, His strength, His comfort, His grace. We get that nourishment (all of these things He possesses) through his Spirit in us. We can go about our day and stay “healthy” through it by reading the Word, meditating on the Word (dwelling on it and memorizing it), praying the Word (speaking it outloud) and trusting in the Word.

I want to be transparent and real with you here. Another reason why these verses impacted me so significantly and why I titled this blog the way I did is because I’ve struggled with food for most of my life. It’s a generational thing in my family- A sin I aim to stop from going any further down the family tree. We’ve struggled with food in different ways, but mine has been mostly with see-sawing between eating very little and exercising a lot (to feel in control and powerful in my own strength) and over-eating (to feel comforted, satisfied, and happy in the midst of stress and conflict). God’s Word has convicted me over the years that both of these things are wrong- they are sins. Food is a broken cistern and He alone should be my rock, the one I turn to when I feel that my world is out of control. Instead of running to food, I can run to him for all the things that I’m needing in that moment. That’s not to say that eating is wrong, obviously it’s not! Most things in life are good if they are handled in moderation. Things become a sin in our life when we use them for the wrong reasons (to replace God) or in excess. That’s what I’m talking about here. This can apply to so many other things besides food! I might talk more about my struggle with food later, but for now I just want to describe the general purpose of this blog which is to fill myself and others with the daily bread of God’s Word that we so desperately need!

1 John 1:8-10 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

I pray that the hunger and thirst we feel in our souls would by quenched by the Lord, by the One who put those holes inside of us that He alone can fill, through his Word and his Spirit. I pray that we abandon our broken cisterns (little by little, day by day. It’ll take time) and return to God in repentance. That we exchange the things of this world that don’t satisfy for the most satisfying Heavenly One- Our Creator, Redeemer, Father and King.