Getting Out of the Rut

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Photo credit to 4-wheeling-in-western-australia.com

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  Luke 3:4b

Imagine going out into the wilderness to hear this man dressed in camel’s hair, with a belt of animal skin around his hip, who ate locusts and wild honey.  Today, that would be really unusual, but even back in Jesus’ day, that was unusual.  Even the most basic Jew would have worn a tunic, this “simple, one-piece robe, usually belted at the waist, with a hole for the head and two holes for the arms.” (Msgr. Charles Pope)  Most people wore both an inner tunic and an outer tunic.   The inner tunic only, was not a very respectable thing to wear by itself.  It was like a loose T-shirt dress coming to the knees, made of linen, cotton, or soft wool. Over the inner tunic, an outer tunic was worn, that often had tassles on the corner called Tzittzit.  If you were feeling penitential, like John or a prophet or the people of Ninevah, you might have worn sackcloth or camel hair.  That means that this John the Baptist guy, preaching in the wilderness was quite a site in his camel hair paired with the message he was preaching.   Here was a man demonstrating great humility in all areas of his life, calling everyone to humble repentance.  Could John’s message be so important that he would choose to humble himself before God and the people to declare it?

What was John’s message?  He was preaching the need for “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” (verse 3)  John was preaching the need.  He was telling us all that without repentance, without turning from our sin, we can not be delivered from it, forgiven of it.  But it doesn’t just take repentance.  It takes the baptism of repentance.  I could repent on my own.  I could be sorry and turn myself around.  But that wouldn’t be the baptism of repentance. 

John’s baptism was a picture.  He dipped people in the waters of the Jordan River or where ever.  But in truth, the Jordan River can’t take away our sins.  So John was preaching something more powerful, but using a baptism that we could see to help prepare us for understanding how much we needed the baptism of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ to do the job for real, to do the job that we could not.

This baptiser was a voice in the wilderness crying out, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (verse 4-6; Isaiah 40:3-5)  So, John’s “job” was to prepare people for Jesus.  His job was to make Jesus’ path straight.  What does that mean?

I don’t know exactly.  But it makes me stop and think.  Jesus didn’t need the earth leveled out to walk on it, so this is a word picture.  What is the picture that God is trying to paint for me?  How do you prepare the way for the Lord to enter?  Enter what?  Enter the earth?  Or enter a man’s heart and life and mind?  What if people need to be prepared to be able to look straight at Jesus and see him for who he really is and ourselves for who we really are?  That word for path is like a worn rut, you know, like where the cows go back and forth every day, or a lion paces back and forth in his zoo cage.  It makes a rut.

Then there’s that word “straight.”  It can also mean level.  And I’m thinking that’s it here.  Why?  Because we have ourselves in ruts in our lives.  A rut isn’t level; it’s a depression in the soil.  And then we come to the next word.  We hear valleys being filled, mountains and hills being leveled, winding roads straightened, and rough ways made smooth.  And when all this happens, boom, the salvation of God!

This is the call to repentance.  We are called out of our ruts.  We are called to get off our mountains and our high hills.  We are called to walk away from perversity and crookedness.  We are called to smooth out our rough and jagged edges.  But then again, we can’t do that on our own.  We need someone who can do this in our lives.  We need someone who has the power to make the path straight, to fill and level the valley, to bring down the mountains of pride, to overcome perversity and crookedness in our lives, to smooth out our rough and rocky edges, to make us able to know our God and His salvation.

Who warns us to flee from the wrath to come, to flee from the anger of God?  Who warns us to come to Him, to draw near to Jesus, to find refuge and forgiveness and power in Him?  Unless it’s God working in us, it’s not real.  The reality of God working in us and calling us unto Himself through His Son Jesus, works in us the fruit of real repentance.  I will know that I can’t do any of this on my own.  I will know that I need Him.  I will know that I am lost without Him and He is my only hope for life, now and forever. 

What shall I do, then, Lord?  If you would hew down those who don’t bring forth good fruit, how can I be one who bears good fruit?  If I can’t set the path straight on my own, how can I at all?  Is it enough if I give one of my coats to someone in need?  Is it enough if I am honest in my affairs with others?  Is it enough if I refrain from violence, don’t accuse others falsely, and am content?  No, that is not enough, but those things are the fruits of repentance, the fruits of one who is being humbled and humbling oneself.  These are the fruits of one whose way is being prepared for the Lord.

John was not the Lord.  But he was helping people be prepared.  Jesus was coming.  Jesus would baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Which we will be baptised with depends on if we let Him level our “playing ground” by humbling ourselves before him or if we refuse to let him.  We can choose to hold onto our mountains of pride, our valleys of self-pity, our crooked ways of perversion, our habitual ruts.  Or we can allow Jesus to lay them all out straight and flat so that they aren’t obstructions to our following His will any more, so that they are not obstructions to us knowing and following Him.

