Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Responding to the Word

Some people aren't interested in the word of the Lord. They choose their own path. It seems right to them, but leads to death.

Some people are interested in the word of the Lord, but only as an intellectual enterprise or as a curiosity. They study the light, but cling to their darkness.

Some people go to the word of the Lord for inspiration. They use it in their lives, but on their terms. They don't really know the Lord.

A few people go to the word of the Lord to let the Lord speak whatever he wants. They come to the word with open and obedient hearts, and find the path to life.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Thoughts on Ephesians 2

Read the text of Ephesians 2 here.

Dead and stinking, full of filth;
By our nature, bound for wrath,
Not deserving any good,
Living in our lurid lusts
While pretending purity--
That is what we were by birth:
In ourselves, hell-bound and dead.

But the Lord our God, by grace,
Raised us up and washed us clean
Through the death and life of Christ:

Dead to sin, alive to God,
With the Holy Spirit's life
Pulsing, flowing, blowing fresh,
Living deep within our selves.

None of this is from ourselves.
All of it comes from God's grace.
Glory to him! Bless his name!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Boy Jesus

Did Jesus play, like other boys,
With blocks and balls and strings?
And did he make some simple toys
From rocks and twigs and things?

Or was he stern from dawn to dark
With firmest boyish will,
With not a smile and not a spark
Of joy, just jobs to fill?

I think he played and ran for joy
And laughed with all his might
And learned and grew like any boy...
Except He was the light.

--Jim Swindle, 2007

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
--John 8:12, ESV

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
--Luke 2:52, ESV
From Blog

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Created for Good Works

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, that we should walk in them. --Ephesians 2:10

We're not saved BY our good works, but we're saved FOR good works. The Lord has prepared the way for certain good works for each of us. There's a joy in obeying him, in doing what he puts before us, and then in seeing the good fruit.

Decades ago God used several people to push me into a situation where I taught nine simple lessons to two groups of four people each over a summer. The first group wasn't really very interested. The second group was. When the summer ended, I left, never to return. During the following year, the Lord used the second group to plant a new church in a nearby town. They did it with the help and blessing of their old church. They said they could not have planted the church without the training I gave them. I could not have given the training without people pushing me toward doing it.

Even when the summer ended, I had never considered the possibility that a church was needed where they planted it. I've never even visited that town. Yet the Lord had a plan.

Because the Lord pushed people to push me, and because I obeyed the Lord, and because those I trained obeyed the Lord, and because a whole bunch of other people obeyed the Lord, there's a new church in that town.

What good works do you suppose the Lord has planned for you today? Be sure to walk in them.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Old Man / New Man

When you look at me,
What, now, do you see?
Do you see my sin,
Filthy out and in?
Or do you see grace--
Glow of Jesus' face?
He who knew no sin
Lives inside my skin.
How? I cannot say,
But he's here to stay.
Sometimes I'm still mean,
Dirty and unclean.
In my flesh I'm weak.
Selfish? Sure. I reek.
But in him I'm fresh,
Not like stinking flesh.
Daily, he in me
Lives in victory.
So, I grow in grace,
Longing for his face.

When you look at me,
What, now, do you see?
This is my heart's prayer:
That you'll see him there.

--© 2007, Jim Swindle
Non-profit reproduction of up to 100 copies along with this notice IS permitted.

Written while listening to Larry Lartigue teach about holiness.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
--2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Theology vs. the Bible

Systematizing what we believe is a good thing, but we must always trust the Bible more than we trust our system of understanding it. The Lord's much more intelligent than we are, so we should avoid imposing our own grids, our own systems, our own theologies on the Bible.

One sign that we've gone too far is when we come to a clear Bible verse and say, "I'm not sure what it means, but I'm sure it DOESN'T mean..." and then paraphase what the verse says.

In other words, when we reject the plain statement of the Bible because it doesn't fit what we think other parts of the Bible says, we're on dangerous ground.

I recall the head of an evangelical denomination doing that. We'll call them the XYZ Church. The XYZ statement of faith said water baptism is an ordinance to be observed, but is "not to be regarded as a means of salvation." As a student who'd grown up in a church that linked salvation and water baptism a bit more closely than that, I asked him what would be an XYZ Church interpretation of 1 Peter 3:21, which says, "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ...." He said, "You can interpret it any way you want, so long as you don't interpret it to mean that water baptism is a means of salvation." Then he smiled, seemingly at the cleverness of his reply. I lost a lot of respect for him that day.

Another example is the typical Protestant interpretation of Matthew 16:16, where Jesus said to Simon, "You are Peter [a rock or pebble], and on this rock [or stone] I will build my church." I've heard sermons over-emphasizing the difference between the Greek words petros and lithos, saying that Peter was a pebble and that the rock was a big foundation stone. I've heard it taught that the rock on which the church is built is Peter's statement of faith, not Peter; or that the rock is all of the apostles, but that we cannot be too sure. I realize that elsewhere the Bible speaks of the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, and that it speaks of the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem being the twelve apostles. I know that Jesus is the chief foundation stone. What bothers me is when people are certain that Jesus could not have meant what he said: That in some way Jesus would have the church built on Simon. I don't think the verse says Simon was the first Pope, but it does say SOMETHING about him, not just about his confession.

Yet another example is the Reformation Study Bible note on 2 Peter 3:9. The verse says, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." The study notes offer suggestions as to what the verse means, but reject the possibility that it could mean what it says.

