Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Promised Curse

“It shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee” (Deuteronomy 28:15).

This grim verse of doom comes on the heels of an amazing tally of God’s supply—promised provisions for His people (14 verses to be exact). Do you need a secure hold through life, protection from your enemy, victory in your battle, food on your table, love within your family?—“hearken diligently to the voice of the Lord” and you are freely given each and every one! But this Almighty Blessing Giver brings a grave warning to all who refuse to walk in His ways. He calls them curses.

Not long ago I heard a Preacher say, “God will never do anything in your life without telling you about it first.” He is an honest God. Blessing or curse—whatever it is we are experiencing at this moment—we had it in writing first. The absolute wonder of this truth is this: we have the ability to choose what we want to receive.

That reality is sobering. The fact that we can curse ourselves (by how we choose to behave) must be pondered in a serious light. We must seek to obey our God in every area of our life: our speech, our morals, our worship, our work, our community, our entertainment, our money, our authorities, etc. He has something to say regarding each one. Therefore, we have a responsibility to know just exactly what it is He has to say.

After spending quality time recounting all that God had done to bless their forefathers, Joshua puts out a plea to those of the household of Jacob—basically he says, “Now its your turn! Today, YOU must decide to personally serve the Lord in sincerity and truth—YOU must choose this for yourself” (Joshua 24:14). Joshua then stands up and forcefully states his own allegiance to God. “As for me and my house,” he declares boldly, “We will serve the Lord” (Joshua 25: 15). That command, issued to the Israelites before receiving their promised inheritance, is ringing in our ears yet still: “Choose you this day whom you will serve.” We must heed it! This is significant to securing a blessing instead of a curse. There is a decision to be made—and it is to be made daily. What will we choose today?

Will we choose to trust in man? Will we use our own reasoning abilities to get us out of tough situations? Will we find security in our own strength—whatever strength we can muster? Will we forget God in our time of distress and turn to others for counsel? Thus saith the Lord in Jeremiah 17:5: “Cursed be the man!”

Will we choose to keep what God calls His? Will we refuse the Lord our tithes and offerings? Neglecting to cheerfully give back a small part of all that He has given to us, will we choose to hoard those resources instead? God declares forthrightly that He departs from those who depart from His ordinances—“For I am the Lord, I change not” (Malachi 3:6). If we do not bring our tithes into His storehouse He will close up the windows of heaven—His physical blessings toward us will dry up! If you rob me, He says plainly, “Ye are cursed with a curse” (Malachi 3:9).

Will we choose to neglect those in great need? Will we ignore the fact that many are in want—pretending they do not exist? Are we comfortable to stay within our houses of warmth oblivious to those left out in the cold? Will we turn around, turn the channel, or turn the page when confronted with those in poverty? Will we judge their plight in condescending tones? The Bible calls it “hiding our eyes.” Whether this is done in pride or ignorance the result is the same—“ye shall have many a curse” (Proverbs 28:27).

Will we choose to take the law into our own hands—a traffic law, a tax law, a property law—and decide what is best? God calls it removing landmarks! And He does not like it. Will we choose to allow injustice to bind the innocent? Will we treat the stranger, the fatherless and the widow with indifference—putting the letter of the law above the spirit of the law? Will we use our power to abuse those who have no protection? “Cursed be he!” (Deuteronomy 27:17-19).

Will we choose to preach, teach, share, or counsel others while neglecting our own personal sin? Will we judge harshly those in immorality while dabbling in it ourselves? Will we choose to lie and cover up our wrong behavior in order to appear godly? Will we minister to others in order to receive praise? Will we choose our own glory instead of Christ’s? “Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully” (Jeremiah 48:10).

Will we choose to dishonor our parents? Will we turn aside from their teaching and engage in sinful lifestyles, openly mock their standards, or just neglect our duty to love and respect them? Will we choose to ignore their physical needs—and justify the sin of not taking care of them? Will we choose to harbor bitterness against them? Will we choose to place our own knowledge and desires above their advice and refuse to seek it out? “Cursed be he that setteth to light by his father or his mother” (Deuteronomy 27:16).

