I’m Good Enough – I’m Not Good Enough

My husband and I are reading the book of Isaiah this month.  Chapter six is one we are very familiar with.  Anyone who grew up in church has no doubt heard the story of Isaiah’s vision of God.

It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.They were calling out to each other,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!
    The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke…..Isaiah 6:1-4

 

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Isaiah’s response is one I think most of us would have if we saw such a sight!

His immediate reaction was one of total sense of unworthiness.

Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”….Isaiah 6:5

Interesting to me that he saw his sin as being connected to his lips and the lips of the people he lived with.  Why his lips?

There are probably many different takes on that, but here it is mine.

Words matter.  With words we can hurt, damage people’s reputations, discourage others, create division and hatred.  The Bible has much to say about our tongues.

James wrote that:

the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison….James

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless….James 1:26

Jesus told us:

It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person….Matthew 15:11

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks….Matthew 12:34

Isaiah’s response is one we all should have when we recognize our need of forgiveness.  Sadly, many people never reach this conclusion.  They think they are “good enough.”  But if our standard for goodness is based on who God is, we cannot measure up.  Do not misunderstand me.  I am not saying that people who do not believe in God are not good.  I actually know some who are atheists that show more “goodness” than many of my fellow Christians.

But the standard is not how good we are compared to others.  It is how good we are compared to God.  Based on that gold standard, we are not good enough.

An illustration of this thought:

A group of people are going to see a movie.  The price of entrance is $5.00 When they get there, many are very short of the price having only a dollar or two, or maybe just fifty cents.  Clearly they will not get in.  Along comes someone who is sure they will get in because they have $4.99.  But the price is $5.00.  Although they are much closer to having the price of the ticket, they are still short and will not get in.

But wait!  God did not leave Isaiah bemoaning his unworthiness.

He had a solution.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with it and said, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.”….Isaiah 6:6-7

Thank God for Jesus.  There is a solution.

So now we come to the second group of people’s response to the goodness of God.  Unlike Isaiah they never move beyond that initial sense of unworthiness.  Although many claim they know they are “not good enough” and question how God can love them, they are just like the first group – relying on their own goodness.

In this case they feel their own goodness is not enough, but they still are relying on it.  Because they continue to say they are “not good enough” they are judging themselves by their own goodness – or lack there of.

They have refused to accept the gift that God has given us though Jesus Christ.  We are not “good enough.”  That is the whole point of Christianity.  Because we are not “good enough” Jesus came and He gives us His goodness.

To continue to insist how unworthy we are, we are denying the whole message of the cross.  We are still relying on our goodness, or in this case, our lack of goodness.  We are rejecting the very Word of God that tells us through Him we are made worthy.

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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him….John 3:16,17\

To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name….Acts 10:43

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness….1 John 1:9

Going back to my illustration of the movie tickets:

The group are all standing there realizing they do not have enough to get in.  Along comes someone who offers to give them what they lack.  Those with only a dollar or two will probably jump at the chance to get some help.  But the person with $4.99 may very well think if they just look though their pockets again, or search in the car they will be able to find that penny they are lacking.  Sadly, some who are lacking the full price will probably refuse the stranger’s offer of help because they do not think they should taking something for which they have given nothing.

Only when we recognize our need of a savior and also realize how much He loves us – not because we somehow deserve His love, but because He just loves us, can we have the response Isaiah had.

After his lips were cleansed, he answered the call of God.

Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?”

I said, “Here I am. Send me.”….Isaiah 6:8

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does God Really Demand Obedience?

Most of us grew up seeing the Ten Commandments posted on walls of our schools, courthouses and churches.  Many have claimed these principles are the basis for our Judeo-Christian society.

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My husband and I started 2019 by reading through the Bible – starting with Genesis.  The story was interesting at first as we read about creation, the flood and the beginning of the Israelite nation with patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Then we got to the end of Exodus and the beginning of Leviticus.  Here, Moses was given detailed instructions on how the tabernacle should be built and how the priests should conduct offerings used in worship of God.  There are rules about what to eat and what not to eat, a lot of rules regarding sexual relations and how to deal with skin diseases.

To be honest, this is difficult and somewhat boring reading.  But one thing I noticed throughout that portion of Scripture that over and over it was said that Moses did “just what the Lord had commanded.”

Throughout the Old Testament we read the story of how the Israelites did like we still seem to do today – sometimes obeying God – sometimes not.  The Old Testament ends with the nation of Israel exiled because of their failure to obey God’s commands.

Then we enter the New Testament.  We see Jesus who came to pay the price of our disobedience.  We live in what we call the period of grace.  What a blessing to not have to live in fear of breaking a command of God, of knowing that we are saved not by what we do, but by faith and acceptance of what Jesus did for us on the cross.

