The Goal of Selflessness

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Genesis 44:33-34

“So now, please let your servant remain as my lord’s slave instead of the boy. As for the boy, let him go back with his brothers.  For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I couldn’t bear to see my father’s pain.”

Philippians 2:4

“Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.”

2 Corinthians 6:3

“We do not give anyone an occasion for taking an offense in anything, so that no fault may be found with our ministry.”

What a beautiful picture this is of selflessness.  Although Judah had spared his brother’s life before by suggesting they sell Joseph into slavery rather than killing him, Judah had finally seen that his former jealousy hurt others.  He had robbed his father of a son and was now willing to take the place of another brother, rather than see his father suffer anymore.

Jealousy is an ugly thing.  Striving for favor instead of being content with what God has provided is prideful.  Condemning others as if we hold the one correct view is sinful, yet we do this even in the body of Christ.  Why?  Self preservation. Defending self when we have been unfairly judged is understandable, but is it really the highest goal?  I know, I know. More death to self.  Ugh.  I feel it, too.

Don’t worry – dying to self does not mean we do not matter.  Biblically, we are to be concerned about our own lives, as well, but not myopically focused on self alone.  Deference hurts, especially when you have been wronged, but ultimately not one of us is always in the right.  Seeking God’s glory in the matter is paramount and helps to clear up our vision.

As we all want to have people believe the best in us, so must we extend this grace.  The church is a place where people should not be condemned for being imperfect, for we would all be condemned then.  As Christians, we cannot think that we are better than our fellow brother or sister.  No, we are all in the trenches side by side, working out character and sharing the Gospel.  Instead, humility and grace lived out and generously bestowed is demonstrated by loving one another in the face of rejection and hurt.  God help us to do so.

This weary world always has some new drama to unfold; someone who is not happy with you, or someone wanting “our” position.  But when we see everything we have as not ours in the first place, we have no need to defend self or hang onto anything.  Since we are hidden in Christ, He is our Defender and ultimately the harm others do to us is not to us at all.

Lord, help us to seek the best for others and favor them above ourselves.  May we be sensitive about Your Name being glorified by how we live and not as sensitive about ours.  Everything You have given us to do is about You. 

The Progressive Slippery Slope in a Vaccuum

Exodus 24:3

“Moses came and told the people all the LORD’s words and all the decisions.  All the people answered together, ‘We are willing to do all the words that the LORD has said.'”

Exodus 24:9-11

“Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel.  Under his feet there was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear like the sky itself.  But he did not lay a hand on the leaders of the Israelites, so they saw God, and they ate and drank.”

Exodus 32:1

“When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Get up, make us gods that will go before us.  As for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!”

Exodus 32:4

So Aaron “accepted the gold from them, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molten calf.  They they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'”

Forty days.  The number forty is a common duration for a time of testing many times in the bible.  Forty days of rain on the ark, forty years wandering in the desert, Jesus was tempted fourty days in the desert and Moses was on the mountain forty days, two separate times, hearing the commandments of God, to name a few.  Forty days goes by in a flash in our home.  Months come and go, years fly by.  But I guess to the Israelites, it seemed never-ending.  Certainly if one was suffering significantly, time would drag on.  But to God’s people at the bottom of the mountain, one would think there was great anticipation.  One would think that the meal with God that Aaron witnessed, coupled with thundering on top of the mountain would serve as vivid reminders that Almighty God was very near, indeed.

But somehow in that vacuum, in that moment of dearth, not hearing from God, the people of God longed to fill that void with something.  They wanted to worship, but impatiently accepted a counterfeit.  I wonder if there was a plethora of rationalizing going on – how did they ever arrive at it being acceptable to worship a golden calf in such a short amount of time?  Particularly troubling to me is that Aaron suggested the people donate golden objects and made the calf himself.  He had just encountered the living God.  How could he so quickly be deceived?  Was it peer pressure?  The sheep pressing in on him and he feared them more than God at that moment?  And the sheep – they had just stated that they were willing to do all the words that God had said.