The Hebrew word that our Lord God uses throughout the Old Testament for curse is translated to mean execrate in the English language—“to declare to be evil or detestable; to denounce; to detest violently; to put under a curse.” God chose to use very strong speech when setting forth His decrees. He will honor His word. If you obey them, He will bless you abundantly. But, if you disobey them, He will determinedly set Himself against you—against your family, your crops, your wealth, your health, your defense, etc.! We cannot separate our Lord from His commandments—they are one and the same. God is the “I Am”—His name, His character, His ordinances, His promises… “I Am!” Do we believe Him? He loves His Law! Therefore, we are also called to love His Law.

God declares that disobedience is detestable—whether we feel it to be detestable or not! So many of our sins are easily justified as “meaningless”…but they will bring a curse, nonetheless! David prays, “Search me and know me—create in me a clean heart—keep me from presumptuous sins—make the thoughts of my heart acceptable in Your sight!” David understood the importance of not cursing himself—Psalm 119 is a powerful testimony to that fact! I pray that I will treasure the precepts God has set out in His Word and, therefore, choose to receive the promised blessing—not the promised curse.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Attitude of Hospitality—part two

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Meeting the need of another

Obviously, hospitality is more than just being able to see the need of another; it is reaching out to meet that need! Meeting a need requires a deliberate act—opening up your home, cooking a meal, delivering a meal, making a phone call, putting your own schedule on hold to play a vital role in someone else’s, writing a letter, giving financially, speaking words of encouragement and counsel, listening, listening, listening, being sensitive to the struggle of another, spending quality time in prayer that God would comfort and provide, praying out loud for those in need, etc... But the ability to preform that act, whatever it may be, is often rooted in your own experience. The more you acquire in the “need department” the more resources you will be given to meet the needs of others, that is, if you have responded correctly (as did Job) to God’s sovereignty.

Webster’s defined the word attitude as a “mental position, a feeling, or an emotion toward a fact or state.” The only way we gain valuable treasure, a reservoir that we will draw from in order to minister to those in need, is by receiving our own trials with the correct mental position. When God began to reveal this truth to me, it changed my perspective drastically—even though it did not decrease the pain. God was teaching me the absolute precious value of experiencing a need! Agony, disappointment, heartache, sorrow, discouragement, etc… these emotions still overwhelm me at the point of need—they still well up inside my soul without warning when I am reminded of my want or when pain has been inflicted—but now they do not control my response.

As I cry out to Jesus and seek His comfort, in the midst of my pain, I become increasingly aware of His presence. Despite my "not again, Lord!" thoughts and the tempation to think that He must not care, I choose to look up though my tears. And there I see Jesus holding my situation (that ugly, hurtful, lonely situation) in His nail scarred hands—He has those precious hands stretched out in front of me and He is asking if I would accept this difficult reality as a gift—He wonders if I would be willing to embrace it as I would one of His blessings. In that intimate moment, my mind expands to the realness that what I choose will effect another—the truth that God is entrusting a priceless resource to my possession—a possession I will be able to invest in someone else's life. Even when my strength fails (for it does!), my desire is to reach out and do that one thing that is pleasing to the Savior.

I still often wrestle with the fact that in doing so I am not only saying “Yes, Lord”, but I am willingly agreeing to His timing and to His decision as to the amount of pain I will be receiving. I spend a lot of time praying that Jesus would give me the strength to continue holding it. It is a complete surrender—a death I feel to the uttermost. But what follows is a stillness that covers every ounce of the pain and an awareness that God only asks from me that which He intends to use. He tells me that I am of greater value to His Kingdom when I am content.

