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Archive for June, 2018

Grace and Our Wounds

June 29th, 2018

The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. (Genesis 32:31 NIV)

We must learn to see the grace of God in our wounds, and not merely in our “blessings.” In our weakness is God’s strength made perfect. In our sorrows, and disappointments, and wounds is God’s comfort found. We find this pattern repeatedly spelled out in the lives of the biblical characters. Look at any life – Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul – and you find this principle revealed.

Are our wounds always forms of discipline? They are not always the result of our sin, or even of someone else’s. The disciples asked Jesus, upon seeing a man born blind, “Did this man sin or his parents?” To which Jesus said, “Neither … but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:2-3). We may understand suffering and disease as the outcome of humanity’s sin in general, but not always in particular.

But grace comes in particular to us, it comes in personal forms. We may not always be able to trace back to one person’s failure the cause of our problems, but the grace of God is always experienced in a personal way. Christ comes into our lives and personally lifts us up.

Jacob’s life as an example

There were four major parts of Jacob’s life: (1) childhood and adolescence at home; (2) young adulthood at Paddan Aram; (3) middle adulthood that was a broken but blessed life; (4) and old age that was a healed life and one of blessing to others.

He did not become a religious man until he left his home, and on the way to Paddan Aram, to live with and work for his mother’s brother, he had his vision at Bethel of angels ascending and descending – “Jacob’s Ladder” we call it (Gen. 32:10-22). True religion, that is true faith in God, must come from God and Jacob’s did. It helped him become a moral and generous man, to endure hardship and treachery, and to determine that he would fulfil God’s destiny for his life.

But he did not become a complete man until he was broken by God at Peniel. This event is one of the most mysterious ones in all of scripture (Gen. 32:22-32). The passage begins with the statement that the angels of God met him (Gen. 32:1). He was on his way to meet his brother Esau whom he had betrayed and from whom he had escaped years earlier out of fear for his life. That night as he was all alone he wrestled with a “man” (32:24), but the man later claimed that Jacob had wrestled with God (32:28). Jacob said that he had seen God face to face that night and called the place “Peniel” meaning “the face of God” (32:30). Because of the first statement of the chapter about angels, many have supposed that this “man” was an angel, some have supposed that this was the “Angel of the Lord” who appears to have been the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Himself.

But whatever the physical reality was – and I suppose we can never resolve these issues, nor do we need to – the spiritual reality was that Jacob was broken by God, and only when we are broken can God truly bless us, and turn us into blessings for others. His life had changed in the order of its priorities. As a young man it had been Jacob first, others second, and God a distant third. But at this point it changed to God first, others second, and Jacob third.

There had been in Jacob a desire to succeed, to dominate others, to “be the man” as we would say today. Smaller than his brother Esau, he had resorted to trickery to dominate others. In his young adulthood he had learned to depend on God and had prayed to God, but it was still mostly Jacob against the world. But on this night, he realized his helplessness and threw himself in his brokenness on the mercy and strength of God.

How has God broken you? What wounds has He entrusted to you that have led also to a greater experience of His grace? We humans can never experience true grace and blessings in a vacuum, in an atmosphere that is merely theoretical. We must have real wounds, not ideological ones only. Have your ambitions been stifled? Has your heart been broken? Have you wrestled with angels and lost? Then turn to God as Jacob did and pray for His blessing. He has showed Himself stronger than you, and it is the stronger who blesses the weaker.

As long as we think we can live without God, we will try to do so. Brokenness shows us our utter dependency on Him, our weakness without Him, and a redirection of our priorities. The old preacher said that J-O-Y stands for Jesus, Others, and You, and this is the order in which we should place our affections and our priorities. Jesus first, others second, and ourselves last. Joy is experienced in our lives when we accept that we are here on this earth not just to be blessed but to be used of God to bless others. A seed must die to its “seedness” if it will bear fruit, and we must die to the self-life if the life of God will come through us to bless others.

