God’s Masterpiece

I have always admired the work of Claude Monet, the master French impressionist. Actually revered is probably a better description on how I view his work.I have a deep love for landscape art and Monet’s paintings are quite breathtaking.  I had the opportunity to visit an art gallery in Las Vegas of all places which was displaying a large collection of his work.  It was remarkable to note that when looking at his paintings up close, they all looked like random blotches of oil paint.  But when one steps back to take in the whole painting, that is when the true beauty and the nature of the subject comes into view.

Monet lived the later part of his life in Giverny, France on a small farm which he turned into his canvas. His particular passion was painting his water-lily pond, which took him many years to cultivate to his perfection. In the last 33 years of his life, Monet painted little else, creating many masterpieces for us to enjoy.

The Bible tells us that we are God’s masterpieces, (Gk.”poiema”), his work of art, his magnum opus,  his poem, his symphony. He is the master artist who sketches us and takes a lifetime to fill in that sketch with a palette of colors. He is the master musician who composes the symphony of our lives. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10. God also tells us in Ephesians that we are His chosen, adopted, holy, blameless, his inheritance, redeemed, forgiven, sealed with the Spirit, righteous, a citizen of Heaven, faithful, lavished on by God, included, a saint,  light to others, secure, have peace, alive with Christ, complete, and our lives bring great glory to God. If God thinks so very much of us, why do we think so little of ourselves? We are His masterpiece and yet we live as if we are a dime-store imitation.  We often view ourselves as random blotches of paint. If we would but step back and take in the whole of our lives, we would see the work of art God is creating.

Realizing how wonderful God thinks we are seems to collide with the biblical imperative to be humble. How can we have a healthy, biblical self image and still be humble? We do that by remembering that it is all God. Long before He laid the foundations of the earth, “He had us in mind.” It was God’s plan from the beginning of time to love us, choose us, and adopt us. It was all Him, and it was made possible by His sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ. It was said that in order to get perfect reflections off the water in his pond, Monet would insist that both the garden and the pond were meticulously clean-even to the point of asking his cleaners to dust the surface of the water.  How fortunate we are so have a God who does the cleaning of our souls for us, washing us in the blood of the Messiah, His Son.

When our focus is on how great our God and all He has done for us, humility and gratitude are the result.  Humility is not thinking too much of ourselves, (which is pride), nor thinking too little of ourselves (which is also pride), but thinking of ourselves less. We do not admire great works of art, magnificent poetry, or a stirring piece of music for the thing itself. We admire the artist who did the painting, the writing, or the composing.  God makes much of us so that we can live our lives making much of Him. We bring God great glory when we live our lives as the “Work of Art” he has made us to be.

He Set His Face to Jerusalem

WHEN THE DAYS DREW NEAR FOR HIM TO BE TAKEN UP, HE SET HIS FACE TO GO TO JERUSALEM.
LUKE 9:51

In Luke chapter 9, Jesus is traveling south with the disciples after finishing his Galilean ministry. He had preached in many synagogues, taught in many towns, and performed many miracles. He had spent very day of the last year and half to two years with his twelve disciples. His words and teachings would become the doctrinal foundation of Christianity. He is now in the last six months of his life. The time has come for him to journey back to Jerusalem to be crucified, and so “he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.” The Latin Vulgate says he “strengthened his face.” This denotes courage, boldness, and firmness of mind.

We often minimize the fact that Jesus was wholly human as well as wholly God. We think that He was probably not as troubled by sin, temptation, and selfishness as we are, and living in this world was easier for him. But Jesus was as human as we are and he had to choose to obey his Father just as we do. He made the choice to go to Jerusalem with full knowledge of what awaited him there. It was not an easy choice. It was hard. He knew what going to Jerusalem meant. He predicts in Luke 18:32, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; they will scourge him and kill him…” When Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem, he set his face to die.

He willingly chose to go to the cross for us—to take upon himself our sins, our shame. He states in John 10:18, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”He knew God’s purpose for his life and he was committed to carrying it out at all costs. His disciples were still ignorant and unaware of Jesus’ true purpose. While traveling to Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples took the shortest route, through Samaria, even though the Samaritans and the Jews despised one another.

