Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Woman's Faith

“For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, and a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.”  Mark 7:25-26                                                                               

         I remember being in the company of a young woman who was asked why she stopped going to a certain church. Her answer had nothing to do with doctrine, morality, or even administration. No, she explained, it was just that the pastor said something from the pulpit that offended her. I thought to myself, “Dear girl, you wouldn’t have followed Jesus Christ very long.” (Maybe she should have read Psalm 119:165.) Someone who is quick to take offense is always a poor risk for a friend, and an unlikely prospect for a disciple. “Blessed is he,” said our Lord, “whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Matt. 11:6).

         The woman in our story probably wouldn’t have been blamed had she taken offense at what Jesus said to her, but neither would she have received the petition she asked of Him, either. She came at a time when the Lord was hoping to have some time alone, or at least just with the disciples, but verse twenty-four says “[H]e could not be hid.” And this Gentile woman, driven by desperation, found Him. She had left a daughter at home who was uncontrollable because of an evil spirit that consumed her. When she saw Jesus, she cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil” (Matt. 15:22). It’s obvious she knew exactly who He was: He was the Lord, and He was heir to King David’s throne.

         It’s now that we see the first instance of what would seem to be rude and heartless behavior by Jesus. Matthew says, “[H]e answered her not a word” (15:23). But we will soon find out, He wasn’t trying to kill her faith; He was trying to kindle it.  She evidently turned then to the disciples, imploring them to intercede for her, because they, in turn, said to Jesus, “Send her away; for she crieth after us.” Then follows a pathetic dialogue that defies all rules of common courtesy. When He does speak, his first words to her are, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” To which she cries, piteously, “Lord, help me.” Then, to add insult to injury, it would seem, He adds, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it to the dogs.”

         Of all the mean things Jesus could have said to her, this surely was the meanest (or so it would appear). “I was sent to those of the nation of Israel (of which you are not), so why should I take spiritual bread that belongs to the Jews, and give it to Gentile dogs (of which you are).” I doubt Jesus’ words would fit the criterion of “political correctness” in today’s world! But in reality, Jesus was not only testing her faith, He was providing her a rebuttal, if she was wise enough to see it. And, God be praised, she was.

“Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the masters’ table,” was the quick reply. Instead of leaving in a huff, she immediately picked up the idea of Jesus’ terminology and reasoned, “You don’t have to be one of the family to get bread, if you’re willing to take crumbs—and I am.” Her words were what got her what she wanted. Jesus said so in Mark 7:29), and faith gave her the courage to say them.  

This Syrophenician was a woman resolved. She refused to let a rebuff and offensive language dishearten her from her holy purpose.  She was a woman of reason. She was spiritually minded and quick-witted enough to challenge the God-Man, who said in the Old Testament, “Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord” (Isa. 1:18).  And, eventually, she was a woman rewarded. The Man who had seemingly done so much to discourage her, ended his conversation with these words of hope and cheer: “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt” (Matt. 15:18).

It would seem to me, this woman can teach us all we need to know about faith...and O, how we need to know about faith! I know I need it more today than I ever have before.

Faith sees the invisible, believes the impossible
Receives the incredible, no matter what was;
Faith moves the unmovable, proves the un-provable;
For anyone willing to trust,
Believe and you’ll see what faith does.

                          Donna Brooks, Marty Funderburk, Scott Wilemon

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Hasty Moves

Beware of a life of fitful impulse; live and act on sustained principles.

I read these words somewhere, with no recognition of who said them. I was especially impressed by the contrast between "fitful impulse" and "sustained principles." It makes a very stark comparison, doesn't it? Impulse is not all bad, of course. Sometimes it’s called for in order to take advantage of a passing opportunity; and, indeed, there are times when failing to act with haste can be positively disastrous. Still, it cannot be denied that haste always carries with it the dimension of chance. It's certainly possible to make a wrong decision after much deliberation, but it's more probable without any at all.

Several Scriptures immediately come to mind. For instance, Isaiah 28:16b tells us, "[H]e that believeth shall not make haste." One of the great earmarks of a strong faith is the ability to wait. It's tempting to make a move before one is called for, when it seems as though nothing is happening. We would do well to follow Naomi's advice to Ruth: "Sit still my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall..." (Ruth 3:18). God says in Isaiah 52:22, "For ye shall not go out with haste...for the LORD will go before you..." You see the obvious danger here, don't you?