In each of these cases, I fully recognize the difficulty of believing the plain meaning of the text. I realize that in each case there are other verses about as plain that seem to teach the opposite. I'm not saying that we should use the verses I've cited here to twist the meaning of those verses that appear to teach the opposite. I'm merely pleading for a grain of humility in our theology. Let's not muzzle the text. Let's hear it and ponder it for centuries, if necessary, but not say that it cannot mean what it says.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Faith of Rahab

"By faith the walls of Jacob fell down after being encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute received the spies in peace and didn't perish with those who disobeyed." --Hebrews 11:30-31, HCSB

Rahab is one of my favorite Bible characters. She was severely flawed--a prositute and a liar from a pagan culture--and yet ended up in the Bible's primary list of people of faith in Hebrews 11. She ended up as an ancestor of King David and of Jesus.

Maybe you, like Rahab, have gone through some tough times and have become "damaged goods." Maybe people have used you and left you. Take heart. Through faith in the Lord, you can be safe, clean, honorable, a blessing and a good example to others.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me faith like Rahab, so that I'll see and participate in what you're doing.

NOTE: You can read Rahab's story in Joshua 2, Joshua 6, and Matthew 1:5-6.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Icy Weather Ahead

It's January, and icy weather's coming.
The weather men speak worriedly of freezing rain,
But for now it's shorts-and-bare-feet weather.
It's hard to imagine what's bearing down on us.

I'm past my youth, and age and death are coming.
The calendar speaks heartlessly of waning years,
But for now I'm fit and strong and able.
It's hard to imagine what's bearing down on me.

This is a moment to enjoy, a day to savor,
But also a time for preparation
So I can be ready for ice
      On the roads
      Or in the bones,
Trusting the one who'll give the spring,
The one who'll raise me up.

--© 2007, Jim Swindle
Non-profit reproduction of up to 100 copies along with this notice IS permitted.


So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
--Psalm 90:12, ESV


PS--When writing this poem, I really DIDN'T feel totally healthy; a bit of the flu today. However, I'm thankful to have basically good health. --Jim

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Clear Image

Last night my wife and I went to a photography class. I went just to humor her; I thought the class would be too basic. I was wrong. The two hours were full of information by an expert.

With photography, the goal is to get a great image. Even a beginner with a disposable camera can get a real image, but a person can spend a lifetime maturing in how to get a better image.

The Christian life is a lot like that. We may think we know how to live the Christian life. Even the newest believer truly reflects the image of Christ. Yet it takes a lifetime of learning and practice and work to reflect his image more fully in our lives.

Are you growing into a more perfect image of Christ? Are you using the means he's provided for that?

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
--2 Corinthians 3:8

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
--2 Peter 1:3-4

Monday, January 08, 2007

Those Dangerous Fundamentalists

The Los Angeles Times published a review of a book by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who believes the Christian Right "should not be tolerated;" that "any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law."

If I understand correctly, he believes that the tolerant thing to do is to be intolerant of Christians who want the government to violate his self-defined view of tolerance.

There's plenty wrong with the Christian right, but I say that book's author is a bigot. Of course, he'd probably call me intolerant for saying that.

Meanwhile, the Bible does warn us that "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 ESV)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Grudge

If you've got a grudge,
Then it's got you,
And eating you inside.
It will strip your soul
And leave it bare
With just a shell
And bones in there.

If you've got a grudge,
Then it's got you,
And eating you inside.
You must kill that grudge
And keep it dead.
Yes, walk in love.
Trust God instead.

--© 2007, Jim Swindle
Non-profit reproduction of up to 100 copies along with this notice IS permitted.


See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.
--Hebrews 12:15, ESV

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
--Matthew 6:12, ESV

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Pruning the Fig Tree

From Blog


Today I pruned my fig tree. Fig trees do best with drastic pruning. A pruned fig tree has earlier fruit and bigger fruit. So, each January I go out and cut off about half of the tree's height. I guess I'm in good company; Amos was "a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs" (Amos 7:14).

We're like that fig tree, or like a grape vine. We need lots of pruning. The Lord cuts us so sharply that it looks like he might kill us. The result is earlier fruit, better fruit in our lives.

Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:1-5, ESV)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Pain

Pain walks with me
And talks with me
And sometimes shouts
And cheers my doubts.

Pain lives with me
And screams at me
And drives me to
The Lord anew.

Lord, in the pain
Is wondrous gain
If in its flame
I call your name.

--© 2007, Jim Swindle
Non-profit reproduction of up to 100 copies along with this notice IS permitted.


If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
2 Corinthians 11:30, ESV


NOTE: When I wrote this, I was in pain, but I thank the Lord that most of my time is pain-free at the moment.

Battered

LORD, you scourge the ones you love,
Breaking them with bitter blows,
Smashing and refining them,
Making them shine forth like gold.

--© 2007, Jim Swindle
Non-profit reproduction of up to 100 copies along with this notice IS permitted.


My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
     nor be weary when reproved by him,
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
     and chastises every son whom he receives.

--Hebrews 12:5,6

...When he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
--Job 23:10

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Devotional: Whose Glory?

"Hallowed by Thy name...for Thine is...the glory forever."
--Matthew 6:9,13, KJV

We say we want the Lord to have all of the glory, but we seek our own glory in a thousand ways. We want to have great spiritual victories so people will praise us. We want others to like us, to applaud us, to ask our advice. We want our houses and our trucks and our clothes to be "just so," so that others will be impressed. We don't want others to see the pettiness, the greed, the immorality and the murderous thoughts that lurk in our own hearts.

We too often fail to see that the problem with us is not merely sins (individual things we've done wrong), but SIN (our sinful nature, which is at the root of our sins). In this new year, may we be turning from our own glory to the glory of the Lord. If even the apostle Paul could say, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh," then you and I are not likely to be "just naturally good" apart from Christ.

Dear Lord, I wanted victory--
To be a noble man,
Acclaimed by men, received by you,
Fulfilling your great plan.

But now I see that came from pride,
From loving self, not you.
Forgive me, Lord, Give holiness
Because it honors you.


NOTE: For more reading on this subject, see The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges.