Romans – Creature Worship

Romans 1:16-32

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

(Romans 1:24-25)

It’s a simple matter too look at this passage and dismiss it entirely as irrelevant. After all, there are no little stone gods nor candlelit alcoves in honor of carved images in my house.

And yet I find I am not so innocent after all.

When I examine my life in the light of the Word of God, I have to confess there are times when I have “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator:” a creature named Heather Davis.

This self-worship is called “pride” and it is detestable to a holy God – a putting of self in His rightful place.

With this in mind, as I read verse 18, I found not a condemnation of all those godless and wicked people out there in the world, but a warning that my life must not suppress the truth.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
(Romans 1:18)

Like Paul, I need to live as one who is not ashamed of the Good News, keeping in mind the fact that my role is one of immense and grave privilege. I am an ambassador for the King of kings and Lord of lords. As such, the way I live my life reflects Him, and if I live for myself, it reflects him inaccurately.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
(Romans 1:28)

Moving on to verse 28, I have to ask myself: How does this apply to me? It is of no use to read this on behalf of others only. Have I lived so the world can know I not only consider God worth knowing, I consider Him worth loving and obeying? Or do I put my own comfort, desires, or preferences in a position of higher authority than His will?

These are sobering questions. As I read on, I find I have been envious. I have been guilty of both slander and gossip, of acting maliciously, of foolishness and arrogance. I have been faithless.

As much as I would like to declare these are all sins from my distant past, I must be honest. I have been guilty of many of them in recent days.

And I am sorry. Truly, genuinely sorry. Not because of the people I have hurt, though I am sorry for them as well. Most of all, I am sorry for tarnishing the good Name of my Creator.

I do not applaud these things – not in me, not in others. Instead, I ask each day for the Lord to open my eyes to them in myself. My desire and intense longing is to walk humbly before my God, worship Him as God and dying to that twisted old creature called self.

Interestingly enough, all of my failures and crimes really only prove the truth of the basic tenants of my faith.

I am a sinner, incapable of saving myself. I am in need of a Savior, and when I fall, I cling to Him. I am thankful for Him not because I am so wonderful, but because I am so wretched.

Understanding this, how could I fail to worship such a merciful and magnificent Creator?

He must increase, and I must decrease!

Lord, have Your way in me. Forgive my every act of self- aggrandizement and change my life to one lived fully for You. May I be a tool useful to You, never suppressing Your Truth but living it out in heartfelt humility and joy in Your salvation, amen.

Going to the Dogs… or Maybe Not

In our years of pet ownership, my husband and I have developed our own dog ranking system, partially in jest and partly because…  well, partly because. In order, the hierarchy is:

  1. Good Dog
  2. Has Potential
  3. Bad Dog

Allow me to embellish.

This is Mayumi:Yumi001

Mayumi is a Good Dog.

Most of the time, she is very obedient… with occasional exceptions, usually because I haven’t given her adequate exercise. When small children are over, she is gentle and submissive. As for tricks, she can jump through hoops, sit, stay, high-five with alternating paws, close the door (well, sometimes), and play dead.

As a puppy, she would only quiet at night if she could see me. Overall, she is my loyal companion who follows me from room to room and generally wants to be near me. She is calm and can be trusted with people of all ages and animals of all sizes. I love this dog!

This is Chestnut:

Chestnut Has Potential.

For the most part, he is obedient (occasionally even surpassing Mayumi in coming when called), but he does lack self-control. He adores people, often rather exuberantly in wild, oafish boundings and clumsy gyrations that  threaten the vertical stability of moderately sized humans. Chestnut also has trouble holding his licker and frequently leaves slobber trails on… well, everything.

Due to his… enthusiasm… we crate him when small children or elderly people are visiting. Not all furry things that enter our yard survive except the three skunks that got him first (really, three times !!!).

My husband and I joke that his tombstone will read RIP Chestnut: He Had Potential. 

I have no pictures of Sable, but she was aptly named. Sable was a Bad Dog.

