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Archive for February, 2012

Hungering for Righteousness

February 29th, 2012

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.

Matthew 5:8

Trains run along tracks. The rails determine their direction and destination, and though there are switch stations at different places, these are relatively few and far between.

We human beings also run along tracks, and these tracks are called our appetites. The things that we hunger and thirst for determine our daily choices and our ultimate destination in life. It would be easier for a train to leap off the track and fly in the air than for a human being to go a different direction in life from the way his appetites direct him. Everyday we head down the path that our desires have laid out for us, and it is by the secrets of our heart that our life’s direction is established.

The Bible says plainly that our thoughts are headed in the wrong direction. In Romans we read words that should call each of us to serious self-examination.

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.

Romans 3:10-12

Yet these words also explain why we are incapable of true self-examination: because the desires of our hearts will forbid it, at least they will prevent us from doing a very good job at it. There are some good desires in the worst of us, but there are also some terrifyingly evil desires among the best of us. But the end result of our wrong desires is that we travel the tracks toward death, separation from God.

Christ has a solution and though He spoke it two thousand years ago it is as relevant today as it was then: change the desires of our heart, hunger and thirst for righteousness instead of for selfish things. Here clearly He knew that for our problem He was giving a solution that is beyond our own ability to achieve. We need a miracle. And the good news is that this is exactly the type of miracle that God loves to perform.

If we really want to desire the righteousness of God we first need to stop desiring the unrighteousness of the world. Of course, we have convinced ourselves that what we have thirsted for is not really unrighteous, well, maybe just a little, but it is not that bad. I once listened to a young man who was ruining his health and destroying relationships by going out and drinking heavily every night try to justify himself with the argument that he was young and he had a right to “sow his wild oats.” After many failures in his life he began to modify his drinking, but he did not really change his appetites. James wrote, “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).

The work of God is to bring conviction to our hearts about how wrong unrighteousness is. If we only feel the pain of our foolishness, but don’t gain God’s perspective, then we merely modify our behavior to do it less, and may throw in a good deed or two to make us feel better. The tracks we have laid to travel on may be cushioned by some charity work, but they still run the same direction. This is why we see women who continue to date or marry the wrong men, and though they have regrets and become more cautious, they are still headed the same direction. This is why we see men stay for years on the edge of alcoholism and secret addictions to pornography that though they would be embarrassed to be found out and might try some surface changes in their actions, their hearts are still longing for the same things.

Things begin to change when the Spirit shows us how wrong we have been, convicting us of our sin and also doing His work of convincing us that Christ is the answer for our sin. We look to the cross for our forgiveness, but we also discover the resurrected Christ calling us to follow Him. The call of Christ in our lives is a call to live on a higher level than the world; this is not just a call to improve or to modify but to know and feel the heart of God. The first thirst we feel is the thirst for salvation, as Isaiah proclaimed,

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost…

Give ear and come to me;
hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David…

Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Isaiah 55:1,3,7

If you thirst in your soul for the cool waters of grace, it is God who placed this desire in your heart. God invites us to come to Him with this longing, and He has never cast out of His presence the one who comes in sincere faith, turning from sin and longing for His mercy.

You may also thirst for this thirst. That is, you are not quite longing for righteousness yet, but you do long for that longing. You wish to be a better person, someone whose heartfelt desires are pure. God has begun this work in your soul. You need the enlightenment and wisdom that only God can give, and God promises precisely to give this wisdom. James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Growing in the desire of and the knowledge of the righteousness of God is the path of maturity for the believer.

In order to holdup heavy locomotives, a foundation of stones or concrete must be laid beneath the tracks for support. Our desires for the righteousness of God need to form a proper foundation for our lives. They must be solid and deep. Often the reason we return to sinful choices is because we have not yet allowed God to deal with secrets hidden in the deep recesses of our hearts. For examples,

·        The gossip who constantly criticizes others to make her feel better about herself has not yet learned to accept who she is in Christ

·        The shop-aholilc who buys unnecessary things has not yet learned that Christ is sufficient for his desires

·        The angry ranter has not yet learned to deal with his hidden fear and take his concerns to God

·        The constant worrier has never learned to take his disappointments to God

·        The sex addict who needs the affirmation of love and acceptance by God, whose pains from parental rejection have never been healed

·        The manipulator of others who has never learned to see God as her strong defender

The truth of God needs to form a deep and solid base in our souls if it will hold up the heaviness of life in this world, where people offend and circumstances disappoint and troubles multiply.

