Friday, July 10, 2020

Whose Hands? Whose Feet?

We've heard it many times, "God has no hands but ours..." or "We are God's hands." It's a cute but trite phrase and even more gravely, it is just wrong theologically.  We re NOT God's eyes, or God's hands, or God's feet...

Tozer brings this to the front in this week's lesson, and it bears consideration as we answer the questions.

1.  He does not turn His work over to us. He works in and through us, around us and with us, sometimes in spite of us.  But he does not give his work over to us.  It is He who is at work, IF we let him.

2.  While he expects us to make use of the gifts He has given us, He doesn't necessarily call us according to our abilities, or gifting.  One of the worst questions we ask our children is "What do you want to be when you grow up?" We talk about what we were gifted to do, what we felt our strengths were, what we did for God, how we served God...but all to often it was without a calling to do that work. "Much religious work is being done these days that is not owned by our Lord and will not be accepted or rewarded in that great day."

If we look to scripture we see Moses not being called in accordance with his desires or abilities.  Neither Paul, nor David, nor Abraham, nor Noah... God most often calls us to tasks we don't think we can do so that we don't get the credit. Our great surprise should be not that we were bright enough, trained well enough, properly situated, or raised well, or able to pursue our dreams, or accomplish something, but that we were used at all, that God took pity on us and used us. That is the very essence of humility.

A member of my family said "you can serve God anywhere." While this may be a factually true statement as it applies to God's abilities, it is theologically weak, almost meaningless when used to justify our neglect of listening for His call.  To serve God we must put ourselves at His complete control.  If we say, "I couldn't..." He just might.

I have often heard people say "I couldn't do what they do" when they see someone else doing something amazing. The truth is the other person didn't do it, if it was amazing.  God did it. And God can and will do it, through us, if we would only make ourselves available. And to do great things for God, will most often, if not always, involve doing the very thing we never thought we could do. And in fact, that might be the very thing to which we were or are called.  But it is Him who does the work, always, and forever. Nothing we do in our own strength, in our own desire, in our own way, making use of our own abilities, has any merit in eternity. Only what he does counts. And what He does in us and through us should astound us.

Chapter 11 Questions

  Character I: Week 11 Who Does the Work of God? Chapter 11

1. Missionaries in some countries are often accused of being so busy with Christian work that they don’t have time to be Christian. What do I understand that to mean?

2. How am I dependent upon God to accomplish my work?

3. Does God need to “show up” for me to accomplish my work?

4. In what ways am I working without God?

5. What is God saying to me about this?

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The King of Glory!

Life, in all it fullness, if we are to experience, must be surrendered to the One who gave it to us. Scripture uses the term "servant"  and "slave." While the Hebrew: עֶבֶד - ebed can mean slave or servant, the Greek: δοῦλος - doulos can only mean slave. Both are used in prophecy for Jesus as well as in reference to those who belong to the Lord.  Both are difficult words in our greater contemporary social context, but absolutely essential words, if we want to experience true and everlasting life.

Our standing in Christ can be summarized thusly:

"We are not our own, we were bought with a price" [1 Corinthians 6:20]

And, accordingly, we take are our model for living from Jesus Christ:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. [Mark 10:45]

All of this is to introduce Psalm 24, which has been the focus of my devotional time for several days now. It begins:

The earth and everything in it, the world and all its inhabitants, belong to the Lord; for he laid its foundations on the seas and established in on the rivers. [Psalm 24:1-2]. 

God's ownership of everything and everyone in existence is clearly stated.

We belong to God.  This is what makes the earthly, human practice of slavery so WRONG.  As God's creation, made in His image, we cannot be owned, traded, sold, or used as slaves, whether is it through governmental decrees, employment situations, addiction, abuse, or any other conceivable practice. We belong to God. No one else has the right or the position to lay claim to us as The Lord God Almighty does.

We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. [Psalm 100:3]

Inasmuch as Jesus himself came to serve, to give His life, as a ransom for us, this theme is continued. We belong to God and we are designed to serve at His good pleasure and for His good purposes. However, as slaves we may willingly serve our master or willingly disobey and turn from our master, we make that choice in how we live our lives, in the choices we make, in how we use our time, spend our money, and to continue with Tozer's theme - the books we choose to read, etc. Those who are in Christ, who freely take on His yoke, become children of the King and therefore princes and princesses, though we still serve. Those who turn from Him willingly enslave themselves to the father of lies...

Psalm 24 has, at times, puzzled many with its

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who my stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not appealed to what is false, and who has not sworn deceitfully. [Psalm 24: 4-5]

Some consider that this might only refer to Jesus himself, since humanity are all sinners by nature.  The Psalm, however continues:

He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who inquire of him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. [Psalm 24:5-6]

There is a whole lot of meaning in these short 2 verses.