It’s my choice.  I can humble myself before the One who humbled Himself on my behalf and gave His life a ransom for mine.  He took the fiery punishment I should take so I wouldn’t have to.  Why wouldn’t I humble myself to His love and His power and His ways?  Why wouldn’t I submit to letting You, Lord, straighten me out and level me out so that You shine as the Highest of highests in my life?  Why would I refuse, and bear the fiery punishment instead?

The truth is that all flesh, all people, shall see the salvation of God.  “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” (Isaiah 40:5)  It doesn’t matter who you are or who I am.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve allowed the Lord to humble you or if you have stood firm as the mountain against Him.  The truth is, God will reveal His glory; we shall both see it.  The only difference is that one of us will run to Him as our refuge, our God, our Father, our Saviour, because we are humbly covered by the blood of the Lamb, even as imperfect as we are.  But the other, will be cast away, cringing in terror and eternal loss.  Because as the Lord stands there before us both, purging the floor before him, fanning the wheat and the chaff, who will you be?  The wheat he collects, but the chaff, He will burn with unquenchable fire.

Lord, I want to be Your wheat.  I want to be humble and humbled.  I want to see You as You are and other things as they truly are.  I want my path made straight in You.  And I want to be faithful like John and help prepare others to find your path, because there aren’t many paths.  You have made one path for all.  May I follow that as I follow Your leading, and may I be an instrument to draw others to Your path of You as well.

The Only Thing That Can Hold Me Back is What I Believe

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“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and…”  Luke 1:41 (and a tiny bit of 42 as a teaser.)

Part 3

Wisdom isn’t the only thing the Holy Spirit brings to us.  Of course, if the main part of that wisdom wasn’t the ability to know God and understand and love and desire His ways, that would be very empty and pointless wisdom.  But the knowledge of God through our faith in Jesus Christ, is the reality of the wisdom from the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit is a gift of God, placed within us upon our believing in, or rather placing our trust in the completed work of Jesus on the cross.  It’s not just some intellectual decision.  The intellectual grasps the truth of our needed redemption and our whole person surrenders to our need for Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.  I surrender my life and my intellect and my being to Him.  In so doing, God adds Himself to my life, intellect, and being by the person of the Holy Spirit. 

When I was a 5 year old, I wanted so badly to walk with Jesus.  If I could have gone back in time to His day, I would have.  If I could have gotten God to let Him be born again in my day, I would have.  I just wanted to walk with Him and know Him and be with Him that much.  I still do.  But that’s not how it happens.  But Jesus and God had already made a way for us to walk with Him, and it was even more intimate than how the disciples walked with Jesus upon the earth.  The Helper, the Holy Spirit, is that better way.

Let’s listen to Jesus’ own words about why the Holy Spirit is better for us than walking with Him.  “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you.  And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:  concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth [Holy Spirit] comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7-15)

In the Old Testament, and even while Jesus walked upon the earth, the Holy Spirit was only given to select individuals.  He could be given and He could be taken away.  Why?  Could it be that in the past, the Holy Spirit was given as a “taste” of what was to come in Christ?  How could the Old Testament believers be filled with what they couldn’t fully understand yet?  They knew the Messiah was coming and they were trusting in that promise.  But they didn’t understand it yet?  How can you expect to be filled with what You have no understanding of?  So for most people, it wasn’t the right timing yet.  God gave them the pictures in the “rituals and festivals” to help them understand.  After all, how can we understand what we can’t see yet? We still live by faith in what God shows us and He gave glimpses of the power and purpose and working of the Holy Spirit.  But His dispensation or time had not become full yet.  After Christ had fulfilled His purpose, after His sacrifice and resurrection, the time was here, the time was ripe and full for the Holy Spirit.

We no longer live by an external set of rules to exhibit faith in God.  When we place our trust in Him, He seals us as His own by the Holy Spirit and enables us by the same spirit that He places in us.  He doesn’t just walk with us, compelling us from the outside.  He walks in us, transforming us from the inside out.  We are not just conformed, but transformed.  He moves us, speaks to us, compels us, holds us back, gives us understanding. 

Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit for a moment and shared truths that the Spirit shared from God Himself.  But we as believers, are sealed and filled with the Holy Spirit forever.  So what can I expect?

I can expect the Spirit to give me the words of God to speak in the midst of trials, or whenever and wherever needed. (Mark 13:11)  John Knox portrayed the Holy Spirit as “the power and entity that holds all things together since the creation of the world.” (A. J. Swoboda) I can expect the Holy Spirit to allow “the power of the Most High” to overshadow me.  I don’t have to be a Mary birthing Jesus; I just have to be a believer letting God have His way through His Holy Spirit by the blood of Jesus Christ. 

That overshadowed thing when Mary became the mother of Jesus by no help of Joseph (Luke 1:35), is the same word used when the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters, the emptiness and darkness that existed, the chaos.  He hovers over the chaos and divinely sorts out the chaos to bring it to order.  That’s what we still need.  In the Old Testament, the Spirit overshadowed the people of God, overshadowed the temple, and even overshadowed Peter, James, and John on the mountain with Jesus.  God’s overshadowing is the means of our understanding as He brings the chaos in our minds and the life around us into His ordered perspective.  Now, the Holy Spirit is invested within us to influence us to understand the chaos around us in the light of what God is doing.