In order for tracks to do their job they must also run in the right direction. For us it is important to realize that the righteousness of God is not a static concept but a dynamic force. To hunger for His righteousness means to long to see Him move and act in this world. This means to desire to see people saved, relationships restored, marriages put right, the hurt one healed, and the troubled one at peace. We cannot sit in a monastery alone if we long for the righteousness of God, rather we must be out in the world helping, proclaiming, and healing, all in the name and for the honor of Christ.

Hunger and thirst are strong appetites. Every day they appear and appear repeatedly. The one who longs for the righteousness of Christ as a covering for his sin, as the wisdom of God to his mind, as the healing of the Spirit to his wounds, and as the comfort of the Spirit to his soul and spirit will find a fullness rising up within him that both comes from God and is God.

Prayer:

Lord, teach us to see through what the world offers that would draw us away from Your heart, tempting us with its trinkets, empty gifts that leave us unfulfilled. Drive us to hunger and thirst for You, and to find and experience You as the One who satisfies our soul. Amen.

Lenten Devotionals (Fastenzeit)

Blessed Are the Meek

February 28th, 2012

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

We have a difficult time understanding meekness, and our first difficulty is in understanding the necessity of it. Christ was not making suggestions in the Beatitudes rather He was re-stating the old commands of God in light of their promised rewards. Micah the prophet clearly proclaimed the necessity of meekness with the words, “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Meekness is akin to humility; we cannot be fully meek without being humble, nor can we be truly humble without being meek. In Galatians 5:23 meekness (“gentleness” in the NIV) is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. No one can walk with God, nor enjoy the blessings of His peace and joy, who is not also meek in his heart.

The second difficulty we have with meekness is in understanding what it is. There does not appear to be just one word in English that captures all that is included in the Greek word praus, so along with meek, the words humble and gentle are also used. There are those who have humility thrust upon them by a defeat and experience humiliation. The natural emotional reaction to being humbled by outside circumstances is discouragement, shame, embarrassment, and often a desire for vengeance and vindication. But what Christ was speaking about was different from this: it was the willing surrender of one’s circumstances to God.

Christ quoted from Psalm 37:11 in this third beatitude and reminded His Jewish audience of God’s deliverance of the nation from Egyptian enslavement and His promise to fight for them. The Old Testament emphasized God’s providence in all of life more than we typically do today in the West. The word “fate” to us Westerners leaves a bit of a negative taste in our mouths, either because it means we receive something bad that we cannot prevent or we receive something good that we do not deserve. We want to take pride in our own achievements and often are in denial of our true reality in life: Many things are entirely beyond our choice, and a considerable amount of human energy is spent in the fruitless effort of wishing we could change those things about us that are unchangeable, such as our past.

Yet to the Jewish mind “fate” had a good ring to it and they thought of it more in terms of the providence of God. To them the promises of God meant that God would open up for His people numerous blessings, often entirely independent of their actions, if they would humble themselves before Him and leave these matters in His hands. For examples:

· Exodus 23:28-30, referring to them possessing the land of Palestine: I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.

· Job 24:22-24: But God drags away the mighty by his power; though they become established, they have no assurance of life. He may let them rest in a feeling of security, but his eyes are on their ways. For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others; they are cut off like heads of grain.

· Psalm 37:7-11: Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.

· Isaiah 40:31: Those who hope in (or wait on) the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

But this is not just an Old Testament idea; this is also the reality of grace, that we get what we do not deserve through a means that we did not achieve. But this requires that we wait on God. The hardest work is in waiting, and not just waiting anxiously but waiting in faith, depending on the Lord and hoping in the Lord, not getting ahead of Him but waiting and watching for Him to act in His way and in His time. To the often oppressed and even despised nation of Israel these promises were the food of encouragement; the knowledge grasped in faith that God would through His Anointed One fulfill every promise He made to His people instilled within the believer the strength and patience to endure his humiliation.