They had journeyed through Samaria before. John chapter 4 tells of Christ’s meeting with the Samaritan woman. The woman became a believer as a result of her encounter with Christ. However this time, Jesus and the disciples did not get a warm reception. “But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:53) Public opinion of Christ was already changing. His rejection by the people had begun. His disciples, James and John, wanted to destroy Samaria because of their rejection. The “sons of thunder” lived up to their reputation.

“And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.’ For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.. And they went to another village.” Luke 9:53-56

Jesus’ message to his disciples and to us in this passage is clear. You too will be rejected by men. To be a true disciple of Jesus is to be an imitator of Him. He calls us to follow him down Calvary Road to Golgotha. We must crucify ourselves, our selfish nature, and our wishes for a comfortable life. We must allow the light of God’s Word to penetrate the darkest parts of our sinful hearts. We must be ready to give up our desires and wishes to serve God and one another. This is true discipleship ——to be ready and willing to “set our face to Jerusalem.”

What’s Love got To Do With It?

Ahh February..the month of Love! February gives us Valentine’s Day; the holiday that causes most men more than a bit of anxiety. The average person will spend $126.03 this year on Valentine’s Day to show their love to their favorite person.  It is a holiday that people either “love” or “hate”. My son used to call it “singleness awareness” day.

It is wonderful to celebrate love of family and that special someone at Valentine’s Day. But it is unfortunate that even in the church we have allowed our culture and media to define “love” for us.   Our culture today has us believing that love means if you meet my needs then I will love you.  I have been to more than one wedding ceremony to hear the bride and groom promise to stay together “as long as their love shall last.”

We need look no further than to the Creator of Love, God himself for the definition of love. 1 John 4:7 says that love is from God. Biblical love is an action word, not a feeling word. We have reduced love to a feeling that can come and go. Biblical love is based on covenant; a promise made and kept.

The word most often associated with God’s love for us is the Hebrew word hesed translated lovingkindness. Lamentations 3:22 says, The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never ceases, For His compassions never fail.Hesed it is not merely love, but loyal love; not merely kindness, but dependable kindness; not merely affection, but affection that has committed itself. It is most often used of someone “doing,” “showing,” or “keeping” hesed. Hesed expresses both God’s loyalty to His covenant and His love for His people along with faithfulness to keep His promises.

The first time we see the word love used in scriptures is in Genesis 22:2. The Scriptures tell us that God tested Abraham by asking him to offer up his son as a sacrifice.  He said, Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you. Isn’t it interesting that the first time God uses the word love it is the context of a father sacrificing his son. This is how our Heavenly Father showed His love towards us; by sacrificing His son, His only son, whom He loved. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

What’s love got to with it? Everything; for we are to love one another with the same depth of love that the Father has shown to us. Jesus said to his disciples the night before he died.  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. There is no greater love than this—that a man should lay down his life for his friends” John 15:9, 12-13. This too is to be a hesed kind of love; loyal, dependable, kind, committed, all shown by our actions.

This Valentine’s Day as you celebrate the ones you love; remember to give glory to your Heavenly Father the author of love and your Savior who put His love in action on the cross.

 

 

