Thursday, August 25, 2016

It's (Un) Complicated

“For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.” 2 Cor. 1:12 “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” 2 Cor. 11:3

         Perhaps the greatest theologian and thinker who ever lived, whom God inspired to pen some of His most profound truths, was adamant about the need to never let the profundity of the subject ever blur the simplicity of the message. “My greatest joy,” he says to the Corinthian believers, “is to know that by the grace of God, I’ve lived and ministered among you ‘in simplicity and godly sincerity.’”  And he tells them ten chapters later that if they have at all swerved away from this, it’s because Satan himself has beguiled them. Mark it down: any doctrine or principle that cannot be understood and lived out simply and sincerely did not originate with God. All His workings behind the scene may be unfathomable, but the appropriation need not be. Here, briefly, are three aspects of the Christian life that often are, but never should be, referred to by today’s popular saying: “It’s complicated.”

         SALVATION: Jesus is the only way to Heaven (Acts 4:12); if you have Him, you have life…now and forever (1 John 5:11); you “get” Him by acknowledging who He is, God the Son (John 20:31) and accepting Him as Savior and substitute for your sin (1 Pet. 2:24) and Lord of your life (1Cor. 8:6). Don’t worry about who chose whom; rest assured, if you chose Him, He chose you! Enjoy!

         SIN: What is sin? Well, for sure, according to 1 John 3:4, it’s the transgression of God’s holy Law that He chiseled in stone (Exo. 20), and which Paul reiterated, minus the keeping of the Sabbath. Then, according to James 4:17, there are personal sins (“to him it is sin”) having to do with individual light, which may or may not be true of someone else. All we need to know is that there are universal sins plainly identified in God’s Word and others pointed out to us individually by the Holy Spirit and for which we are accountable, as well. Beyond that, it’s we who muddy the waters, not God.

         SECOND COMING: Should I be looking for or working toward the Second Coming of Jesus Christ? Yes! Whether one holds to the Pre-Millennial view, looking for the world to get worse and worse, or the Post-Millennial one, anticipating a better world, the fact remains, Jesus Christ is coming back to this earth, as He promised (Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:16). The only real question is, has it made a difference in the way I live? If not, how He will return is of little consequence, since, according to 1 John 3:3, I probably don’t really believe it, in the first place. Now, that’s not hard, is it? J The most important thing to remember about the Second Coming is Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh in an hour when ye think not” (Luke 12:40).  (Emphasis added)

         As the old saying goes, “Life isn’t complicated; people are.” Study God’s Word, delve into its inexhaustible depths as much you’re able; but never complicate the important things, the life and death things, and the things that are meant to comfort and assure us in a complicated world. This poor world falls over itself trying to make heads or tails of life, while you and I who know, and are known of, the great Originator of Life are able to speak with “simplicity and godly sincerity.”  Let’s make sure we do it.

“Seeing then we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech.” 2 Cor. 3:12

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

God's Hedge

"Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in? (Job 3:23)

By the time we get to chapter three, Job has lost everything, including his health. He still retains his wife, but, sadly, she has advised him to "curse God and die." His three "friends" have sat looking at him mournfully now for seven days, without saying a word. Up until this time, the Bible says, he had not “sinned with his lips.” But finally, in the bitterness of his soul, he speaks and curses the day he was born…with great eloquence. "Why even live," he says, "if we're always going to be hedged in by circumstances?" He lumped God's hedge in with all his other miseries.
But he was wrong, for within that hedge of protection was everything good in Job's life.

Does the hedge God has put about you sometimes feel like a prickly bush? As a woman, do you ever feel your role in life is too confining? Does the prospect of not having to answer to anyone seem singularly attractive? (I fear that personal independence is highly over-rated and highly seductive.) I have not always been successful, but I have always tried to assume that God knows what is best for me, and to thank Him for His hedge of protection, no matter what form (pleasant or otherwise) it may take.

Ironically, Satan knew much better than Job what God's hedge really was, especially since it was the only thing that was keeping him at bay. What Job thought to be a curse, Satan knew to be a blessing. Compare his description with Job's:

Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?
Hast thou not made a hedge about him, and about his house, and about all
that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and
his substance is increased in the land (Job 1:10).

What about you? Are you willing to thank God today for the “hedge” He has placed around you?

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Priscilla and Aquila Band

“Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.” (Romans 16:3-4)

         We meet this wonderful couple in Acts eighteen, where Paul did, in the city of Corinth. Besides their mutual love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they shared the same vocation with Paul: tent making. However, this did not keep them from finding time to give instruction and encouragement to the influential orator and apologist, Apollos, and opening their home to their local church for services (1Cor. 16:19). Paul, in this excerpt from his letter to the church at Rome, does not hesitate to say that they would have given their very lives for his, adding that he was not the only one beholden to this precious couple. In fact, all the Gentile churches were indebted to them.

        And their band has not yet died out, thank God. There are still those who manifest the all-important gift for helping, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:28. My husband and I have had friends and co-laborers like this all though our years of service to God—in our two pastorates, as missionaries in Northern Ireland, during the years of itinerant preaching, and even now in these last ones of writing, counseling, and intercession.

         I think now of those who stood by our side in times of sickness, need, sorrow, and yes, like Paul, even physical danger. People like the good deacon and his wife who sat and prayed with my husband in the hospital waiting room, after the doctor came out and told him he was finding it all but impossible to stop the life-threatening bleeding, after the birth of our daughter, Charity. Then there were those wonderful women who were willing to baby-sit at odd hours and inconvenient times; and secretaries who were everything from office-managers to chauffeurs and dry cleaning “pick-up-ers.” The hard-working men who simply said to my husband, “What do you need, Preacher?”…. and meant it. And, oh, the blessed encouragers, who always assured us we were God’s good gift to them, when all the time, it was really the other way around.