This morning Oswald Chambers’ devotional said, “When God alters a man by regeneration, the characteristic of the life to begin with is that it is maimed… But it is better to enter into life maimed and lovely in God’s sight than to be lovely in man’s sight and lame in God’s.”

When we are young and full of ourselves, we bless others as an afterthought. So long as it doesn’t cost us too much, and doesn’t get in the way of what we want, well, sure, we can lend someone a hand. But as we mature we begin to see that to help others, and not to merely fatten ourselves alone, is the purpose of our life. It is the key to a meaningful, fulfilling, and joyful life.

One old preacher said, “There may be guilty pleasures, but there is no guilty happiness.” Selfishness leaves only a second’s enjoyment, not a lasting sense of fulfillment and meaning.

Daily Devotions

Commending Ourselves

June 26th, 2018

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:3-10 NIV)

To the title of this devotional someone would object: “But should we even be concerned with commending ourselves to others?” After all, Paul wrote, “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Cor.10:18). First, we should notice that this verse comes from the same letter of Paul – 2 Corinthians – as the passage above, and, in fact, uses the same Greek word: sunistemi, meaning “commend” or “approve” or “demonstrate.” It is the same word as used in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrated his love to us in this, that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

We should not seek to commend ourselves to others in a way that we appear to be something that we are not, or something that we are not by the grace of God. As Paul also wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, “By the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). Even though much of what he had become was through his own hard work, he was quick to explain this: “I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 cor. 15:10). God had supplied the motivation, the daily power and strength in his life, and the capacity for learning and knowledge. This was so clear to Paul that he could not take any credit for anything in his life – it was all by the grace and unearned favor of God.

But as Christians we still need to know who is who, what level of maturity is someone at in his life, how committed is he, and so on. We need to know this not to judge one another, or to compete with one another, but to see who is sincere and who is not, who we should entrust with leadership and who is not yet ready for it.

Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, gave us a set of simple standards to use, the same standards that he used. Look at the list above: endurance, hardships, beatings and imprisonments, hard work, purity, going without, yet maintaining truthful speech. Though he was misunderstood, he responded in love and grace, letting God commend him. We see in these words a beautiful picture of a mature and loving man of God. And this is how we commend ourselves to one another, also. Not by boastings, or posturing, or by putting others down, but by sincere commitment to God and love for people, and by letting God commend us.

As a first year missionary, I was asked to lead in the scripture reading for our annual mission meeting in the Philippines, just before our main speakers shared from their hearts. That year we had Dr Baker james Cauthen and his wife, Eloise, as our speakers. Dr Cauthen was the Executive Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board (that became the International Mission Board) of Southern Baptists from 1954 to 1979. At that time they had already begun formal retirement but continued to serve as God gave them strength and opportunities to do so. Dr Cauthen passed away just a few years later.

They had served long overseas in China in the 1930’s and 40’s, and had faced many hardships. Under his leadership, the missionary force increased from 908 to also 3,000. They were great souls. As a young missionary, just thirty years old, I knew my job was to read the scripture and just sit down. What could I possibly say that would be on the same level as what they had shared? I managed to say that I had appreciated greatly their teaching, and then got out of the way quickly.

They commended themselves to us as deep, mature, sacrificial, loving, and mature believers. They had great gifts fo leadership, but they would say like Paul, “By the grace of God we are what we are.” They impressed us with their humility and dependence on the Lord, with their compassion for us, and with a lifetime of service. Have you been in the presence of people like this? Can you become someone like this?

Of course, shallow people will always admire the least important things about us. They will be impressed by positions, talents, knowledge, and power. Though we should love all and let God do with them what he wills, it is also true that the shallow people are not always worth our time or energy. But the people worth investing in will be impressed not by the surface things, but by commitment and endurance of hardship, by humility and genuine love. This is how we are to commend ourselves to one another – for then surely it is God who had sustained us.

Authenticity in the Faith, Daily Devotions, Dealing with Difficulties