Are you experiencing loneliness in your life, disappointment in your marriage, or accusation from a friend? What is your mental position regarding that thing? I’m not suggesting you justify the sin committed by another or ignore the pain that is real—but how about leaving that which is out of your control with the Lord, and instead, consider your attitude in light of His sovereignty. When we focus on those things we cannot change we will quickly become self-centered, and that, we have learned, is a sure way to quit "doing good." A wonderful picture of this principle in play is found in Luke 22. Jesus is arrested—talk about being sinned against, feeling deserted, and stepping into a situation that seems completely out of your control. In the fear and choas of guards and soldiers and swords and fire coming to take his master, Jesus' dear friend and loyal disciple reaches for his sword in order to defend the Savior—slashing through the ear of one of the High Priests servants. Jesus, despite His own agony, stooped down and touched the place that had been wounded, bringing complete healing to the young man's ear. Jesus "went about doing good" even in the midst of a horrible trial. That is because Jesus had the correct mental position (He had settled it earlier in the garden) regarding what was happening.

You must believe that nothing enters your life without our Savior’s stamp of approval. Are you resisting what God is obviously allowing by thinking you don't deserve it? Has it made you angry? Are you sulking? Are you harboring bitterness—updating that record of wrongs daily in your mental journal?

Or...are you surrendering your attitude toward this trial and taking the time to seek Christ through it?

Dear believer, God has a plan for your pain—He wants to use your sorrow to awaken your heart to His love, and He wants to use your affliction to make you aware of someone else’s pain. Allow Him that precious privilege. Respond correctly to His chastisement—whatever that may be.

Be assured that God has a purpose. He wants to teach you how to adorn the attitude of hospitality in a practical way—He wants you to wear that attitude, as did His Son. He allows the need in order that you might experience what it is like to have Christ meet that need. Tell the Lord that you desire to glean from what He allows in order to minister God's blessings to others.

Your awareness of another’s loneliness is heightened when you are alone yourself. Your sensitivity to those who suffer is learned while enduring your own pain. You would not know the depth of another’s need without being in want yourself. View your trial as a precious jewel—a valuable experience—that will teach you how to serve others as your Savior chose to serve you. Thank the Lord for it—for you will only excel in this “good work” if you accept what the Lord is allowing you to experience. It is okay to ask the Lord to take it away—it should increase your prayer life—but wait quietly for the Lord to remove it. You will find that your acceptance will make you a better friend and will grant you freedom within your relationships (even those hard relationships).

When you are determined to turn your eyes from yourself and accept hard things in your life, you will beautifully demonstrate the quality of hospitality. It is gained through humility!

In desiring to be hospitable learn how to be nothing. It is only in emptying yourself (of yourself) that Christ can fill you completely with His love, compassion, time, and energy! Hospitality is the attitude that allows you the wisdom to see a need. Hospitality then becomes the act of meeting that need!

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Attitude of Hospitality—part one

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

In the book of Matthew, Jesus instructs us to “let our light so shine before men” that others may see our righteous deeds and, therefore, praise our Father! In 1 Timothy, Paul instructs men who desire the office of Elder to show love toward the believers—especially strangers and foreigners—and he exhorts women to actually array themselves (as one would fine jewelry), with the ornaments of good works. God is making His desire quite clear—we are to emulate His character continually. “Jesus…went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) and so must we! Following this example of Christ seems to define a godly woman as well as a faithful worker!

Hospitality is a practical way for us to apply this command! To “go about doing good” is to keep our eyes wide open to those who have needs…and to keep our arms wide open to those who need care. Hospitality is ministering to the physical, the emotional, or the spiritual needs of others!

Seeing and Meeting

The first thought that pops into our heads when considering hospitality might be fixing one of our favorite meals and then inviting a friend over for dinner—the fun is abounding and the fellowship, oh, so sweet! There is something very fulfilling when we receive another in this way. It just feels good to know we have blessed someone else! Although this picture is not completely missing the point, it is definitely not conclusive! There is so much more to consider. Yes, we are to show hospitality to close friends, fellow believers, and traveling missionaries—we are to open our homes, invite to our tables, or supply specific needs. But it behooves us to look deeper into the heart and soul of this word, for we are not only asked to “do” good works but to “adorn” ourselves with them! The first requires an action…the second, an attitude!