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So, does that mean we are no longer required to obey?  The loving picture of Jesus in the New Testament is certainly much more appealing than the demands of obedience in the Old Testament.

But a closer look at the words of Jesus shows He also demanded obedience if we would claim to be following Him.

“If you love me, keep my commandments.”

“The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.”

Jesus summed up the commandments when He told his questioners:

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

This all sounds pretty simple.  Really not too demanding.  Much easier than living under the Law.

Right?

I don’t think so.  I think the requirements of Jesus are much more demanding – and something we cannot do without His help.

Think about it:

  • The Law said not to murder.
  • Jesus said if you are angry and curse someone you are in danger of hell.  He said to not bring any sacrifice to Him until you made it right with the one you were angry with.

 

  • The Law said not to commit adultery.
  • Jesus said a person must not look at another with lust in their heart.

 

  • The Law said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
  • Jesus said to love your enemy and to even pray for them.

 

  • The Law was concerned with our outward appearance.
  • Jesus is concerned with our heart.

 

My heart grieves today as it seems many Christians feel they no longer have to obey the words of Jesus when it comes to loving and praying for their enemies.

But I note that He said He would love us and make Himself plain to us (in other words have a relationship with Him) IF we obey His commandments.

Without love for others, I fear we will, like the Israelites, find ourselves without God’s protection.

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Lord God, thank you for loving us.  Help us to remember that as we experience your love and mercy we just give that love and mercy to others.  Even to those who disagree with us.  Even to those who hurt us.  Help us to love as you love and remember that you not only love us, but you love our enemies.

Abram! Are You Serious?

Growing up in church many times I heard the story of Abraham as told in Genesis.  This man who is referred to as “the friend of God” is also held up as a great example of faith.

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Regarded by the Jewish people as their forefather through his son Isaac, he is also revered by the Arab nations who count him as their forefather through his son Ishmael.

Any who has heard the story of Abraham knows that his name was first Abram which means “exalted father.”   When he was 99 years old God appeared to him and repeated the promise He had made years before telling Abram

As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.

As a child I did not think too much of Abram making this name change.  I know he is pointed out as a man of faith because he obeyed God and left his home and country to go to a new place that God would show him.  Also his willingness to obey God and sacrifice his son, Isaac, trusting God to restore him to life is another example used by those who point him as our example of faith.

But as I read this week of this change of name I think this might have been the greatest example of his faith.

Think about it.

You are a rich man with lots of cattle and servants.  Many people look to you as their employer, their master, the one who supplies their daily needs.  You are now 99 years and your wife is also very old – clearly past the time to bear children.

You suddenly proclaim that from now on they are not to call you by your name Abram  but rather to call you by a new name Abraham which means “father of a multitude.”

I can almost imagine the comments made by the servants that night in their tents.

Father of a multitude?  Right!  He has not been able to have any children with his wife all these years – and now at 99 he’s going to have a multitude of children!  What does he plan to do – take a dozen wives?  

Yeah – even if he takes a dozen wives – a man his age – is he really capable of fathering a multitude?  Maybe he is losing his mind – old people do get crazy sometimes.

Yet Abraham believed God and made that change.

And how did that turn out?

  • Today there are about 14.5 million Jews in the world.
  • Statistics I could find show there are between 407 – 402 Arabs in the world.
  • There are 22 Arabs states in the world and Israel – what an amazing story there – is once again a nation after being destroyed by Rome in AD 70.
  • Abraham is also revered as the forefather of the Arab nations and Islam, as he was also the father of Ishmael, his son through Hagar, Sara’s Egyptian princess handmaiden. The Koran reports that Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the Kaaba, the cube-shaped black stone structure in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which is Islam’s holiest shrine. During the annual Haj pilgrimage, Moslems from all over the world circle the Kaaba, reinforcing the central role of Abraham and Ishmael in Islamic faith.
  • On Rosh Hashanah, the Jews recalled the story of Isaac’s near-sacrifice, which Jewish tradition states occurred on the first of Tishri and honor Abraham’s faith and obedience to God.
  • In Christians circles he is the acknowledged father of monotheism, progenitor of Western religion.  So many little children have sung that song

Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abrham.  And I am one of them and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord.

Thinking of the faith Abraham had to declare he was to be called, at age 99, “Father of a miultitude” makes me wonder how many times God speaks to us about something in our lives and we are afraid to share it.  Afraid others will think we are crazy, or maybe even being prideful.

I remember when God called my husband and I to sell our home and possessions and go to the Philippines to teach.  I thought my co-workers might think I was crazy but I was amazed at the response of my fellow Christians.