        Down through the years, we have had prayer and financial partners whose loyalty has been nothing short of impeccable. Their generosity has well outsized their small number. They have, quite simply, given a face to the word, “faithfulness.”

        These saints of the “Priscilla and Aquila Band” may not receive adequate recognition here, but we can be sure their faithfulness has not gone unnoticed in Heaven (Heb. 6:10). Nor have we forgotten. And, God willing, our gratitude will out live us; because, during all those years, our children were watching, as well.

“Thy friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not…” (Prov.27:10a)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Taking the Blame

“Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him..." - Daniel 6:14

Maybe it's just me, but the first thirteen words of this verse seem more likely to have read this way: "Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with Daniel...not "himself." After all, it was Daniel who had knowingly, deliberately defied his decree that for thirty days, petitions (prayers) should not be made to any god but him, King Darius. Surely this short term arrangement was not too much to ask. Of course, you and I know, our (and Daniel's) God will not countenance dual allegiance, no matter how temporary. 

Still, in spite of his weakness in succumbing to this opportunity of undeserved glory, I commend Darius for realizing immediately who was at fault in this development. He should have known that a man of Daniel's proven integrity and allegiance to his God would never alter his routine of daily prayer to Him three times a day. It grieved him sorely that he himself had set this all in motion. 

I wonder if I'm discerning or humble enough to recognize that the very outcome I decry could very well have been my own fault? Or maybe I'm more like Jephthah, in Judges eleven, who made a hasty vow to God that if He delivered the Ammonites into his hand in battle, the first thing that came out of his doorway when he returned home would be offered in sacrifice to Him. Then, when it turned out to be his daughter, he accused her of "troubling" him and breaking his heart! 

Should we be surprised if questionable choices we have made when our children were young blossom into worse choices in their own lives? They may have the ultimate blame, but you and I should be willing to admit our own, at least to God and ourselves...and perhaps them. 

I could cite other biblical illustrations, but I strongly feel I have delivered the message He wanted me to pass along today. I'll admit, God has taken me in an unforeseen and somewhat unwelcome direction in these musings. Blame is a tricky concept to deal with. It can be overblown, or underestimated. I pray I have struck a chord somewhere in the middle. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Snares, Nets, and Bands

"And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands..." (Ecclesiastes 7:26a)

Each time I come to this particular verse, my mind goes back to Proverbs thirty-one. Not as a comparison, of course, but as a stark contrast. In this verse in Ecclesiastes, Solomon charges some women with having hearts that are "snares and nets," and hands that are like clutching "bands” to a man. The woman he describes in Proverbs 31:11-12, on the other hand, possesses a heart that a husband can “safely trust in,” for he knows "she will do him good and not evil all the days of her [not just his] life." In I Samuel 18:21, we are told that Saul gave his daughter, Michal, to David for the express purpose of being a "snare" to him. And she was, too.

As women, we sometimes think being the “weaker vessel” puts us at a uniquely unfair disadvantage. But in reality, we wield a tremendous amount of influence in the so-called, “battle between the sexes.” And any woman who is honest will agree with this. I would contend that as a woman, it is no small achievement to win the respect and confidence of a good and godly man. In Judges sixteen, where the story of Samson and Delilah is found, I have written in the margin, “Every woman seeks to know the heart of a man...his strengths and weaknesses. The difference in women is found in what she does with that knowledge.”

I am conscious of the influence I have with my own husband. I consider it a sacred trust. To the extent that one person can know another, I think I know his heart; and to the extent that I know my own, his heart is safe with me.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Growing Into the Word of God

“That we henceforth be no more children…But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things…” (Eph. 4:14-15)  “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” (1 Pet. 2:2)

Some books—the good ones—are fresh each time you read them (e.g., C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity). Obviously, this is not because the book is any different, but because we are different. George Morrison (1866-1928) has written that life does not give us new words after the years, but does fill the old words with deeper meaning. And there is some truth in this. But, if this is true of the writings of men and women, it is even truer of the living Word of God. That’s why as I reread its pages, I suddenly find myself riveted on some portion that may as well have been written in boldface, so new and meaningful does it now appear to me.

It’s clear from my opening verses that an integral part of growing in grace is growing into the Word of God. And for myself, I don’t need a new translation with new words; I just need to make sure my life lines up with the one that has worked for all these years. As they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

As I said earlier, books, and especially the Book of God do not change; we do. Hebrews 4:12 informs us that the Word of God is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,” and our hearts are characterized by different thoughts and different intents as we go through life. We can rest assured that the Bible discerns this when others may be fooled. It judges our motives as well as our methods; it sees the terror behind the tyranny; and it knows the pride behind the pretense. Not only that, the verse also assures us, it’s capable of “dividing asunder” the soul and spirit. That tells me that if one will not flinch at its incisions, it will enable us to divide feelings (soul) from faith (spirit), so that we no longer grasp for selfish dreams but lay hold on the perfect will of God.

If the compassions of the Lord are “new every morning” (Lam.3:23), so are His words to me. I was born again by the Word of the Lord, that can never be corrupted, and that “liveth and abideth forever” (1Pet.1:23). I will never, ever, outgrow it; but I can continue to grow into it, as long as I live. And, by the grace of God, that’s exactly what I intend to!