Gaining an appropriate attitude is a duty we must never neglect when considering the ministry God has called us to! A ministry, coupled with the wrong attitude, can be very damaging. Paul states, very clearly in scripture, that not just the act but the “attitude of hospitality” is crucial to both the role of a man and of a woman in the church! Men should never lead without it! And women should never worship without it!

Attitude /n 2 a: a mental position with regard to a fact or state b: a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state 3: a position assumed for a specific purpose

Obviously, according to Webster’s definition, an attitude is setting you up to respond either correctly or incorrectly to certain people or situations! The proper attitude makes all the difference in the world. The attitude that is rooted in pride will cause you to sin—you will neglect, or unintentionally miss, valuable lessons that teach you how to meet another’s need. In contrast, an attitude taken straight from the mold of humility will produce good works in accordance to hospitality.

If hospitality is both seeing and meeting immediate needs, how does our attitude effect the way we carry it out?

Seeing the Need of Another

We must be selfless! This is the first role our attitude must play in the act of hospitality. If we are self-consumed then we will be blinded to the real needs of those around us! If seeing is required for Biblical hospitality, then it is vital to remove distractions! I'm not sure about you, but in my life, “I” am my biggest distraction!

Many years ago, God started asking me to surrender my own perspective on life and allow Him to reign in my heart and mind completely. God began taking the “me” out of everything and replacing it with “Him.” He must matter most—whether I was considering my own needs or those of another. I wasn’t always the most cooperative daughter. I still squirm at times! But I have come to learn that surrender of what is lovely produces the most beautiful reward.

Wanting to be like Christ is far from being like Christ. Being like Christ involves a lot of work—and it needs continual evaluation from someone outside of yourself. As soon as you feel you have taken a step in the right direction, you are met with a wall of your own failures (or of somebody elses)! The attitude your flesh wears wants discouragement to set in. Oh, how our flesh longs to feel sorry for itself and to think the “task” completely impossible. But our Lord, if we listen closely, is cheering us on. He is reminding us that we do not make progress in our own strength—ever. And He knows what it is like to serve those who are oblivious to our sacrifice. When we are tempted to look to ourselves, feel sorry for ourselves, pity ourselves, coddle ourselves (you get the point!), we must ask God for the ability to crucify “ourselves.”

The hymn writer, Frances Havergal, not only learned the secret behind such death—she took the time to pen its process! Verse by verse, Frances surrendered each and every part of who she was. The first stanza starts: “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord to Thee; take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.” She identified those things (and those body parts) that we often attach to our will—our hands, our feet, our desires, our loves—and she deliberately gave them to Christ, for His use alone. Open up a hymnal, and in your quiet time with Jesus sing and pray each line to the Lord with a willingness to be used of Him. Spend quality time surrendering the attitude of your heart! When that happens, you will not only see better, you will be given new eyes—eyes that can keenly observe someone else’s need!

Before such surrender our vision was dim and the quality of our sight depended on how we felt at the time! Not now! Now we are able to see those around us through the eyes of our Savior. And because of that, we exercise the act of hospitality more completely. We cannot meet needs unless we see them first. And we cannot see needs, unless we are looking outside of ourselves!

There will be times when we are overcome with our own trials—when our own desires are being unmet and we feel unable to meet another’s. It is hard to “go about doing good” to those around us (especially those closest to us) when we are painfully aware of our own want. But it is possible! Amy Carmichael wisely writes that the very moment we are “conscious of the shadow of self crossing our threshold, we must shut the door and keep that door shut!” It is when we neglect this forceful action that we become consumed with the lie that says: I cannot meet another’s need when I am needy myself. This thought is justified with a hundred different reasons as to why, and, just like that, we become selfish—often oblivious to the fact!