This hypocrisy and seemingly blatant rebellion seems odd until I contemplate my own walk.  Evidence of lukewarmedness and blindness to our own faults can be seen if we are willing to let down our guard of self righteousness and self-protection.  I well recall the early days of my salvation, standing and sharing the gospel to a small crowd at the University of Maryland, being persecuted in class for being a Christian.  I recall many moments of victory in the past twenty-six years through various trials, where God grew my faith exponentially.  Candidly, I also recall being tested severely and beginning to lose my way, save the grace of God.  I started strong – though I was crushed, I would run to His word.  But in the lengthiness of the trial, I began to get confused and wondered when God was going to deliver me.  I began to compromise and look for a counterfeit to relieve my pain.  I am no better than the Israelites.  My trial was seven years of hardship, pressed on every side, not forty days, but I emphathize with the Israelites.  They wanted to follow God, but quickly chose an alternative god to appease their spiritual paucity.  In their moment of being deceived, they could not see clearly and needed a leader to guide them.  Their leader failed.

Humbling to us leaders, it is terrifying to think that we bear the responsibility of leading someone astray.  Shockingly, Aaron lied when confronted with his waywardness.  Somehow a golden calf popped out of the fire.  Wow, really?  As hard as it is to admit that we, too, have gone off the path, it is far better to confess and renounce our shortcomings and move forward in the new humility gained from our failure.  The former pride at imperceived righteousness that was our own, has been replaced with the knowledge of our own failure, which reminds us that it has never been our own righteousness, after all.

If you are a leader or a believer who has fallen short, you stand in a great cloud of witnesses who have also gone before us and failed.  David, too, a man after God’s own heart, murdered and committed adultery, yet later he would cry out to God in Psalm 51, for God to “restore unto me the joy of my salvation and renew a right spirit within me”.  It is easy to get lost in the vacuum or in severe trials and forget our mission and purpose in Christ.  But those mistakes, those blemishes we wish could be removed from our record are actually a means of grace to humble us and can make us more useful for the kingdom of God.  Thank God for second chances and His grace.

Maybe you have not yet endured a severe time of testing.  If not, count yourself blessed, but be ready.  Times of dryness, of not hearing from God can be around the next corner – will you cave in to comfort around you, or wait as long as it takes until you encounter the living God?  We might not have a warning sign cautioning us that the potential to slip is ahead, but we do have the Holy Spirit guiding us, if we listen.

Lord, I want to be near to You always.  I never want to drift away and walk in a manner that displeases you.  Please grant us grace to be aware of spiritual dangers that lie ahead and to walk humbly before you.  Help us to remember all You have done and to not forget when the heat is turned up or You seem far away.

A Test for the Heart

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Proverbs 17:3“The crucible is for refining silver and the furnace is for gold, likewise the LORD tests the hearts.”

Jeremiah 17:10 – “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”

1 Chronicles 29:17a – “I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.

Deuteronomy 8:2 – “And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”

Test day – usually a day of apprehension, even if you have prepared thoroughly.  Will your preparation be enough?  What if you do not pass?  What is the purpose of testing?  As a homeschool mom, it has been an amazing adventure to watch my children grow from exposure to various curricula to mastery of many subjects.  Sometimes it seems futile – “why learn all of these facts we will never use in real life?” is the repeated cry within our walls, but the application of many subjects becomes evident in time.  But testing the heart cannot be done by hooking up to a heart monitor, no, the Word of God and trials are able to shed light on the true condition of our hearts.

Sometimes a student can fantasize about supposed sinister motives of professors, seeking to entrap students and trip them up, but I love contemplating the LORD’s motives for testing us – He wants to reward us.  He is not seeking to expose our evil for exposition’s sake – He wants to rid of us our evil and then encourage us in the things that are pleasing in His sight.  What a good God!  He wants to remove the burden of sin and set us free.  Testing us reveals the inner motives that need to be purged and removes the dross from our lives.

While God allows in testing, He does not tempt anyone, nor is He tempted with evil, but when we triumph over those evil things that are permitted into our lives, He is pleased and truly glorified.  We and others see that our faith is genuine – deeply rooted in a vibrant relationship with our living God.  Rather than despising the testing, submitting to God and seeking His purpose within and responding in humility and surrender can cause the testing to be fruitful.  Resenting the testing will likely bring more tests your way and not be fun. 