Some thought we were fools to sell everything and step out by faith.  Others thought we were boasting when we said God had called us to this.  Then, there were those who wondered how we could do that to our family.  Leave them alone and journey to the other side of the world.

Has God ever called you to a task that you were afraid to share?

Has God ever asked you to do something that others would consider foolish?

Always trust God and like Abraham declare that which seems foolish and impossible.

How to Obtain Success With God

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Reading the book of Ezra recently I was struck by the expression found several times in the story of Ezra’s return from captivity to the city of Jerusalem.  Writing about his success in obtaining help from the Persia king to return to his hometown and help rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians years before, over and over he used this phrase to describe that success:

“the gracious hand of the LORD was on him.”

Wondering why the LORD was so gracious to Ezra, I found the answer in chapter seven where the writer of the book declares:

“This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the LORD and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.”

Many televisions evangelists today tell us if we just have enough faith, God will give us great success.  But I think Ezra had the right idea.  It is not in “my” faith that I manipulate God to give what I want.  His blessings come with the three things Ezra practiced.

Study the Word of God

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Reading the Bible on a consistent basis is a great thing to help a Christian in their daily walk with God.  During those devotional times as we meditate on a portion of Scripture we can gain encouragement and strength to meet whatever the day may bring.

However, if we only read the Bible, we miss the chance to really grow in our knowledge and complete understanding of God’s Word.  Note that in his letter to Timothy Paul said to study not read.  We sometimes resist during that because to really study God’s Word requires time and effort.  But it is in really digging deeper into God’s Word that we not only grow, but we will be protected against the false teaching that is so prevalent today.

Obey the Word of God

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It is not enough to study or to hear the Word of God.  The blessing comes when we obey it.  Many times I think we are guilty of just ignoring those scriptures that require something of us we don’t want to give.  My pastor husband used to say:

“Pick and choose, and you will lose.”

Teach the Word of God

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Here’s where I lose some of you.  You think, “I can’t teach God’s Word.  That is for people who have degrees in Biblical Studies or are ordained ministers in their church.”  Granted, many of us are qualified to lead in-depth Bible studies, but we all can share with others what we have learned from our own study.

Whether you realize it or not, you are teaching others.  Your children, your coworkers, your neighbors are often taught about God by the way you live.  As the verse in Colossians indicates, if we let the word of God dwell in us (by studying it and applying it) we will be teaching others.

Study…obey…teach.

This was also the instruction given by God Himself to Joshua when he was appointed to lead the Israelites after the death of Moses.

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. 

Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.”

 

 

The Day I was Mad at God

I remember the moment I held my daughter in my arms.  It was overwhelming to realize I was a mother, personally responsible for this tiny baby.  Looking at her, I whispered that we were going to be the best of friends.  I shared with her my hopes and dreams of the hours we would spend reading, playing in the park and listening to music.  Four years later I once again held another daughter in my arms.  How happy I was – two beautiful daughters!

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My girls were my world.  As a mother, there was nothing I would not do to make them happy.  As time passed, my oldest daughter and her husband gave me the joy of being a grandmother.  Robert was born and his first year was filled with precious memories watching him beginning to walk and say his first words.  One year later a beautiful granddaughter was born.  As I walked into the room where my daughter lay holding this new grandchild, my heart skipped a beat when she held the baby out to me and said, “Mother, meet Barbara Rose!”  She was named Barbara after me!

In the midst of this joy, my heart was torn.  In just a few short weeks I would have the honor of dedicating this little child to God.  However, a few days after the dedication I would get on an airplane with my husband and youngest daughter and fly to the other side of the world to serve as a missionary in the Philippines.

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Several months before Rebekah had become pregnant with Barbara, God had opened a door for my husband and me to work in the Philippines for a couple of years teaching in a Bible College.  At the time I felt everything would be okay because by the time we left Robert would be over a year old and Rebekah and Rob would do fine as new parents with this little boy.  While I would miss Robert, I would have had that first year to share and treasure while we were gone.  But now my daughter, who had married very young, had not one, but two children less than twelve months apart.  She and her husband were both college students.

As I looked at them struggling to keep up with their home, their studies and two little babies, I wondered how can this young couple make it.  Holding Barbara Rose on dedication day, my heart ached as I realized I would not be there to see her sit up, take her first steps, and say her first words.  When I came back, she and her brother would not know who I was.

Yet, I knew God had called us to go.  I thought of the verse in the Bible that speaks of loving God so that in comparison it may seem we hate our family.