1.  It is clear that those who receive the blessing, righteousness, and salvation, are the generation of those who inquire of (or seek) Him; those who seek the face of the God of Jacob (not the God of Esau who also is a descendant of Abraham - cf. Romans 9:6-13). 

2.  It is these people "who may ascend the mountain of the Lord," "who may stand in his holy place."

3.  Those who seek Him are those who search out His ways; those who inquire of Him; those to whom He has revealed Himself...

We, those of us who know and serve Him, are then twice admonished to:

Lift up your heads, you gates!
Rise up, ancient doors!...
[v. 7]

Lift up your heads, you gates!
Rise up, ancient doors!
[v. 9]

These gates, these ancient doors, are those through whom the King of glory will enter the world, those who serve Him with glad hearts, who proclaim His word, who do His work, His servants, His slaves, those who willingly take His mantle, His yoke, upon them. THEN...

Then the King of glory will come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.
[v. 8]

Then the King of glory will come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord of Armies,
he is the King of glory. [v. 10]

What are you waiting for, O sinner? If you are waiting for a sign, this is it.  God will not force His way on anyone. He has freely given us the opportunity to engage in the only work that matters and, therefore, to be on the ultimate right side of HIStory.

What are you waiting for O servant? The King of Glory will come in when you lift up your head, when you rise up and claim your rightful inheritance!  What the Lord has dies for, whom the Lord has claimed, is rightfully His.

"Who knows but that you have come to your royal position
for such a time as this?” [Esther 4:14]

Do you want to receive blessing? Do you want to be considered righteous? Do you want to receive salvation? Inquire of Him! Seek the God of Jacob! Take on the yoke of Christ Jesus! Lift up your head! Rise up! The King of Glory, the Lord of Armies awaits. Serve Him and Him alone!

Monday, July 6, 2020

Lessons Being Learned


Before I get into this week's chapter in Tozer, I want to take time to record some of the valuable lessons I am learning as I go through the practical application of this Tozer study.

1. I have changed my reading habits: to be more purposeful in the selection of what I read; more consistent in making the time to read; and more methodical in my attentiveness to the material.

2. For the time being, while I still do some sporadic reading in the theological tomes and Christian classics, I have made the conscious decision to read through the series of missionary biographies I have accumulated over the years. And my faith in God to provide for all my needs  is being refreshed and renewed as I read these great testimonies to the "Heroes of the Faith."

3. While these missionary biographies may be seen by some as more akin to a dime store western level of literature, they do, accurately reflect history.  They are not the fluff of the Historical Fiction that permeates the land, romanticizes the past, and perverts truth to the author's own end.

4. These missonary biographies also convict me as regards the sorry state of my public education in the complete absence of  the history of Christian influence on America of: the First Great Awakening (1730's and 40's); the Second Great Awakening (1800-40); the Urban Revivals - Dwight L Moody (1875-1885); The Welsh and Azusa Street Revivals (early 1900's); the Post WWII and College Revivals  - Billy Sunday, Billy Graham - 1950's; the Charismatic Revival and the Jesus Movement  (1960's); and onwards through the more contemporary revivals such as the Promise Keeper movement. These are some of the greatest social movements in American History, the movements that led to Abolitionist leanings, Temperance movements and Prohibition, Women's right to vote, Equal Rights, and the even the passion we see today for social justice.  Their roots and justification are found in these great movements of the Christian faith.

5.  As I read these biographies, I am also struck by the richness of the language used.  As the biographies quote directly from newspapers of the day, journals and letters written discussing the matters, and speeches and sermons preached, I am awed by the ability of some of these great communicators to weave complex thoughts and practical application so seamlessly..

6. But perhaps most significantly for me personally, is the humanness that is portrayed in the materials. These great giants of the faith, recorded their own struggles with candor and eloquence.

Charles Finney the great revivalist of the mid to late 1800's writes in his journal:

I was also led into a state of great dissatisfaction with my own want of stability in faith and love. To be candid, and to tell the truth, I must say, to the praise of God's grace, He did  not suffer me to backslide, to anything like the same extent, to which manifestly many Christians did backslide.  But I often felt myself weak in the presence of temptation; and needed frequently to hold days of fasting and prayer, and to spend much time in overhauling my own religious life, in order to retain that communion with God, and that hold upon the divine strength, that would enable me to efficiently labor.

I am tempted to spend days simply reflecting on that phrase: "overhauling my own religious faith, in order to retain that communion with God."  After all is that not what this whole endeavor is for?

And, truth be told, we will never grow in our faith, unless or until we get good and dissatisfied with the misappropriation or inadequacy/insufficiency of it as it currently stands. We need to hunger and thirst for more...