So what should be our response?  Delight hardly seems plausible or genuine, but perhaps our view of delight is skewed.  I remember making a deal with the LORD when I was a new Christian.  I would serve Him if I never had a miscarriage and never had any children with severe allergies.  Laugh out loud.  Embarrassing to admit, but true.  When I lost my second child due to a miscarriage, God warned me ahead of time and the trust and peace I had in Him when it happened amazed me.  “In His faithfulness, He afflicts those He loves.”  Of course I was sad and did not want to suffer such a loss, but I never felt more loved by my God.  Make sense to the world?  Probably not, but I had learned in that trial to trust God’s hand and purposes even in suffering. I would later find that my firstborn was afflicted with Celiac Disease – far worse than allergies.  What a merciful God to reveal the disease, that we might help heal her.  Perspective.

If everything was easy and we never sought to challenge ourselves, how would we grow?  And character growth is a beautiful sight to behold, indeed.  Testing produces good fruit for those engage in the process.  Pop quizzes are not fun at all – they seem unfair in that one did not have sufficient time to prepare.  Likewise, perhaps the next trial to come will take you by surprise, but it doesn’t surprise God – He already knows it completely and knows the end.  Let the peace of Christ fall on us in that promise.  Preparation for whatever the future holds is now.  Seize the day and invest your life in God.  The word you memorize today might be the grace you need tomorrow. 

Lord, help us to recognize our need for growth and to yield to You in the process of trials that come our way.  Thank You that Your purposes are always good in them and that we will come out of the trial refined like silver for Your glory!

What Troubles Breed

What Troubles Breed
By: Denise Pass © 7/2/14

Psalm 66:10-14, 16-20
:10 “For You, O God, tested us; you purified us like silver. 11 You led us into a trap; you caused us to suffer. 12 You allowed men to ride over our heads; we passed through fire and water, but you brought us out into a wide open space. 13 I will enter your temple with burnt sacrifices; I will fulfill the vows I made to you, 14 which my lips uttered and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble. 16 Come! Listen, all you who are loyal to God! I will declare what he has done for me. 17 I cried out to him for help and praised him with my tongue. 18 If I had harbored sin in my heart, the LORD would not have listened. However, God heard, he listened to my prayer. God deserves praise, for He did not reject my prayer or abandon his love for me!”

I love the Psalms and love the fact that the Psalmists often wrote songs about their trials and relationship with God. I wrote a song based on this verse back in 1990 – just a worship song between the Lord and me. At the time I thought I knew what hard times were. That is not to say that I had not suffered through various difficulties, but compared to another significant trial that would come, let’s just say that I now understand testing and refining in a whole new way. Nonetheless, God used the song in my life then and it is precious to me now when I reflect on what God has done through hardship in my life and the lives of countless others.

Troubles have the potential to precipitate accusations against God and to initiate questioning of His character. Notice I say potential. Why would He allow evil into our lives? This verse is pretty blunt about God allowing it in. But later we see God heard and answered the prayer of the afflicted one. I chuckle when I see in verse 13 the Psalmist referring to a vow that he made when he was pressed hard. Ever made a promise to God? Best fulfill it. The Psalmist turned the occasion for complaining into an occasion of praise and crying out to His God. Struggles turned to praise.

Our flesh can be quick to get angry with God when hardships are let in. Such a response can come from a prideful stance in which we do not think we deserve hardship. What do we think we deserve? Certainly not the grace and forgiveness God has so freely given. Adversity can stir up ire without understanding, but thankfulness can quell that fire.

Our viewpoint of hardship could also possibly be in error. We consider discomfort and pain as evil, and assuredly they are not fun, but the fruit that can be produced from them is a beautiful sight to behold. Seeing calamity as having a greater purpose than the temporal suffering ignites hope in the future good that our Sovereign God is going to produce from something insidious.

The harvest of what God can breed from troubles can be bountiful, multiple and varied. Looking past the momentary pain and gazing into His Word and promises brings relief. Hang on, dear friend, God has plans for you and hears your cry.

Lord, help us to not allow disillusionment, bitterness or hopelessness to creep in when things are less than ideal. Produce a life of righteousness in us as we yield to Your will and plan in all aspects of life, good and bad.