Sometimes, the Holy Spirit allows us to understand so that we might teach, or helps us to put together the chaos around us to understand it in light of the scriptures, like Zechariah when he prophesied.  (Luke 1:67)  That’s also how Simeon new that the baby in Mary’s arm was Jesus, the Messiah.  (Luke 2:26)  In the midst of the chaos of life, He identifies what is His.  Remember when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove and the voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”? (Luke 3:22)  How would the people know, unless the Holy Spirit identified Jesus for them?  We are actually identified by Him (Ephesians 1:13) and are sealed by Him. The Holy Spirit is the sign that we belong to God.

He leads us (Luke 4:1); He reveals God’s truths, spiritual truths to us (Luke 10:21); He works forgiveness in us (Luke 12:10); teaches us what to say (Luke 12:10); identifies Jesus for us (John 1:33); brings His words to our remembrance (John 14:26); gives us power from God to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8); helps us to see the fulfilment of scripture (Acts 1:16); enables us through the spiritual gifts (Acts 2:4); leads us to pray and fills us with boldness in speaking the Word (Acts 4:31); makes us witnesses and helps us obey beyond believing (Acts 5:32); walks hand in hand with the increasing of our faith (Acts 6:5); reveals the glory of God to us (Acts 7:55); allows us to share Himself with others (Acts 8:17); gives peace, builds us up, teaches us to walk in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of Himself (Acts 9:31); calls us and sets us apart for God’s purposes (Acts 13:2); sends us (Acts 13:4); fills us with joy (Acts 13:52); sometimes forbids us or holds us back from a thing (Acts 16:6); tells me of things to come (Acts 20:23); makes us our “brother’s keepers,” so to speak (Acts 20:28); pours God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5); bears witness with our conscience (Romans 9:1); brings righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14:17); fills us with joy and peace in believing, so we can abound in hope (Romans 15:13); makes the offering of our lives acceptable and sanctified (Romans 15:16);  makes our body a holy temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19); declares Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3); brings us into fellowship with God and Jesus (2 Cor. 13:14);  makes known the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:5); allows us to share the gospel in word, power, and with full conviction (1Thessalonians 1:5);  helps us guard what God has entrusted within us (2 Timothy 1;14); washes us through regeneration and renewal (Titus 3:5); bears witness in us by signs and wonders and gifts of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 2:4); enables us to hear God’s voice (Hebrews 3:7);  helps us preach the good news (1 Peter 1:12); is the voice of prophecy and the spoken word of God (2 Peter 1:21); and guides us to be built up in the Lord, to pray, and keep ourselves in the love of God. (Jude 1:20,21)

Elizabeth isn’t the only one who can be filled with the Holy Spirit and…This is available to everyone who believes.  It’s not who we are that sets us apart; it’s Who we believe in.  Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38)  That’s what this  “and…” is talking about.  That’s what we’ve been reading about in the Holy Spirit.  Do we want these rivers of living water?  Then we need to follow Elizabeth and Mary’s example and believe.  Then we need to let God throw our world upside down so it can be made right side up in Him.  If you aren’t sure if it’s worth it, go back and read the chapters and books these references came from in the Word of God.  I’m sold.  I believe it’s worth it.  I want to live and die with rivers of living water flowing from me.  The only thing that can hold me back is what I believe.  I want to believe every word of God and live in it so that His Word is what flows with life from me

No Matter the Circumstances

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“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and…”  Luke 1:41 (and a tiny bit of 42 as a teaser.)

In all the Marvel Avenger movies, we sit and wait at the very end for the teasers or tag to come up while the credits are rolling.  We sat and waited and waited in the last Avenger’s movie, until one of the staff cleaning up asked, “What are you waiting for?”  “Isn’t there a teaser coming?”  “Nope.”  “Oh.”  How disappointing!

Well, today’s Scripture, does not leave us without a teaser.  And I think that today, the Lord is “teasing” me to look not just at Elizabeth, or John the Baptist, or Mary, or the birth of Jesus, but to look beyond those things at Him.  So here I am, with Elizabeth, who, when she is greeted by Mary, and maybe she hadn’t even seen Mary yet, but only heard her voice, but that was all it took, for the Holy Spirit to cause her baby to leap inside for joy, and for Elizabeth to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  And if I keep on reading, I see that Elizabeth, upon being filled with the Holy Spirit, well, something happened in her and to her and through her.  She said stuff and knew stuff that didn’t just come from her. 

It’s not in her first words.  Anyone could have said that out of excitement to see someone.  No, actually, it IS even in her first words.  It’s all over everything she says and knows.  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”  How did she know that there was something different and special above other women, above the natural going on inside Mary’s womb?  No one sent a letter.  Mary hadn’t talked to her earlier.  Who just told her?  The Holy Spirit.