In the few weeks she lived here, she managed to frighten the children (who were still very young), lose all off-leash privileges in the house, and made me rue the day I first saw her. One rare occasion when she was allowed off the leash in our yard, she attacked me. Fortunately, I had some training in judo and her challenge went rather badly for her while I was angry but unhurt. Sable became a junkyard dog.

…And this is our Miscreant thinning the herd of origami reindeer given us by the talented Mr. Leonard Gluck.:
But he’s in a different class entirely.

Before I came to know and love the Most High, I was as dark-hearted as Sable, a miscreant in an altogether separate category – an aimless and nameless wastrel.

Can I even express how grateful this repentant reprobate is to the King who expunged her record of lawlessness by sentencing Himself to death in my stead? Can I find words for my awe that He did not stop there, but took up His life again? No, words fail.

Where I deserved a pitiless death, I received mercy… and yet He did not stop there. With grace beyond my wildest reckoning,  He called this waif, “Daughter, ” lavished upon me a spiritual inheritance of inestimable value, and has brought light and life to all that was deadened and darkened within me.

My Lord and my God! May the wonder of it never cease to astonish me!

If my God is truly powerful; if His grace is truly sufficient; if I believe that fullness of joy is found in His presence – in short, if He is truly all He says He is – my life ought to reflect nothing short of complete devotion and steadfast loyalty to Him.

Where He is, I want to be. When He commands, I want to obey, and though I may slip up from time to time, overall I want to be fully His, wholly trusting Him and trusted by Him around people of all ages.

May I never be a casual partaker of Grace, giving the Almighty a perfunctory nod as I tuck His gift carelessly in a pocket while asking Him to bless my self-determined course.

In short, I do not want to a disciple who merely Has Potential…

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
(Colossians 1:9-10)

But the Lord is Faithful

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.  Psalm 20:7

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Mark 9:24

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I sincerely considered saying nothing about the recent election. For an entire day, I said little; I watched what other people were posting and I waited prayerfully to see if the furor over the campaign would die down.  And I will be honest: I was waiting to see how my fellow believers would handle this thing.

For those of you who are not in Christ, I can understand  your reactions. I’ve been where you are.

But my fellow Christians — seriously?!?!

I am not talking to all believers, obviously. Several of you in my circles have sought to remind others to trust in God, and I am thankful for you letting His light shine through!

However, the responses of others have run the gamut from gloating and crows of triumph to despair, rage, and fear.

Oh I admit it was a disaster, but not because of who won.This election was a disaster long before that, and I do not say that because my candidate of choice won. He did not.

Please excuse my brief political tirade here:

As far as temporal freedom goes, I firmly believe we Americans handed that over long ago when we allowed this nation to slide into something less than a true democratic republic.

Once we allowed it to become a two-party-controlled state and simultaneously shrugged our shoulders and allowed corruption to become more and more rampant, and even expected, within the controlling parties — well, I’m afraid that was the beginning of the end. (And as a side note, I must say that a two-party-controlled state lacks only a unifying factor to become a one-party-controlled state. But again, that is an aside…)

The truth is, as a nation, if this is truly a government “by the people and for the people”and it has become corrupt, it is because we have allowed it to become so.

OK, enough of that. [Deep breath. Exhale]

The greater truth, at least for those of us who are in Christ, is that our hope is not in any man-made system; not in Democrats or Republicans; not in chariots nor horses; not in democracy or elections or the strength or weakness of any party, government, or military. Our hope is in Christ and Christ alone. Period.

Come on, Christians! No matter who you supported (and with hesitation, I will tell you I supported neither Trump nor Hillary), not a single one of them will fix our problems. Our problems are not political, America. Our problem is sin, and for that there is only one solution.

All I am saying is this: if we are a people of faith, let us behave like a people of faith. Let’s redeem the time now, walking as wise ones and not as unwise. Let us never, ever forget that our God is at work and that He will bring about His purposes. Our response should be, as Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in ALL circumstances, realizing that “all” does not mean only the ones we prefer.