The Power of Words

Words. Words can bring great joy.
“Will you marry me?” “It’s a boy!”
Or great sorrow. “It’s cancer.” “I’m sorry. He didn’t make it.”
Words have begun wars and ended them. Words can hurt or words can heal. Words make the world go round. Consider these facts. There are over 55 million newspapers delivered in the United States on a daily basis. Over 300 talk radio shows air on a daily basis. No one has accurate number of websites currently on the World Wide Web but it is estimated at 100 million. Facebook and MySpace, social utility sites for connecting individuals, both have over 110 million users. Words are vital to our daily lives and yet we often toss them around carelessly. The Bible has a great deal to say about our words and the use of our tongue. James says in James 1:26, If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.
Jesus himself says that we will give account for every careless word we say. “Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.” Matthew 12:35-36 (The Message)
The Lord has been working on me lately about my words, how I use them, how I say them, and what I say. One of my greatest desires is to be a mature believer, one who glorifies the Lord. James says in his epistle that a mature believer is one who can control his tongue. James goes on in chapter 3 of his epistle to tell us how difficult that it is to control the tongue and the words that proceed from it.
James 3:7-8. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer.
I grew up in a family where sarcasm was our family sport. We teased and poked fun at one another often, but it was always in love. However, when I became an adult and used this tactic with others it sometimes went very wrong. I have had to learn to control my sarcasm and my tongue and it has not been easy. Proverbs 12:18 says, Speaking recklessly is like the thrusts of a sword, but the words of the wise bring healing. I regret to say that I have used my words like a sword to cut and wound others.
Reading the book of James, I wonder if the writer also had this problem. James was the half brother of Jesus. Did he ever use his tongue sarcastically to belittle his older brother? Can you imagine growing up in the shadow of a “perfect” brother? Talk about a family being ripe for sibling rivalry! Yet James writes this about the power of words:
James 3: 3-5. A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
Did James write these words from experience, I wonder? Did he know what it was like to throw out a careless or wrongly placed word? Proverbs says, Death and life are in the power of the tongue. All of us at one time have been the recipients of words which have felt like death to us.
James 3: 9, Sometimes our mouths praise our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!
With the invention of the personal computer, the internet, and email have come another way we abuse one another with our words. How easy it is to fire off an angry email at someone saying things and using words we might never say face to face. We think that email is impersonal and less confrontive when actually it is more harmful. There is no way of knowing the “tone” of an email and so we tend to read our own bias into it. We curse those “made in the image of God” through our words in an email. 
What are we to do, then, to control this tongue? Shall we remain mute to keep from sinning? Jesus said that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. If we wish to change our speech, we must first change our hearts. This is something we cannot do but through the power of the Word of God. We must pour the Word of God into our hearts and let it change us from inside out.

My husband used to love to visit a restaurant called Cahoots. He would go every Thursday and order the Thai Chicken Salad for lunch. When I came home on Thursdays, I knew what he had for lunch because of the “fragrance” of garlic around him. Our lives are to give off the fragrance of Christ. What we put into our lives is what will come out. James tells us that our outward lives should reflect our inward beliefs.

Oh how I desire words of blessing to come from my mouth; words that might bring life to another. The prayer of my heart is found in Psalm 19:14. I hope it is your prayer too. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD,my rock and my Redeemer. Proverbs 17: 27

Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. Proverbs 21:23

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue, keeps himself out of trouble. Proverbs 10:11

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.

“Let my words be sweet for tomorrow I may have to eat them.”


God in the Shadows

This February my husband celebrates his 20th anniversary as senior pastor of First BaptistPicture1 Church. We are delighted that God has allowed us to have such a long and fruitful ministry and we hope to continue to minister here for many more years to come.  It was quite a surprise to us how God orchestrated our move to the Central Coast.

We did not know much about Paso Robles back in 1995 except that it gets hot in the summer and there was no Starbucks Coffee here. A pastor friend of ours had candidated for the position of senior pastor at First Baptist Church but did not receive a call from the congregation. He suggested my husband candidate for the job. God had moved us out of our previous ministry and we were seeking His direction as to what was next.

We submitted my husband’s resume not thinking anything would come of it. We soon received a phone call from one of the deacons and we began the “candidating” process. It would be easy to look at the circumstances that brought us to Paso Robles and think “what wonderful coincidences.”  Our friend just happened to know this church…he just happened to not get the call, and he just happened to tell us about First Baptist.

However there are no coincidences in God’s plan for our lives.  God is constantly at work to bring about his perfect will in our lives and the lives of others. Nowhere can this be seen more acutely than in the story of Esther.

Esther is a young Jewish woman who finds herself in a beauty contest of sorts with other young woman at the King’s palace. The King has banished his queen and is looking for a replacement.  Esther is chosen out of a harem of 400 other young women and she becomes Queen of Persia, the largest and mightiest country in the world at the time.

The book of Esther goes on to describe how Esther, with the help of her older cousin Mordecai ,outwits the king’s right hand man Haman to save the Jewish people living in Persia from genocide. She is helped in this endeavor by a series of coincidences or happenstances.