“And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Do you hear that?  How did she know that Mary was carrying the Lord inside of her womb?  This baby was Elizabeth’s Lord.  He was a baby and yet, he was already Elizabeth’s authority, and she was already submitted under Him?  How did she know?  Who told her?  The Holy Spirit.

“For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”  How did she know it wasn’t a gas pain or the normal movement of a baby inside a mother’s womb?  Because you can tell when the Holy Spirit is moving.  There is a knowing, that you can’t explain, but you know.  And it was at the sound of Mary’s greeting, when Elizabeth heard her voice.  She didn’t need to see Mary to know she was pregnant, or to know she was pregnant with the Messiah.  She heard her greeting and she knew, and John, inside her womb, still developing, knew.  How?  How did she know?  The Holy Spirit.

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  How did Elizabeth know that the Lord had spoken to Mary?  How did Elizabeth know that Mary had responded with belief?  And how can Elizabeth call her blessed because she believed in God’s fulfilment of His words.  Is she just blessed because she gets to be the mother of Jesus?  How does Elizabeth know what she’s saying?  How does she even say this?  The Holy Spirit.

I have to stop here before I get where I thought I was going today, about where the Holy Spirit takes us in the Lord and how He enables us in the Lord to do God things instead of people things.  But then I came to this word “blessed.”  Elizabeth isn’t saying that Mary was given a special opportunity and that good fortune will come from that.  She wasn’t saying that Mary had reached a stage of happiness and contentment and there would be no misfortune or hardship in her life.  Mary wouldn’t avoid death and pain.  What was she saying?

Elizabeth was declaring that Mary had claimed the objective reality of what God had done through a divine act in her.  She wasn’t basing her life on subjective feelings.  She was basing her life on the word of God as being true and accomplished as it was spoken.  When she heard the word of God spoken to her, even though it was impossible by man’s standards that she could become impregnated without the performance of a man upon his part, she trusted in the power and word of God and the working of His Holy Spirit.  She took seriously the word of God.  It wasn’t just a teaching or a recommendation or a command.  It was truth.  It was life.  It was Jesus, the Son of God, inside of her. 

She was blessed by the Lord.  She heard it from the angel and from Elizabeth.  That didn’t give her some warm fuzzy feeling inside.  It was serious stuff.  It was the stuff of surrendering your life to whatever God required.  It was trust.  She couldn’t remain passive.  She had to act “in accord with the coming kingdom,” (Bored-this is who wrote those word in quotes) with God’s will.  It wasn’t just a description of a girl that God was happy with.  It was a girl that the Lord was using and including to bring into reality His kingdom.  To be blessed is to be a blessing, because it’s only for insiders, for those who are inside God and He is in them. 

Mary was blessed because she was joined in fulfilling God’s “prophetic pronouncement.”  She knew it was more than words; that it was reality coming into being.  She knew the truth based on the authority of the One who spoke it.  She didn’t need to investigate it, or confirm it, or check it out.  She knew it was true because it was of God.  Her ideas or thoughts had no bearing on His truth.  Hers was just to take a stand with regard to God, who had spoken.  To have only shared the content of his speaking would not be to be blessed.  The blessing is in the doing, because in the doing is the being and believing, and in being and believing in God’s words, is the part of being included in His performance of those words.  That’s the only place the blessing is. 

Mary was blessed, not because she was chosen, but because she trusted the words of God.  She surrendered her life to believing those words and allowing them to take hold of her and become her way of life.  It changed life as she knew it.  It turned her world upside down, and not hers alone.  Because she joined with God and adopted His words as her way, her truth, her life, then what blessed her life in Him, turned the whole world upside down.  Her virtue exists because God’s word was her virtue.  She understood who God was and she believed.  Why?  For the mere fact that God said so. 

Can I say that?  Can I say, “Because God said so, I believe, and I will live that out in my life?”  Can I really say that?  Do I say that and follow through like Mary?  God says, “Be angry but sin not.”  Do I believe the truth of His word and then surrender my life to them?  God says, “Love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”   How about that?  What God calls sin, do I call sin and live my life in that truth?  Is God’s word my truth or do I make my own?  Am I more hungry for the temporary “blessings” of this world than I am for the blessing of God? 

I want to be like Mary.  I want to care more about the blessing of God, not what He will give me, but that I am in Him and He in me.  I want to care more about His honor than mine, about His kingdom than mine.  Because the blessing of God isn’t about what God gives me, but about all that He is when I live in Him.  The blessing of God is being in Him, looking forward to the final completion of all His promises, and remaining in Him to be there when He has completed all His promises and I am there in Him to enjoy the fullness of His presence and the ultimate everything he has for us in His perfect kingdom.  I want to be in You now Lord, so that I will be in You then.  Help me to understand the value of Your blessing every day of my life.  I believe, like Mary, that Your word will do what it says, and that Your word has the power to do what it says.  I want to live in that power every day of my life, no matter the circumstances.

Difficult is O.K.