May I let you in on something that really is no secret? Things are going to get worse. Besides being clearly stated multiple times in the Word of God, it is evident in the Newtonian laws we have observed for centuries; particularly the law of entropy. Things always get worse.

Now is the time for us to stand firm. This is not the time for either gloating or fear, for neither represent the love we are called to be filled with and exhibit. Neither response honors our God.

It is written in 1 John 4:18 that “… there is no fear in love for perfect love casts out fear.” May I suggest today that implicit in the idea of perfect love is perfect trust, so if we are plagued by fear, it may be because we have an imperfect love of our Lord and Savior. Lord, please, help us overcome our unbelief!!

Brothers! Sisters! This is not the time to turn against one another. Please let us not neglect to ask our God, as David did, to set a guard over our mouths and keep watch over the door to our lips. In humility, let us recognize that our knee-jerk responses are most likely not the correct ones. Remember that our words are supposed to be edifying and give grace to those who hear.

My fellow Christians, let us not forget — let us NEVER forget — that we are called to take up our crosses daily and follow Him.  In America, this race has not even begun to be grueling.  Just ask the families of the twelve Christians recently crucified by ISIS for their faith after torturing and killing a 12-year-old boy right in front of his father.

In fact, ask the many who have been sawn in half, burned at the stake, shot, imprisoned, drowned, beheaded, beaten, flogged, and so on. Many of these had joy anyway. Many of these prayed, as Jesus did, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Many of them believed that God’s grace was sufficient for them, because it is.  Even though things will only go from bad to worse.

Above all else, let us examine our faith as it is revealed in the pure and uncompromising Light of the World. If we have little faith, we ought to pray for more. If are not unified in Christ, we ought to pray that He will make us so — and be willing to let go of anything that stands in the way of it, even our preferences. We are not black or white, we are not slave or free, we are not Democrat or Republican or third party, but as Galatians 3:28 says, we are all one in Christ. Let us act like it.

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3

Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.
2 Thessalonians 3:1-3

 

 

Getting Real

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Philippians 2:14-16

There is a common theme that I have heard time and time again among my fellow Christians and have even said myself as a new believer. I keep hearing that we (the Christian community) need to stop putting on false smiles and acting like we have it all together when we don’t, really.  That we need to stop pretending all is well when it isn’t. That we need to get real.

The odd thing, however, is that I don’t actually know anyone who does this. I know no one who acts as if they have it all together, none who put on a happy face and waltz around pretending the world is unicorns and music and roses.  Not one.

Among my brothers and sisters (and sadly, from my own mouth), what I do hear plenty of is grumbling. I see plenty of sad faces and sorrow and regret. I hear so many stories of how we are a mess. I see much groaning under the burdens of life and much fear and anxiety.

In fact, I see plenty of reality, so much reality that my mind would be overcome by it if I did not have my mighty Refuge to run to when all the world seems hostile and alien.

But that’s all an aside. What bakes my noodle is this:If I don’t know anyone in Christ who plasters on a mask and pretends, and yet the people I know keep saying we all need to stop doing that, where is this idea coming from?  I fear that it is actually some bit of spiritual propaganda that has wormed its way into  the center of modern American Christian culture. And frankly, I don’t understand it.

If there is someone with a smile on their face, how can an onlooker know if it is a real smile or a mask? What if that person smiles because they are consumed with the joy of their salvation? What if the smiler is genuinely filled to the brim with the joy of the Lord and that joy is his strength even in hardship?

What if  someone is caught actually, truthfully rejoicing in their suffering because they know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us?” (Romans 5:3-5)

What if… what if there is a Christian or two who are real, and whose reality is rooted in a belief that “…the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us?” (Romans 8:18)

What if some believers do not have it all together, know very well they do not have it all together, but trust entirely in an Almighty God who does have it all together?

What if these believers have absolute confidence in Him and are content to fight the battles He has given them to fight. What if they are honestly delighting themselves in His Word and relying on the belief that He who began a good work in them “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ?” (Philippians 1:6)

Aren’t those the very things we ought to be doing, the very things that separate believers from the rest of the world? Isn’t it the absolute trust in God despite our circumstances that make us, in fact, Christians. Isn’t joy and peace a direct result of that trust?