I want, and I dare to suggest that many of us likewise want, the quick fix to our faith.  The thought of spending days, weeks, or even months and even years, to overhaul our faith seems unrealistic.  And yet  it is a lifelong pursuit, if we are serious. Finney rarely ceased from ministry, except when he was so overcome with fatigue or disease (cholera and such) that he was literally unable to rise from his bed, much to the chagrin of his friends, family, neighbors and doctors who continually asked him to rest. He persevered in spite of illness and fatigue, trusting in God to provide. His ministry continued, his preaching, his teaching, his life went on, driving him to rise earlier to spend time in prayer, if his schedule prohibited him from that quality and quantity of communication with God during the day.  His relationship with the Lord took precedence over everything else and directed everything else. (Three hundred years before Finney, Martin Luther was reportedly asked how he could spend 4 hours or more a day in prayer with his rigorous schedule, to which he replied he wouldn't be able to maintain his rigorous schedule without that time in prayer.) 

And so the questions beg to be asked:
  • Are we so tired after a mere 50 or 60 hour work week because we haven't spent the hour (or two or three or four) in prayer that might have strengthened our resolve? 
  • Are we as brutally honest with ourselves, like Finney, about our weakness in the face of temptation? 
  • Should we not be more interested in reading, praying, and studying scripture than we are eager to watch some silly movie, engage in  physical exercise, be attentive and committed to a food diet, or to manage our own social media image?
  • Are we looking for approval from others more than God? 
These are the questions I am increasingly asking myself, not in a "naval gazing" sort of way, so much as a, what can I sacrifice, what am I willing to give up, in order to pursue this walk more fully? Am I willing to sell everything I have, give it to the poor and come follow Him? To Russia, Bulgaria, Detroit, or Philly? Or is my comfortable, complacency, attachment to this world, to my biological family greater than my commitment to Him?

So, as I look ahead to this chapter 11, I find myself, of necessity, asking, what am I doing to create the environment in which God can more effectively do His work through me?  How can I more fully turn every minute, every hour, of every day over to Him, so that it is no longer me who works, but He who works through me? How can I position myself to truly hear His call? His voice? His direction? And Paul's great direction to the church at Philippi comes to mind:

"...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." [Philippians 2:12-13]

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Job and Shawchuck

For over thirty years "A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants" by  Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck (The Upper Room) has served as  an anchor in my devotional life.The "bonded leather" cover is so well-worn that I replaced it a few years ago with a piece of leather I had lying around.  The pages are beginning to discolor.  The book is filled with personal notes, under linings, and cross outs/overwrites based on my experiences in ministry and the speaking of the Spirit to me at different times.

I don't use it every morning, but many, many are the mornings when dry and weary, or hungry and hurting, I have begged for a word from the Lord and found the scripture passages and quotes wonderfully encouraging, even, at times, redeeming.

This morning I felt led to lay the book aside and instead to read an old favorite, Psalm 8 and simply to praise God in prayer. I first "heard" this Psalm proclaimed while overlooking the Rift Valley in Kenya.  Our souls were so stirred that a woman in our group simply uttered it in praise.

"O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
You have set your glory in the heavens.Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger..."

I took to memorizing that Psalm in particular because of the impression her Spirit driven impulse had left on each of us.

And as I prayed and praise God I was convicted to read Psalm 10, and from that to turn to the "Guide to Prayer" book for another lesson. It came in 1 Corinthians 1:18ff.  I share Psalm 10 and portions of 1 Corinthians 1 with you this morning because I am personally very convicted of their application to the church today, not contemporarily, but literally, today. Perhaps the Spirit will speak to you on these matters and you might find hope, peace, and purpose in the following words directly from the breath of God himself. Let the words, simply saturate your soul and take great hope in the great God we serve.  This world is not our home. Our citizenship is in heaven and we only serve as Ambassadors of the King. Take heart, Jesus reigns!

Psalm 10

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
    Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
    who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
    he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
    in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
His ways are always prosperous;
    your laws are rejected by him;
    he sneers at all his enemies.
He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
    He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”

His mouth is full of lies and threats;
    trouble and evil are under his tongue.
He lies in wait near the villages;
    from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
    like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
    he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
His victims are crushed, they collapse;
    they fall under his strength.
He says to himself, “God will never notice;
    he covers his face and never sees.”

Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
    Do not forget the helpless.
Why does the wicked man revile God?
    Why does he say to himself,
    “He won’t call me to account”?
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
    you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
    you are the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked man;
    call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
    that would not otherwise be found out.

The Lord is King for ever and ever;
    the nations will perish from his land.
You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
    so that mere earthly mortals
    will never again strike terror.

I Corinthians 1:18-31

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Whose Hands? Whose Feet?

We've heard it many times, "God has no hands but ours..." or "We are God's hands." It's a cute but trite phr...