Tag: Devotion

HOW AMAZING IS GOD?

How amazing is God? Nobody this side of heaven knows for sure. But one thing we can know is that no created entity is more amazing than its creator…

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I halted the business of my day yesterday for just a few minutes-just long enough to look into the stunning blue sky, where brilliant cumulus clouds were suspended over the hillsides. Tall grasses and wild flowers of all colors swayed gently in the breeze. One or two birds, living life to the utmost of their ability, sang their vibrant, jubilant little song. And it struck me that what I was looking at, in all its overwhelming glory, just represented a fraction of its creator’s glory, beauty, power and imagination.

If you want to get a glimpse of how great God is, look at what he has made, and know that He is even greater.

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GETTING A GRIP

One of the hazards to faith, peace and confidence can be the impression that God’s justice is not apparent in the world around us. Those who have no thought for God and who hate truth and justice sometimes seem to be doing very well for themselves, while the rest of us, those who love God and his ways, are not getting a fair shake on life…

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If we start to think God isn’t doing his job, or that he treats us unfairly, or that others are getting a much better deal in life even though they despise what is good, we can easily and quickly sink into bitterness and faithlessness. However, if we really know our God and our Scriptures-the ones on which our faith and hope are built-we should also know the truth of the situation.

David was one who similarly felt, for a time, that the darkness in humanity was triumphing over the righteous. Psalm 73 is an incredible view of David’s fear and bitterness that his enemies and those that hated the ways of God were running the world and getting their way:

From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
    their evil imaginations have no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
    with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
    and their tongues take possession of the earth (Psalm 73:7-9).

David confessed to us and to God that observing the prosperity of the wicked had almost destroyed his faith, because it seemed like they, and not God, were in control of things:

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
    I had nearly lost my foothold.
 For I envied the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked (verses 2 and 3)

This is a lie which any one of us can fall for if we aren’t on our guard, and if we aren’t seeking our God and his word. In the country I am originally from you might be said to be “losing your grip” if you don’t have your mind or certain aspects of your life under control. David almost lost his grip, and I’ve almost lost mine. If you’re honest, you’ll probably admit that you too have almost lost yours:

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure...(verse 13)

But lets’s settle the matter in our hearts, just as David did. Let’s get a grip by recognizing that all things… all things… are ultimately under the control of our God, who is both perfectly patient and perfectly just:

When I tried to understand all this it troubled me deeply,

till I entered the sanctuary of God, then I understood their final destiny.

Surely you place them on slippery ground:you cast them down to ruin (verse 16-17).

David’s conclusion was that God is just and faithful:

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart,

and my portion forever (verse 23-25).

 

 

HUMILITY

Some valuable words, common not so long ago, have almost passed out of use completely in the Western world. As a boy I was taught that “humility” and “modesty” were important words to know and indispensable principles to live by. Deference and mutual submission were common social values and attributes, whether in the sacred or secular worlds.

Now modesty and humility are not considered desirable or positive traits. In fact we’re encouraged to be quite the opposite by pop-culture, advertisers, movie directors, media celebrities and politicians. Our heroes are attractive, confident, aggressive and arrogant. They want to flaunt what they have. They’re successful, and they don’t stand for any nonsense. They’re beautiful and sexy, and we’ve been led to think that if we’re not at least trying to be the same way, we’re of little value. The mood of our time is self-exaltation in any way possible.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “humble” as follows:

1 having a modest or low opinion of your own importance

2 of low rank

3 not large or important

The word “modesty” is a synonym for “humility”.

I’ve been disappointed to find that if Christian ministers do ever mention humility-because it rarely happens-they’ll skirt around its real definition. Its original, traditional meaning is very unpopular, even in many churches. I’ve heard a few declare that humility isn’t about putting yourself down, and it’s not allowing people to walk over you, and it’s got nothing to do with weakness. Instead, they say, humility is a “quiet strength” and an inner confidence. They may admit that Jesus was meek and mild, but he was so in an assertive way, with a deep, powerful voice, a sexy hairstyle, and a big muscular chest. Nobody messed with tough, manly, strong Jesus!