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“For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  2 Peter 1:11

When you get to this verse, does it sound like a works based reward system?  “Show these character qualities and you will earn your way into heaven!”  Absolutely, not!  The truth is that those who show the qualities of the fruit of the Spirit, the qualities that are part of the essence of the nature of God, that Christ has deposited in us through the Holy Spirit, are evidencing that we truly are His.  To not demonstrate these qualities in my life, is showing I either have strayed from who and what I know, or else I don’t know Him at all.  The proof is in the pudding, so to speak.  In other words, you can only judge the quality of the pudding by eating it or experiencing it.  Good pudding tastes good.  Bad pudding tastes bad. 

If you only had a short time to live, what words of wisdom would you want to leave behind?  These are the words of wisdom that Peter chose to leave behind because of how important this was to him.  Peter wanted to remind people, including me, of who I am in Christ and what He has placed in my by His divine power because this is what keeps me going in a tough world.  “I want to always remind you of these qualities [faith, excellence, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, love], though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.  I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.  And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.” (2 Peter 1:12-15) 

I can’t help but think about Peter’s choice of words.  He’s talking about his coming death, but he uses the word departure.  I just got back from the U.S.  I remember my date of departure and arrival.  It’s like flight language.  I was sad and excited about my physical departure from the U.S. to the Philippines.  I was leaving family I loved but heading to other people I loved.  I was leaving my ministry and life in one place again, for my ministry and life in another place.  I don’t really lose anything; I just gain everything.  I don’t lose those I depart from, I’m just further away for a time.  And if I leave them with what they need to know, the real important stuff to knowing Jesus, one day we’ll all be departed to the same eternal place!  There will be no separation!  Most of all, there will be no separation in any form from God!

That’s the picture that Peter is painting.  That’s what’s important for him.  He wants to prepare us as believers for that day so our departure will be as exciting as his, even if it carries mixed emotions with it.  He wants to help us remain prepared.  He wants us to maintain and increase God’s investment in us.  He wants us to rely on it so that we won’t stumble.  He wants us to be true believers that are kingdom bound in Christ!  Therefore, these things he’s instructed us in, about God’s character that should be evidenced in me, ought to be my concern.  If not, I’m evidencing that God is not my concern, and I share my true colors.  If I shut my eyes to the beauty of God’s promises in me, and forget the wonder of His forgiveness, I will wind up being lazy in my faith and drifting dangerously away. 

It’s not just babes in the faith that drift away.  Peter knew.  He remembered the day Jesus was taken captive.  He remembered the day he denied Jesus three times.  He remembered his drifting.  But Jesus didn’t leave him there.  And Peter came back to Jesus, his only hope.  But the apostles also knew others who had faithfully served with them and then apostatised, turned from the faith.  Why?  Because they shipwrecked their faith.  They stopped fighting the good fight and taking hold on eternal life.  (1 Timothy 6:12,19)  They stopped laying aside every weight and sin which was clinging so closely and they stopped running the race with perseverance.  (Hebrews 12:1)  They stopped pressing on toward the goal of God’s calling in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:14)  They stopped investing in advancing and growing and going forward in virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly affection and love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)  There was no reassurance in their hearts and no firm confidence that they were truly called to share in God’s glory and excellence. (2 Peter 1:10,3)

Peter doesn’t want that to happen to me or to any of his disciples or fellow-believers.  That’s why he is encouraging us.  I want to be diligent to keep the faith as mine.  I want to fight for it, God’s way, as strongly as Jesus did.  I want to take hold of it and not let go.  I want to lay aside anything that would get in the way, no matter how much of a draw it is to me, or how much it lures me.  The stuff that is not of You, God, that wants to cling to me, I want to rip free in Your power.  I want to get rid of whatever holds me back.  I want to persevere.  I want to understand that difficult is ok.  It’s not perseverance if there is no difficulty.  But You are worth it.  I want to keep my eyes on You and Your way as the prize and not be diverted.  I want to move forward in Your ways, in Your character in me.  I want to move forward and grow in them.  I want my heart to be reassured.  I want to be fully confident, firmly confident in Your calling in me knowing that You have called me to Your glory and excellence.  I want to live in it.  Thank you, Peter, for your reminder.  May I, in like manner, remind others, as I live in the truth of who God has called me to be in Him.

Don’t Be Blind

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Credit for picture from internet.

“For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”  2 Peter 1:9

It’s not like Peter is talking to newbies here.  Peter is talking to believers.  Maybe they haven’t been believers for years and years, but they have been believers for long enough to know, for long enough to have been changed by God’s Holy Spirit and to have been walking in that changed life.  And now, Peter knows, because he has seen it happen, and maybe has experienced it in his own life, that we begin to wander astray, to fizzle, to get into a routine instead of listening for the voice of God. 

We stop leaning on the deposit that God has placed in us and wander back to pulling from our own reserve.  Peter knows that’s a dangerous place to go.  And so he warns us.  He warns us so we don’t waste our reserve, because it’s a precious and powerful reserve, bought with a price, the price of the blood of Jesus Christ for us.