Aristotle, who lived more than 300 years before Jesus of Nazareth, described meekness (prautes) as the character of one who has the passion of resentment under control and who is, therefore, tranquil and untroubled. But the biblical use has a fuller and deeper understanding than even Aristotle could give. Richard Chenevix Trench, in his Synonyms of the New Testament, stated that meekness is “an inwrought grace of the soul … that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting.” Meekness, therefore, cannot be really learned in the calm reflective moments of tranquility. Though it may take root in our souls amid peaceful times, it only will develop to maturity amid difficulty and frustration. It is relatively easy to be meek in theory; the difficulty is in really being meek toward God in the heat of the day, when circumstances and people are far from our liking.

This presents our third difficulty with meekness, and that is really being meek. Meekness is gentleness, strength under control, as a giant of a man with strong muscles tenderly holds his baby daughter. For the Christian it is the maturation within his spirit that releases injustices done to him into the hands of God, stepping back from our desire of vengeance and seeing how we may serve others. It is the polar opposite of self-assertion, self-love, and self-promotion. James wrote,

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility (prautes) that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. James 3:13-16

The problem with the ones who are not meek is that in lashing out at God, or at others, they tend not to care who they injure. They transfer their animosities from the guilty to the innocent and wound others who have done them no harm. Meekness releases the offense, exalts others over self, and is content with God regardless of what the world may offer us. As Habakkuk said, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Hab. 3:17-18). Meekness not only waits on the Lord but it avoids being overwhelmed by the inner sins of anger, bitterness, jealousy, resentment, fear, worry, and selfish ambition.

All of this is possible only because of the work of God in our lives and our faith in God, and not because of a lack of self-esteem or self-respect. Christ, who was the perfection of meekness, properly questioned His unlawful treatment when He was struck in the face during His interrogation by the high priest (John 18:23). He despised the shame of the cross for He knew He was not worthy of such treatment (Heb. 12:2). Paul also exhibited this proper understanding of self-respect when he called the Philippian magistrates into account for mistreating them as Roman citizens (Acts 16:37). A redeemed child of God who has grasped the claim of God upon his life, who has been lifted from the darkness of sin to the kingdom of light, who has God as His Father, Christ as His Redeemer, the Spirit as his Comforter, the Church as his family, and heaven as his home has every reason to have a profound sense of his dignity as a new creation of God and hold his head high, not in pride but in respect for the redemptive work of God in his life. Yet meekness means that he sees himself as a product of grace and places all that he is under the Lordship of Christ.

Where has your ego and pride gotten ahead of God? In what ways are you the opposite of meekness? How is it with your soul? The truly meek person can endure rejection and ridicule, as well as terrible loss and even complete neglect. The meek is the soul that trusts in God. As a believer in Christ you need not fear your future, nor strive to gain your inheritance. It is kept safe for you by the power of Almighty God who has given you His Spirit, “Who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Eph. 1:14). Do not worry when it seems that others have been rewarded and you have not. None of God’s children is less loved than the others. One day in God’s timing the Messiah shall reign on this earth, and those who have trusted in Him will reign with Him, as Peter proclaimed, “He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21). And as John proclaimed regarding the redeemed, “they came to life and reigned with Christ…” (Rev. 20:4).

If meekness is to have any real expression in our lives it must also be demonstrated toward others. The meek one places himself in his heart above no one else, but considers all others as his equal: fellow Christians because God is their Father and non-believers because God is their Creator. Our work may assign different rankings to different individuals, and these should be respected otherwise society cannot properly function, but they should not demean the personhood of each individual or their intrinsic value before our Heavenly Father. Before the Lord’s Table and in our hearts, the general sits with the private, the judge with the convicted felon, the supervisor with the production line worker, and the CEO with the janitor. The meekness of Jesus was demonstrated by Him humbling Himself, literally emptying Himself, healing the outcasts of society, proclaiming the good news to the poor, and dying on the rugged cross for the likes of you and me.

Prayer:

Lord, teach us how to be meek in our hearts. Forgive us for being impatient, angry, fearful, jealous, and selfish. Let us leave in Your hands things too great for us to understand and to embrace by faith Your promises for us. Amen.

Lenten Devotionals (Fastenzeit)