  • Esther happens to be beautiful.
  •  Esther happens to be favored by the king.
  •  Mordecai happens to overhear a plot against the king’s life.
  • Haman happens to find out that Mordecai is a Jew.
  •  Haman happens to plot his revenge, roll dices to determine the date of the revenge, and it happens to pick a date in a year.
  • The king happens to have insomnia and reads from his chronicles at night.
  • The story the king happens to read is about Mordecai discovering the plot to kill the king.
  •  The king happens to decide to reward Mordecai at the very time that Haman is seeking revenge.

There are many more happenstances in the book of Esther. Even though the name of God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, the author lets us know that God was at work behind the scenes. This is called the providence of God and it is the major theme of the book of Esther. J. Vernon Mcgee said, “Providence means that the hand of God is in the glove of human events. “

In looking back at my own life I see many events that might be called happenstance but were in actuality the providence of God.  When I was in 2nd grade my father’s company transferred him from Southern California to Central California. We put our house on the market and prepared to move. Then suddenly the move was off. My dad did not transfer and we stayed in the same house, living in the same town. I remember being quite annoyed and embarrassed trying to explain to my classmates that fall why I did not move. A year later I attended a Vacation Bible School near my home where I met Jesus. Ten years later I attended a youth group near my home where I met my future husband.  How different life would have been had we moved. John Piper said, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them” .

There are times in the Scriptures that we see God show up in big ways; like the parting of the Red Sea, and raising Lazarus from the dead. But often we see God in the shadows like a drunken king banishing his wife and then choosing a young Jewish girl to be queen of Persia who eventually saves her people.  I think He does this to remind us that he works in our life much the same way. I have had no “parting of the Red Sea” moments. But God has worked his providence in my life in ways too mysterious for me to comprehend.  I pray for clear eyes to see Him in the shadows and a pure heart to sing his praises.

A Community of Grace

Jesus came to give us new life; new families, but to also give us a new way of doing community. As Americans, we have a different way of doing community than most of the world. Our country was founded on principles of individuality, and we as Americans are fiercely independent. We do not like other people telling us what to do and when to do it. Although we all live in a society that has rules and morals which are for the greater good; still we value and pride ourselves in our right to be independent free thinkers, as individuals and as a nation. Independence runs deep in our culture and our blood as Americans.

In some ways though our culture of autonomy runs counter-culture to the Bible. Jesus came to give us life and told us to live in relationship with Him and one another. In the book of Acts we see new believers and the church coming together to care for one another, to teach, learn and grow from one another, and to hold one another accountable to walking in the way of the Lord. Believers are called to live grace-filled lives within their families, their church and their community. We often struggle as believers to know what grace looks like, what is it and what it isn’t.

I like Mark Driscoll’s definition of grace: Grace is God the Father, in love doing good for ill deserving sinners through God the Son by God the Spirit. Grace is God showing His love to us, his enemies. The very nature of grace is that it works in the midst of conflict. As ill-deserving sinners we are in conflict with God. God’s grace then becomes a model for us on how to live in a grace-filled community with our family and others. Just as God in his grace does not overlook our sin, so we cannot and should not overlook our own nor the sins of others. We like to think that our sinful behavior has no effect on anyone but ourselves. But that is a lie that the world has fed us. Sin breaks relationships; first the individual’s relationship with God, and then their relationship with others.

Because we are all sinners saved by grace, we should not shy away from calling sin what it is: sin. It is not an accident, or a mistake. It is sin in the face of a loving God, sin that breaks His heart.

When my children were young they little they loved to play the “run away from mom” game. You know that game. You tell your child to come here and they run the other way. Living on a busy street, I could not afford to let my young children loose for a second. It was my job to make sure at all costs that my kids did not run out into the street and get possibly hit by a car. Living in community with a body of believers, it is our responsibly at times to warn our family not to run out in street; to warn them of the danger and sometimes to go after them.

Tim Keller said in his book The Prodigal God, “Real grace intercepts destructive behavior. Real grace brings you in freely and then holds your feet to the fire until you become somebody great.”

