Thursday, May 14, 2009

An object lesson...

Monday afternoon, we picked up a white kitten whose mother had been hit by a car. Then, my husband got home early enough that we all went outside to work in the garden. I got my keys to open the back garage, then stuck them in my pocket while we planted rows of corn, burned a pile of branches, and did other work in the yard. In the midst of it all, our new kitten got stuck under the porch...not stuck physically, but she was fifteen feet from any of the edges and too terrified to come out. I spent well over an hour after dark, with a flashlight and bits of tuna on the end of a pipe cleaner, sticking them down through crack after crack, trying to lead her out, only to realize that the direction I'd chosen was blocked. I think it was nearly 11:00 when I finally got her out.

I spent another half hour cleaning her up a little and trying to calm her down and teach her to trust me, before I finally went to bed.

Tuesday morning, not long after I got up, I happened past my purse and noticed that my keys weren't there. I immediately remembered putting them in my pants pocket and went to get them out.

They weren't there.

I began running my mind over the evening before, trying to think of something else I may have done with them, while the devil started throwing thoughts of panic at me. What if they fell out of your pocket while you were leaning over the porch and a rat or something dragged them under there? You know that happens...how else did that Wendy's cup and that paint roller get under there, where they couldn't possibly blow on their own? Or what if they fell into the grass outside in the yard like they did two years ago? God might not show you where they are this time, and then you'll have to spend $100 for new ones again.

As you can see, this isn't the first time I've lost my keys. The first time, we never found them, and we did have to fork over that $100 for a new set. (Unfortunately, GM thinks it's a good idea to put computer chips in keys, thereby making them ridiculously expensive to replace.) The second time, they were gone for two weeks before God pointed them out to my husband, just when he was about to run over them with the lawnmower.

I studiously avoided thinking about whether God's patience and mercy with keys might have a limit. Instead, I focused on what I did know. One, the panic was definitely from the devil, so I could tell those thoughts to get lost. I took care of that. Two, God knew where those keys were. Lord, I prayed, Where are my keys? Will you tell me? I can't remember doing anything with them after shoving them deeper into my pocket. Did I do something else with them, that I just forgot? Or did they fall out somewhere? Will You show me where they are?

I paused again to think, and that's when I heard Him. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. That means: Seek Me first, and then this thing will be given to you.

I took a deep breath. Okay, Lord. I'll spend time with You and spend time in my Bible. I will not worry about this. It is in Your hands.

So I ate breakfast, only occasionally having to give the devil's thoughts a reminder smack out of my head. I got my kids started on their schoolwork, and I dug into Romans. I can't say I found anything remarkably eye-opening, but there were plenty of reminders of amazing things God's shown me in the past.

I finished and closed my Bible. Well, Father? Where are my keys?

I heard nothing. So I looked around me and saw two baskets of laundry waiting to be folded. I set to work folding clothes, praying in tongues all the while.

I worked my way through the first basket, and was halfway through the second when I heard Him, unmistakably.

You were wearing your jacket. Look in the right pocket.

I jumped up, ran to my jacket, and sure enough, the keys were there.

.~*~. , . ~*~. , . ~*~., . ~*~., . ~*~.

Perhaps I would have remembered my jacket and looked there on my own. Of course, I would have worn it again and discovered it. Eventually. But neither of those would have been wrapped in peace, and neither would have taught me and encouraged me the way that God did when I placed the situation in His hands, and went about solving it His way.

There are those who say that they don't need God. There are others who would say that since I could have solved this problem on my own, I shouldn't have bothered God with it.

But to me, this story is proof that God doesn't agree with those people. He wants us to come to Him for every little thing. He craves our attention. He must come first in our lives, but when we put Him first, He delights in lavishing gifts upon us...gifts like peace and joy...gifts like telling us where our keys are, thereby saving us the grief and stress of days of searching...gifts that lift the stress from our shoulders and set us free to praise Him even more.

Living for God requires sacrifice, but it does not consist entirely of sacrifice. For the more we give Him, the more He gives us in return.

And our gift is always eclipsed by His.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

He who judges is...

I've grown up accustomed to the idea that God is the great Judge, and Jesus is the mediator, making His plea on our behalf. I've heard many people refer to God as an angry old man...or as wrathful and judgmental...or as harder to relate to, worship, and love, because, after all, He's going to judge us. Me... I haven't struggled with that, because I've always seen God as a loving and merciful Judge--one who can't help being 100% righteous and just, but also who made the way for me to avoid the condemnation I so richly deserved.

However, lately I've been noticing something interesting which challenges certain portions of this whole conception.

It started when I was reading John earlier this year, when I reached chapter five. Look at this:
For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.
That is John 5:22, and it challenges that whole idea that God the Father is going to judge us.

Then there's verse 27:
He [the Father] gave Him [the Son] authority to execute judgment.
And John 9:38:
And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world."

John isn't the only one of Jesus' disciples who said that Jesus claimed this. In Acts 10:42 Peter is preaching his first message to the Gentiles, and he says:
He [Jesus] ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.
Then Paul repeats it to Timothy:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead...

When Jesus comes back again, Revelation 19 says it will look like this:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.
Revelations 20 goes on to describe the judgment at the throne, and it simply identifies the Judge as "He who sits on the throne." But in Matthew 25, Jesus says who the throne of judgment belongs to:
But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats...
Furthermore, Jesus said:
For judgment I came into this world.

So Jesus is the judge!

What, then, of all the verses that speak of God judging? And what about John 3:17 and John 12:47, both of which say that Jesus did not come to judge, but to save?

The answer is quite simple. Jesus is the Judge, but He has chosen not to exercise His authority against us! Read John 3:18-19:
He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light.
This is why, when a voice came out of Heaven and spoke to Jesus in the presence of a crowd of people in John 12:38-41, Jesus said:
This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. Now judgment is upon this world.

There are many more verses that talk about the judgment. But as I went through and read them all, this is the overall picture I saw.

God the Father held the power of judgment, simply because He is God. But when man sinned, He didn't like what He knew His judgment would have to be. He was the Judge all the way through the Old Testament. But in the New Testament, He did two things: He sent Jesus to pay the price for our sin, and He delegated the task of judging to Jesus. But He gave Jesus a simple instruction. He was to judge based solely upon one condition. And Jesus makes it really easy for us by telling us what that condition is:
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
In John 5:30, Jesus said:
I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
And what was the will of the Father in sending Jesus?
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

If you are one of those who has had an unhealthy fear of God, feeling that He will judge you for everything you've done wrong and for the sin that you can't overcome, I'd like you to know something. Neither God nor Jesus will be arbitrarily and angrily passing judgment. The judging criteria has already been set, and Jesus is the one who will determine if you meet it. He will open His Book of Life to see if your name has been put there as being one who has believed in Him and who loves the Light, rather than the darkness. And if it is, then you are one who "has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. "

If this is something you've struggled with, listen to this song again, keeping all of this in mind.

Not Guilty

I stand accused. There’s a list a mile long
Of all my sins--of everything that I’ve done wrong
I’m so ashamed.. There’s nowhere left for me to hide
This is the day--I must answer for my life

My fate is in the Judge’s hands
But then He turns to me and says:

I know you
I love you
I gave my life to save you
Love paid the price for mercy
My verdict:
Not guilty!

Photo credit: s_falkow
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