Neither am I saying that Jesus was effeminate: he was not. Is there not a middle-ground between the two extremes?

I agree that all believers need to have an inner confidence which comes from faith in the will, power, faithfulness, Truth and goodness of God: if God is for us, who can be against us? This confidence, however, is not the same thing as humility, though the two can and should go hand in hand.

Paul encouraged the Philippians to imitate the humility of Christ (Philippians 2: 1-11). What did that look like to Paul?

He wanted them to be like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose (verse 2). That means a genuine love for each other: treating one another as equals. He wanted them to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” (v 3a), but to consider others better than themselves (3b). He wanted them to be concerned about the interests of others, and not just about themselves (v 4).

Paul then went further, by giving Christ as the perfect example of humility:

“Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (verses 6-8).

So we see that Jesus, though he was God in the flesh and had the right to parade around and vaunt himself,  instead “made himself nothing,” and lived his life as a servant to others. He didn’t go around boasting about who he was, and he didn’t look for public acclaim, and he wasn’t interested in being sexy or “cool”. In fact, Isaiah said that “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men…” (Isaiah 53: 2-3).

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to look your best, as long as you aren’t trying to elevate yourself above others. But the present day obsession with appearance and image, even in some Christian circles, is not godliness. It’s up to each one of us as believers to imitate Christ, not what we see on TV.

Of course humility doesn’t just relate to what we look like, but far more importantly it’s about obedience and submission to our Father, and recognition of our spiritual condition. You see, if we go around thinking “I’m better than that person over there”, we are calling the sacrifice of Christ unnecessary, because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3: 23) and “there is no-one righteous, no not even one” (Romans 3:10). Without Christ we are all lost and separated from God, no matter what our income, our occupation, or our appearance.

Didn’t Christ say that the first will be last and the last first (Matthew 19: 30)? Why then would we want to be considered “first” in this world? Didn’t he say that “he who exalts himself will be humbled” (Luke 14:1)? Why then would we want to exalt ourselves?

I find that when I realize I’m thinking too much of myself, or thinking too little of someone else, it helps to pray something like this:

“Lord, I am no better than anyone else, in fact I’m as guilty as anyone else, and I’ve failed you in so many ways.  I’m probably the most sinful man I know – please have mercy on me, and forgive me for what I was thinking, and please bless that other person”.

It’s not wrong to recognize sin in the world and gently and lovingly point it out. However, admitting my own spiritual condition to myself and to God brings me down to the level of others in my mind and in my actions, and brings others up. I realize that Christ loves them as much as he loves me.  Now it’s easier for me to love them.

TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A HUMAN BEING

I’ve lived long enough to be carrying an extensive series of regrets, lurking and lowering in the back of my mind, and occasionally smashing into my consciousness…

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I’ve done and said far too many stupid things. I’ve turned aside from far too many potentially fruitful situations, and I’ve neglected far too many lovely, precious people. Too many times I’ve said to myself, “Why did I…?” or “Why didn’t I?”
Before you start fretting on my behalf and attempting to hook me up with your favorite counselor or your own, proven, positive-thinking techniques, let me make it clear that my life is not commanded or ruined by past mistakes. I’m not depressed or obsessed over any of them. Whatever I did wrong in the past, and whatever I didn’t do that I should have done, I’ve forgiven myself for (though I’ve had to do it many times) just as my heavenly Father has forgiven me.
No, I don’t dwell on the past in any unhealthy fashion. But sometimes the memories just pop into my mind, and I can’t help cringing and metaphorically kicking myself. Yes, it is also possible to kick yourself literally-I’ve done it.

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After having one of those “Why did I?” moments today, I realized that not one of my failures can be blamed on anything I’ve done in faith. Here I exclude those notions some believers have that “The Lord told me” to do or to say such-and-such: that can lead to calamity unless that’s where the concept really came from. Instead I’m referring to steps I’ve taken in response to what I’ve learned about the Biblical, Godly way to life.