But the preciousness of the reserve is that it wasn’t just bought with blood.  People die for good causes every day, but that doesn’t do what Jesus did.  Jesus didn’t just die for a good cause.  It wasn’t just His blood that counts.  He gave His blood so that we could gain His life and in His life is His power.  This is the precious treasure He has placed in us.  And these are the character traits that demonstrate His power in us: faith, excellence, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.  And this isn’t as the world does these things; this is as God shows these qualities, because these are from His essence, deposited in us.

These qualities are a tell-tale sign of who we really belong to, of who we are.  It’s not something that is magically endowed to us.  Poof!  Now I am all of these things and life is so easy.  It’s not like that.  It is supernatural though.  These qualities are deposited in every believer supernaturally through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Now, translations of original languages do their best at interpreting.  And I wondered if that “if” is in the original Greek.  It’s not.  These qualities, if I am a believer, ARE mine.  They have been deposited.  There is no doubt in Peter’s mind that those he is writing to possess these qualities at least in some degree.  Possession of these qualities of high degree, some degree, or no degree should give evidence of where we are or are not in our relationship with Christ.  So these qualities exist in every believer and they are at my “disposal” as a believer.  These are all in my possession.  I can grasp and exhibit every one of these just as Christ does.  But that’s the thing.  They are at my disposal to do with as I desire.  I can rely upon them and live by them, or I can squander and waste them away.  What will be my choice?

Who am I living for?  Who am I?  Do I remember that I was cleansed from who I was before and from my former sins?  Do I remember that I was born again and made new in You?  Or have I become blinded again, forgetting what is mine, what You have done in me and for me, forgetting who You have made me and who I am?  It can happen.  As a matter of fact, it happens every day.  Believers fall back on themselves, their desires, their pains, their fears, their hurts, their lusts, their confusions, their whatever every day.  I’m not exempt.  It happens when we let up on our diligence to God and to His character and reflecting it in our own lives. 

How do I keep these qualities of Yours as my life qualities?  How do I increase in faith, excellence, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love?  How do I not drift away?  How do they get stronger and stronger in me every day?  Peter tells me to be more diligent every day.  This word for diligence is about making haste, taking the effort, being earnest, being zealous.  If you think of a zealot, they didn’t just work hard at things.  They gave everything for that cause.  That’s what zealots were known to be like.  You didn’t expect a zealot to give up.  You expected them to fight to the death.

Where does that leave me, Lord?  Am I negligent with these gifts?  Do I neglect the treasure You have deposited in me for quicker fixes of my own choosing?  If so, I can expect to fall.  It happens to unknown believers all over the world as well as famous leaders in the Christian realm.  And great is the fall.  Why?  Lack of diligence.  Lack of zealousness for Your treasure You have invested in us.  But it doesn’t have to go down that way.

I can choose to walk in Your deposit.  I can choose to be zealous of what You are zealous over.  I can hasten to follow through in faith, in excellence, in knowledge of You, in self-control, in steadfastness, in godliness, in brotherly affection, in love.  I choose to respond in these instead of after my own heart.  I can choose to respond as You would and not in my own way.  I can allow Your Holy Spirit to empower me more and more every day as I choose to pull from Your treasure deposited inside of me and not some other treasure which is not a treasure at all.  I can make the effort.  I can be earnest about Your ways.  I can fight for You and Your ways, even if it means fighting myself.  I can stop giving up.  I can fight for You every day of my life if I have to.  I can fight for what’s right.

And the good news is that I’m not left in this fight alone, You fight for me.  You always have.  I wish I wouldn’t forget that.  I wish I wouldn’t get distracted.   I don’t want to forget and I don’t want to be blind.  I want to be diligent because You are always diligent and I want to be a “chip off the old block”, just like my heavenly Father.

Drawn in to the Excellence of You

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“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence…” 2 Peter 1:3

When I was a baby, I couldn’t walk on my own.  I needed the help of parents to get me started walking, to even help my legs to get strengthened, to start learning balance, and everything else.  I needed people who taught me how to write and read and do math.  I needed someone to teach me about God, real truth, not just my ideas. 

As an adult, I still need help in areas of my life.  Sometimes I’m not physically strong enough for a task.  Sometimes I have to learn a new skill I didn’t know before.  Sometimes my body’s metabolism changes and I have to relearn how to handle my feelings or the new changes in me.  I’m not always enough for me.  I need outside help.

I mean, I could struggle through it all on my own, but it’s not going to come out as well.  But God didn’t design me to struggle through life on my own.  He didn’t bring me into this world to live on my own without the help of others and without the help of Him.  That’s the good news in 2nd Peter.  As a matter of fact, I wasn’t brought in to this world just for the sake of me either.  I was brought into this world to glorify God.

For the person who has put their trust in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desires.” (1 Peter 1:3,4)  Listen to that truth again, part by part. 

This is better than the help of my mom and dad.  This is better than the help of my spouse.  This is better than the help of a teacher or all my friends and family put together.  Why?  Their help is not divine.  Their help does not naturally come with divine power.  But You, Lord, give Your divine power to help me and enable me to do not just some things, but all things that pertain to life and godliness.  All things!  You’re the One that enables me to be able to glorify You, to fulfil my purpose in life!