The problem is not that we desire comfort, but that we use our pain as an excuse to neglect “good works.” If we focus on what we deserve (and are not receiving) more than how we can be useful to others, we will leave off applying the principles observed in Philippians 2. And we will quit being hospitable.

When you have needs, look to Christ, not to your selfish heart. Your heart will teach you to place your expectations on others—not on the Lord (and He wants them!)—and it will feed you the bread of discontentment! Jesus excels in the area of hospitality. Let Him do what He does best—let Him serve you. Jesus took the character quality of hospitality to an amazing level by giving up His very life for yours. “Let this mind [this attitude] be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Jesus will meet your needs and, in doing so, will free your heart so that it can perceive the needs of others!

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

To be continued...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Accepted In the Beloved

“God is no respector of persons: but in every nation, he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted...through [Jesus'] name, whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:35, 43).

I heard the story of Jesus for the first time when I was a small child. My parents were diligent to instruct me in the ways of God through all my growing up years. I chose to believe with my mind those things I heard, and prayed as a little girl, trusting Jesus to “save me from my sin.” I learned Bible Verses, went to church, and participated in church activities…but I continued to have a sense of need and fear regarding my salvation. It extremely bothered me. Although I had “outwardly accepted” the free gift I was told about, I had not allowed Jesus access into my life to change me—and I struggled with many sins. I wanted to keep my sin hidden. I was afraid to be seen as I really was—afraid I would not truly be accepted. I feared that rejection immensely. I believed the good news, that Jesus died and rose again—I never doubted the truth that Jesus was God—but I had never experienced its power.

As a teenager, I gave way to bad peer pressure, involving myself in wrong activities and lies. I saw God as a punisher, not a rescuer, and my guilt was a burden I could not get rid of. Instead of turning from sin when convicted of it, I would “confess” it to God and seek to do penance—something to make me acceptable (feel acceptable) in His sight once more. I would “ask Jesus into my heart” again; I would make promises, never intending to keep them; I would deny myself the one thing that got me into trouble…for a while. But time only proved I was controlled by sin, not by the Spirit. I did not feel loved by God. I did not feel my behavior would allow such love. I had never fully accepted His payment for my sin debt, because I had not fully understood the gospel. I wanted to be rid of my sin problem but my spirit was full of pride.

I had never laid myself bare before the Lord—I wanted to appear clean without having to come to grips with the reality of my sin. I will never forget the day God began to reveal this truth to me. I had recently been wounded. God, in His great wisdom, had brought me to a place of despair and the feeling of human rejection was overwhelming. He used that trial in my life to soften my heart toward His compassionate care. As I opened up the comfort of His Word, I was overwhelmed by the desire to be “accepted in the Beloved” like never before. This thought consumed me. I wanted to KNOW that I was His completely—I believed that that alone would secure my satisfaction.

He tenderly revealed to me that His acceptance of me was based upon His goodness, not upon my performance; therefore, it was possible. There was such freedom in that truth—God knew me utterly and accepted me entirely?—it was hard to wrap my mind around it. But as I allowed God to look upon the ugliness of my sin I was able to trust, for the first time, His complete ability to forgive and cleanse me. I could do nothing to earn salvation and my attempts were repulsive to the Savior. I was overwhelmed with His great love for me and I desired to please Him above all else. I opened myself up to His Word—I had never read the Bible for personal instruction in the past—and He began to change me. I began to hate my sin (not just hate the consequences of that sin) and pray for true deliverance from those things that bound me.

God answered those prayers.

I continue to gain the victory and enjoy my relationship with Jesus—it grows sweeter day by day. "I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine" (Song of Solomon 6:3). He gives life. And He is faithful to every promise.

"God is no respector of persons: but in every nation, he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted...through [Jesus'] name, whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:35, 43).