When the people we care about sin like the prodigal son and decide to go their own way, Jesus expects us to do something about it. Galatians 6:1 says “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” The Prodigal son came home after he “came to his senses” and God uses us the lives of others to help bring others “to their senses” and turn from their sin.

And so grace is gentle but it is also interrupts. “Grace is free in that it is not earned (indeed it is the very opposite of what is deserved), but it is costly as it is given with sacrifice because of love. That is the scandal of what God did for me by the cross and it is His calling for me to do to others to bring glory to His name.”

I like what Wendy Alsup wrote in her blog Practical Theology for Women about Grace in conflict from 2 Tim. 2:22-24.

2 Timothy 2:24-26 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

1–Grace understands the truth of someone’s condition—they are ensnared by Satan and DECEIVED. They really don’t see things the way you do.

2–Grace is in it for the long haul—it patiently endures evil.

3–Grace corrects (so the truth is not subverted or glossed over) but it corrects gently (with strength well under God’s control).

4–Grace’s goal is not self-acquittal or vindication or that people would come to see things your way. Grace’s goal is repentance with God that leads to knowledge of the truth.

Grace is meaningless without truth. But truth will kill you without grace. The worst thing we can do in conflict is engage in it when we don’t understand grace for ourselves. But once we really understand God’s undeserved favor to ourselves, then we can minister grace to others who have sinned against us in whatever way we can with the prayer that God would draw them to repentance and the knowledge of the truth.

Just as Jesus came in grace and truth, so we are called to represent grace and truth to our families, and one another, and to be willing to hear it from others. We are sinners saved by grace living in a community of grace with other sinners saved by grace.

“Love doesn’t sweep sin under the carpet, but it keeps others out of the room until it can be cleaned up.”

Two Little Words

Have you ever thought what a difference two little words can make in your life? Martha and Mary were dear friends of Jesus as was their brother, Lazarus. When Lazarus became ill they sent a message to Jesus that the one “whom Jesus loved” was sick. They knew how much Jesus loved their brother and were confident he would come to his aid. However, Jesus did not arrive soon enough and Lazarus died. When Jesus finally arrived at Martha’s home in Bethany, both sisters were despondent. They did not understand why Jesus had not arrived sooner and in their despair they said, “If only you had been here, Jesus, our brother would not have died.”

If Only…If Only. Two little words that can color our world black: two little words that can plunge us into a quicksand of guilt, pulling us deeper and deeper into a pit of despair.
These are the same words that the friends of a blind man used about his disability in John 9. If only he had not sinned, if only his parents had not sinned, he would not have born blind. This blindness was worse than a death sentence for this man. He was and would be forever dependant on others for his basic physical care. Because of his blindness this man could not work, could not marry, and could have a family. He would never be a respected member of society. He would always be dependent on the charity of others for all his basic needs. He would always be an outcast. But the worse than all that, his blindness also prevented him from having access to God! He was considered unclean in the Jewish religion and would never have the opportunity to worship at the temple the same way a physically whole man would. As far as the world was considered, his was a wasted life. His parents would live for years with the guilt that they had done something to cause this to happen to their son. If only….

Do you live under a cloud of “if onlys”? If only you had not made that business deal. If only you had not bought that house. If only that disease had not robbed you of your normal life. If only you had avoided that car accident.

God is a sovereign and good God. He turns our “if onlys’ into “so that’s”. That is what he did for the blind man. When asked who sinned to cause this man’s blindness, Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:3) And then Jesus, the light of world, removed this man’s darkness forever and restored his sight. This man was born blind so that God’s glory could be displayed in his life.

And how about Jesus’ friend Lazarus? When told of his illness, Jesus’ said to the disciples, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus purposely waited until Lazarus had died that he might perform the greatest miracle of all; the raising of a dead man.

Sufferings come to all us. Dwelling on the “if onlys” in our life will cause only discouragement and defeat. When we focus in on the “so thats” of our suffering, God is glorified through our sufferings. He uses us and our lives to display his magnificent glory, and we can persevere through our trials knowing they are not without purpose. Praise God today for the “so that’s”  he has brought into your life, and revel in the knowledge that you are a masterpiece of God’s glory.