Now, if it doesn’t pertain to life that leads to You, to real and eternal life, You won’t help me with those things.  I get that.  And sometimes I might not like that or agree with You on that, but if I’m on target with my thinking and lined up with You, I know that’s the way it should be and I’m wanting the wrong thing for me.  Why should You, who love me, give me what would harm me, right?  But if I set my heart and mind on those things, whatever they are that are all about life, eternal life, real-now-living-life-in-and-with-You stuff, and godliness, walking-talking-living-thinking-breathing-feeling-like-and-with-and-in-You stuff, that’s exactly what You want to enable me to do more.  And You do.

But I have a responsibility.  If this is what I want, I only get there through really knowing You.  The good news about that is that is exactly where You have called us to be, in the middle of knowing You by being in Your Word and getting to experience Your own glory and excellence in my life and around mr as I walk and live according to Your promises and what I learn about You.  You become more real, more alive, more involved, more of everything every day I spend getting to know You more.  It doesn’t mean that I know all the answers.  That’s never going to happen!  Why?  Because, God, You are so much more than I can contain, but even knowing the part of You I can, is overwhelming and wonderful!

And when You call us to Your own glory, it’s not just about seeing Your glory and excellence.  It includes having that glory and excellence rub off on us.  How do I know that?  Look at Moses.  He asked to see Your glory.  Since he couldn’t handle the fullness of Your glory, You hid him in a cleft of the rock, shaded his face with Your hand, and as You walked by, You allowed him to see some of the glory of just Your back.  When he walked back down to the people, they couldn’t handle seeing him because he shone with Your glory.  They made him wear a veil to tone it down.  If people don’t see Your glory and excellence in us, Your people, how can they know that You are God of our lives?  You are a God of transformation, it has to show in me.  Knowing You isn’t just an affiliation, it’s transformation; Your person must shine through me.

You call us and enable us to live a life of excellence.  What is this excellence? (Like we don’t know what excellence is?)  Isaiah 35:2 says, “They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.”  Some translations use excellence for that idea of majesty.  But I see that it is equated with Your glory, Lord.  Isaiah 12:5 says, “Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously [excellently]; let this be made known in all the earth.”  So, You ARE excellent and You DO excellence!  Moses sang of the greatness of Your excellence, that by that excellence You overthrow your adversaries, and by Your excellence You care for Your children. (Exodus 15)  Your excellence is everything You are and do.  It’s Your holiness and glory.  So what?

Well, as a believer, I am called to that holiness and glory, that excellence that You are and display.  At least four times in Leviticus God says, “be holy, for I am holy.”  Peter reiterated that In 1 Peter 1:15,16 when he reminded us, “but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”  I don’t get to just conduct myself any way I want.  I don’t get to let my feelings rule me.  Look at Cain.  That’s not the way I want to go.  I was created by an excellent, holy God who created me to represent Him.  I was created to be excellent and holy as well.  How am I conducting my life?

So I’m called to God’s glory and excellence in my life as well.  What does that translate into?  What does that look like?  A lot of grandeur?  Actually, it starts with the little things.  If I can’t be excellent in the little things, how can I be excellent in the big things?  I mean, look at Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords, who left heaven and came to earth as a baby and lived the life of a mere man, a mere human even though He was God.  And what did He do to show His excellence?  Sometimes He performed miracles only God could do and demonstrated that kind of excellent, glorious power.  But what about most of the time during Your 30 years of life?

He obeyed his mom and dad.  He learned his trade.  He noticed people other people didn’t notice.  He cared for the little things.  He did the stuff of everyday life even though He was God.  He did His chores.  He studied in school.  He obeyed His authorities.  He spent time with his friends.  He picked things up.  He straightened things up.  He ate and made sure others were fed.  God did the little stuff of day to day life.  And how did He do it?  With glory and excellence, as God does what God does because God is who God is.

So who am I?  You have given me thousands of promises in Your Word and by Your Word.  Do I walk in them?  Do I listen to Your still small voice as I walk through each day, because You are with me?  Am I excellent in every step?  Do I even think about reflecting Your excellence in every step?  Joyce Meyer talks about being in a store and dropping an item on the floor and hearing that still, small voice say, “Pick it up and put it back.”  Excellence is picking it up, listening to the Holy Spirit’s gentle prompt.  Excellence actually goes beyond that and picks up other people’s messes too.  Am I listening to You as You prompt me to excellence or am I ignoring Your promptings?  Am I too busy shooting for grandeur and glory and missing it because I don’t know how to humbly be excellent in my “real” life?

Do I want to attain to Your glory without partaking of Your divine nature?  I can’t.  I have to deal with excellence in the little, daily things of life first, just like Jesus did.  Thirty years You dealt with humility, exhibiting self-control and discipline in that kind of stuff.  Thirty years of humility by choice before God’s time for You to show Yourself for who You are.  So, why would my route to You be any different?  I’m just human.  I would think, in comparison, I need to learn self-control and discipline even more.  I need Your divine nature even more, because I struggle with sinful desires.  But I don’t have to.  If only I would learn to be excellent in the little things, every day, for all of my life.  Then I would be resting and living in Your divine power all the time. 