Rebekah and Rob went with us in the airport as far as they could go before security barred their way.  The last look I had was the two of them standing there, each with a baby in their arms, and the saddest, forlorn look on their faces.  I felt my heart would break.  I was deserting them when they really needed me.

We settled in the Philippines and while my heart still ached, I became busy in the work and prayed the time would pass fast for them.  A couple of months later, we had a call from my daughter.  Our little granddaughter was having digestive issues and it looked as if she might have to have surgery.  How I longed to go home, but we had just arrived and our budget did not really include money to make a trip home.  Rebekah assured me they would be fine and did not need us, but I could hear in her voice the longing for her mother.

Hanging up the phone, I went into my bedroom, laid on the bed and told God how mad I was at Him.  I said, “I sold everything I had, gave up my time with my grandchildren to obey You.  The least you could do is take care of them.  I feel as if I am turning my back on my daughter.”

God did not strike me with lightning for speaking that way.  That’s the beauty of a relationship with God.  He knows our hearts, He understands our pain and He loves us.  I have never understood those who feel we cannot be totally honest with God – as if He does not already know our very thoughts.  He understood the love of a mother for her children.  He loved me in spite of my hurt and anger.

But quietly I felt that “still small voice” of God speaking to me.  He said, “I turned my back on my Son for you.”

For the first time in my life I got a little idea of how much God really loved me when He sent His Son to die on that cross.  John 3:16 took on new meaning for me.

And the end of the story – Robert and Barbara quickly developed a love for Grandma and our relationship is very close.  God also has given me many more grandchildren and I believe the example we set putting God first in our lives has had a tremendous influence on my children.  Putting God first is sometime hard, but always in the end, brings great blessings.

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall!

Remember the fairy tale where the wicked stepmother would ask:

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Last Sunday in church the speaker taught from the book of James where James wrote:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

As I reflected on these words from James, I thought how often I look in the mirror.  In the morning I look to see that my hair is in place.  I use the mirror to help me as I put on face lotion and makeup.  Depending on what my day brings, I may go back to the mirror to adjust my hair, put on lipstick or, if my husband and I are going on a date, to put on some earrings or other jewelry.

When I view myself in the mirror, if I see some hair sticking out-of-place, I get a comb and correct it.  Or, when putting on makeup if I notice that I have put on too much eye shadow I get a tissue and make corrections.  Fixing a scarf or a piece of jewelry I will use the mirror to make sure I get it just right.

In other words, I use the mirror to make sure I look my best before I venture out in the world – and make any corrections I feel are needed so that I do look my best.  (Of course the older I get, I less I really like to look in the mirror.  Seeing my reflection, I sometimes wonder :

 

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James, I believe is telling us that God’s Word should work like a mirror for us in our spiritual life.  As we read God’s Word if we see areas in our life that need a spiritual adjustment, we should make that correction.  Just as we would not look in the mirror, see our hair was a mess and walk away without fixing it, so we need to let God’s Word show us those areas where we need to draw closer to Him.

I think our question should not be:

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

Rather, it should be:

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Say Yes or Say No –

A few years ago my husband and I took our granddaughter to a park by the Mississippi River near our house to feed the ducks.  Although she was only four years old she quickly realized we were only a few blocks from the John Deere Pavilion.  She loves this place with all the many tractors and farm implements

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After feeding the ducks, we headed back to the parking lot and she asked me if we would take her to see the tractors.  I told her to ask her Papa.

When she asked him, he replied he needed to think about it for a minute.  After only 30-45 seconds, she looked up at him and said,

“Say yes or yes no.”

After pausing to laugh he told her we would go see the tractors.  After all, does Papa ever say no to this little girl?

Reflecting back on this day, I thought how quickly she wanted an answer.  Whether it would be the answer she wanted or not, she wanted an answer.  She would not be content with Papa not making a decision.  The opportunity to go to the Pavilion was there – but Papa needed to give an answer, not keep her in suspense wondering if she would get her request.

My thought then turned to times when God has asked me to make a commitment to something.  To follow Him down a road that I do not really want to go.

To love someone I feel has really hurt me.

To give up my own time to minister to someone.

To sacrifice my own finances to help someone less fortunate than me.

To simply obey and do what His word directs me to do.

How many times do I waver between doing what He is asking of me and what I want to do?

I wonder how many times He is patiently saying

Say yes or say no!

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Jesus told us:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

Yet how often do I say “yes” to God but then not follow through in obedience when it conflicts with my own desires or wishes. God’s Word reminds me that I must:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

I cannot say yes with my mouth but no with my actions.  It’s either yes or no.

That old saying is true:

If you straddle the fence at some point you will come to a fence post and have to get off on one side or the other.

Say yes to God and no to sin!