Maybe I’m crazy. I don’t know. But I wonder sometimes if our “reality” lines up with what is written in the Scriptures; if, perhaps,  we need to get real with our faith. I wonder if our getting real doesn’t need to include a little less about us — our messes and our failures — and a little bit more about the incredible victory of our Jesus.

I somehow doubt that the world needs to hear very much about our troubles and temptations. It has plenty of its own.  What the unsaved world needs is to hear more of the victory of our Savior, of the hope we have in Him even in the midst of life’s pain, of a greater Truth that is steady and sure when human wisdom falls short.

I believe the world needs to see us honestly crying to God to overcome our unbelief, genuinely and humbly repenting of our sins each time we fail, dying to our selves and living with Christ.

So let’s get real.  Real hunger for the things of God, for His presence, His glory, His Word, and His Kingdom. Real work of faith, real labor of love,  real steadfastness of hope.  Real submission to Christ. Real love for God that overflows in love for others.  Real self-sacrifice and real belief in a real God who really does save.  Really denying self and living for Christ.

Lord, help us to be real with You, to have genuine faith in You, to be real imitators of Christ. Forgive us our complaints and our self-focus. May we only use our troubles to point others to Your greatness, amen. 

 

On Fear

…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7

It’s true that I have not yet faced what can truly be called “persecution” in my Christian walk. Oh, I’ve had a little mockery here and there, but unlike so many of my fellows, I have also enjoyed the luxurious freedom to read my Bible every single day. I am able to purchase numerous commentaries, Bible translations,  and Bible study materials.  Not only that, but I meet frequently and openly with others to discuss the Word, to pray, and to worship — and I am able to do all these things without fear of being arrested, beaten, slaughtered, or having my offspring taken into state custody.

Still, persecution has been on my mind lately. For one thing, my heart breaks to hear of the pain and the wretchedness experienced by so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ overseas. And while I live in a free land at present, I have enough of a grasp of history to understand the changeable and uncertain nature of governments, borders, and empires. My current freedoms are neither guaranteed nor even likely to last for many more generations, and I cannot promise my children that the relatively friendly world we operate within will be there for the remainder of our lives.

It is a sobering fact that one thing Christians are guaranteed in this life is persecution. In the same letter that today’s opening Scripture came from, Paul also assured Timothy, “Indeed,all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived,” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).

Does that scare me? If I am honest, I must admit that it frequently does. However, we who are in Christ are given another guarantee, one that should help us to endure even the most heinous of circumstances; one that I hang on to when fear constricts my heart. Summed up, it is the guarantee that whatever we endure here and now will be worth the hope of eternity we look forward to once we have cast aside these old tents and taken up residence in our true homes.

We have this guarantee in the words of Jesus, whose sacrifice ensured that the suffering of those who are in Him will not last for eternity: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33  We also have it in Paul’s letter to another ancient church, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

So I keep these things in mind. For now, I enjoy my freedoms. I relish my time in the Word and savor public worship and prayer meetings. I am also preparing both myself and my children for what may come, knowing full well that we may or may not live to see true persecution on this hemisphere of the globe.

Whether we ever see persecution or not, we are still called to be a people prepared, and so I pray daily for my family:  for our sanctification, for deeper devotion, for stronger, genuine faith. I also spend time reading and reveling in the Word and encouraging my children to do so. We actively memorize and rehearse Scripture, hiding it in our hearts both so we might not sin against God and because of the possibility that what we have stored in our hearts may someday be all we have access to.

I also remind myself constantly that my God has not given me a spirit of fear. I can trust Him. I do not look forward to persecution, but neither should I let the dread of it weigh on my mind, color my decisions, or keep me from living boldly for my God even if it someday means suffering unflinchingly for Him. He has already suffered unflinchingly for me.

 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”  Hebrews 13:6