I could not put one of my mistakes or failures down to keeping a commandment, or to following some Biblical advice, or putting into practice a principle from the eternal Word. All those things have given me nothing but blessing, and they’ve only put me on a straighter path in life. This to me is one more evidence that what I have in my Bible is the Word of the living God.
Most importantly, with God every day is a new day. He doesn’t dangle our failures in front of our eyes, or prod us with our neglect, because:
…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12 NIV).

It wasn’t God’s fault, it wasn’t the devil’s fault, and it wasn’t the fault of anyone around me: it was all my own failure and stupidity. If, in those times when I jumped into the wrong situation, or ejected people from my life, or turned away from a genuinely open door… if I had been walking in the Word as I should have been, I surely wouldn’t have made so many stupid mistakes…
As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless (Psalm 18:30 NIV).
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (Psalm 119:105).
If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32 ESV).

LOOKING SMALL, THINKING BIG

We humans frequently under-estimate people because of the way they appear to us. If they look unattractive or sloppy, or if we decide in our minds that they’re unintelligent, we mentally put them in a certain category and treat them accordingly. Such judgmental attitudes have always been part of the human psyche, but perhaps they’re particularly rife in this shallow, materialistic, image-driven twenty-first century culture…

Conversely, we often over-estimate people when we think they’re visually attractive, or if they seem to be wealthy and powerful. This weakness in human nature spawns untold multitudes of bad relationships, heartbreaks, and if we’re honest, poor politics.

I once wrote about my  invention, “Romance and the The Pain to Pleasure Ratio” (you can search for the post at the top of this page). This is a little mind-powered device which, when used correctly, helps eliminate many of those poor relationships and poor choices before they happen!

Judging someone by their appearance is a sign of a fallen and godless mind, because:

“Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

I realized long ago that I appear to be quite dim (and unattractive) to most people, because I find I’m not trusted to do things or have an opinion. I’m often told how to do things that most people are able to do in the normal course of a day. People speak down to me, and I’ve had to try to learn the art of patience and graciousness in these situations. Hey, “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and clear up all doubt”.

Imagine how many disabled people are treated by others who see themselves as being superior…

I hate being told how to do something, particularly when I’ve already made a living at it for years. I’ve also found that if I do things in a different way to the “normal” way I’m assumed to be a dolt and an ignoramus. When I receive such “expert” advice or obvious disapproval I’m most composed and”gracious” when I have more faith in my God. He is my judge: no man or woman is. Beyond that, the old axiom “To thine own self be true” is an invaluable one to live by, every single day. And to tell the truth, I’m very pleased to know that I don’t look, think, or act as convention demands.

I take comfort in the knowledge that many of my favorite Bible characters were treated in the same way. Just look at how poor Elijah fared against Jezebel. Think about Joseph being rejected and sold into slavery by his brothers. Imagine how Paul felt, having willingly fallen from his original lofty public standing, to struggle against opposition from all sides. This opposition sometime came even from Church dignitaries who considered themselves to be superior, who said of him:

“His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing” (2 Corinthians 10:10 NIV).

Paul’s response was of faith and pragmatism:

“Let him who boasts boast in the Lord. For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (verses 17 and 18).

Paul’s manner was intentionally one of humility-as much as he could muster. He did not go about trying to impress people:

“I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling…” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

The ultimate example of poor judgment and undeserved treatment is of course in the way that powerful, influential, wealthy people condemned Jesus Christ. Having been delivered to the Romans, he stood silent in front of Pilate, offering himself as a sacrifice to the Father, and so refusing to even defend himself. Pilate said to him:

“Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you realize I have power to either free you or crucify you?” (John 19:10-11).

So we-I-have a few lessons to learn. First, I must be slow to make judgments about others  based on how they appear to my human way of thinking. Second, when I’m being judged (or mis-judged), I have to ask myself what the will of my God is in the situation. Third, I need to think like Paul, who said:

“As for those who seemed to be important-whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance” (Galatians 2:6).

Lastly, I need to rest in the knowledge that I’m already accepted by my God, and that his love is unconditional.