I don’t have to live big for my life to be divine.  You can take little things, little excellence, and build it up into something great and glorious.  That’s Your prerogative.  I just get to exhibit Your excellence, Your way, in everything, and then that opens the door for You to take me where You will in that excellence of You.  My goal and desire is to live in that excellence, with self-control and discipline, and allow You to do the rest with what You bring out of me.  I want to love You like that, like Jesus did, not just with the bigness of my heart, but with the littleness of the things around me.  I will trust in Your promise of Your divine power to lead me in Your way of excellence that others will see the excellence of You and be drawn into that excellence to know You.

The Source of Faith, Grace, and Peace

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Photo credit to Brittany Cunningham.

“…to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ…” 2 Peter 1:1

Where does faith come from?  How do I find grace?  How do I find peace in my life?  Those are good questions, important questions, aren’t they?  That’s what the letter of 2 Peter is trying to help us with, to be able to understand how we can find those things and how they can be the things that shape our lives.

Whether this letter was written by Peter himself or Jude wrote it with Peter’s blessing, I don’t know.  It’s evident that if so, he did it on behalf of Peter and with his blessing and under his authority.  But isn’t that even aligning with everything here?  I mean, here Peter is introduced as a servant and apostle of Jesus.  He’s an authority as an apostle but that isn’t the first thing in his introduction.  First comes servant.  Now, doesn’t that mirror the image of Christ who came to serve and not be served?  It seems that Peter learned from Jesus that “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest and the leader as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25,26)

So right from the start, I see that humility is the foundation of my authority in Christ.  This is true for the design for every believer.  And what is a believer?  One who has obtained a faith of equal standing by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.  That tells me two things.  For one thing, it tells me that faith puts all believers on equal standing.  Remember when the disciples were all excited because even demons were listening to them and they were healing people?  But Jesus said, “Behold, I have given you authority . . . Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this . . . but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:19,20)  John Piper shares, “No matter how much authority a believer is given by Christ, he should never forget that the great joy of his life should simply be that he is saved by faith like all the other saints.”  Therefore, I don’t have to compare myself to any other believer.  I can be who God created me to be.  I can rejoice in what God has done and is doing in and through me.  I can serve and faithfully walk in the authority he has given me, whatever that is.

But why can I do that?  How do I obtain that faith, that same faith that changed Paul’s life and every believer who walks in it?  I allow our God and Savior Jesus Christ to exchange my unrighteousness for His righteousness.  I put my trust in Him alone.  I hand my life over to Him.  I hand my thoughts over to Him.  I hand it all over, humble myself before Him, and allow Him to have control and be my everything.  I let Him have His way in me.

How do I know how to do that?  Let’s go to 2 Peter verse 2,  “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”  I get to know God and Jesus.  I get to know God as my God, as GOD.  And I get to know Jesus as my LORD.  I get to know the Word of God by reading the Bible and believing it and living it and honoring it and loving it, not because they are in a book like it’s law, but because these are the words of the God I love who loves me even more!  As I fill my life with the knowledge of God and of Jesus, I really get to know Him more and more every day.  I experience His grace and peace more and more every day.

It’s like adding 1+1.  It’s simple addition.  You can’t know Him if you run away.  You won’t experience His grace and peace if you keep fighting Him.  If you think you can handle it all on your own, you can’t.  Not even our goodness compares to Him; it’s like filthy rags.  It’s His righteousness that blesses us in Him.  Jesus + Me leads to the answer I’m searching for:  faith, grace, and peace.  It’s that easy. 

But surrender isn’t easy, is it?  Yet, surrender is necessary.  Unless I can humble myself under God’s mighty hand first, I won’t obtain faith, and grace and peace.  They will continue to evade me because they are only found in God through Christ Jesus. 

The truth is that we don’t have a savior who doesn’t understand us.  He gets us.  He left heaven and was born to a virgin, and lived the life as a human, as a man, even while being God at the same time.  Yet, he didn’t exert his authority as God.  We saw a little of it, but not even close to a lot of it.  Because when he went to the cross, by His choice, He didn’t have the angels remove Him.  He didn’t wipe out humankind, or at least those crucifying Him and ridiculing Him.  He humbled Himself, and took on the penalty for our sin, for each one of us, you and me.  He chose to obey God’s will and die, no matter how it felt.  Why?  Because he knew God’s word was true.  He would rise.  Sin would be defeated.  We would be released from its power, if we could only humble ourselves to have faith.  We would be reconciled to Him and in Him forever.  It’s why He died and why He rose again.  It’s why I can have faith and why I can be humble even though I have authority too.  It’s why, in that faith in Him, I have grace and peace multiplied to me.  And so can you.  Surrender might not be easy, but it’s the only way to faith, grace, and peace.  I choose it.  How about you?