But not only can we move in haste, often we speak with very little forethought, as well. David admits in Psalm 31:22, "For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes..." His first impulse during a difficult time in his life was to strike out, even against God. Bitterness is a terrible thing to harbor, but it's even worse to speak under its influence. God says of someone who is hasty in his words, “…there is more hope of a fool than of him” (Prov. 29:20).
In addition, haste often leads to exaggeration. For example, the Psalmist says in Psalm 116:11, "I said in my haste, All men are liars." Well, it is true that there is not a man or woman who has not at one time or another told a lie. But it's also true that "all liars shall have their part in the lake of fire." So, if all men are liars, we're all sunk! It's very easy to make broad, sweeping statements before thinking them through.

There's a time to make haste; and there's a time to make sure. Be sure you know the difference.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Bad-Mouthing God

“Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness…can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people? Therefore the Lord heard this and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel; because they believed not God and trusted not in his salvation.” (Psalm 78:19, 21-22)

        Want to really make God mad? Just doubt His ability to take care of you. He will consider it a direct insult to His character. We may put faithlessness low on the totem pole of sins, but God doesn’t. Romans 14:23 tells us, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” And the writer of Hebrews describes a heart of unbelief as downright “evil” (3:12).

        You and I may become greatly exercised over sins of the flesh (as we well should), while at the same time consider our fretting and fussing as merely shortcomings and weaknesses. Yet the woman caught in adultery and Zacchaeus, the crooked tax collector, were both dealt with far more kindly than the people spoken of in this Psalm. The first two were sinners, yes, who needed to repent; but they did not question Jesus when He offered them forgiveness. They took Him at His word. The children of Israel, on the other hand, after having seen God miraculously provide for them time and time again, still questioned Him. And when they did, the Psalmist accused them of speaking against God. What could be worse than that?

        Why risk the anger of God? We should deal with unbelief as we would any other sin and experience the same peace promised to those who repent of their wickedness. God has promised to save us (v.22) and take care of us (v.19). And to deny this verbally or experientially is to speak against Him, bad-mouth Him, if you will. There’s no getting around it.

 When it comes to God and His attributes and abilities, there is no such thing as “honest doubt.” 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Let's Hear It For the Fall-Breakers!

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling…” – Jude 24

         We’re never too old to fall. Fortunately, it seems to happen less the older we get (unless there is infirmity), until after awhile it becomes hard to remember our last tumble. But, unfortunately, the ones that happen late in life are usually far more consequential and even life shortening. But one way or the other, we’re all susceptible to falling.

         My daughter, Leah, shared a recent episode along this line that she experienced. She was singing with a small choir group on a fairly high stage. They all were wearing choir robes. Her initial concern, of course, was not tripping over her long robe as she ascended and descended the stage. But, alas, this was not her downfall (sorry). As she was going down the precarious stairs, holding for dear life onto the banister, almost safely at the bottom stair, her voluminous sleeve got caught on the rounded end of the banister. You guessed it. She was immediately brought up short like a slingshot and pitched forward in what could only have ended in a disastrous landing. But as fate (I mean, the Lord) would have it, at that very moment, a young man was walking by on his way to another section of the stage, who quickly and unobtrusively reached out, broke her fall and steadied her. Needless to say, she was grateful. As she laughingly told him, “I always thought that verse in Jude was talking about the Lord, but in this case, it was you who kept me from falling!” J

         When I recounted this story to my husband, he and I both decided that the same thing is true when it comes our occasional “fall from grace,” big or small. We know the verse is truly about God because of the rest of it: “…and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.”  But sometimes He uses human means to “break our fall.” And you’ll always know this kind of person is sent from the Lord because there will no interventionist fanfare that calls undue attention to you and him or her, but is simply a discreet word, an unobtrusive reaching out to catch you, steady you, before you do something that you’ll regret, and that could leave a long-lasting or permanent stain on an otherwise fine testimony. Then they go their way.

         If there is, or has been, people like that in your life, thank God for them every day. Again, we never get to old to fall. Ask King David. And it’s those late term plummets that invariably leave the most devastating damage behind. Come to think of it, why not be one of those unassuming, quick to the rescue, fall-breakers? I consider that a worthy goal for anyone who wants to bring glory to God and not himself or herself. Let’s take that challenge.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Wise Woman

Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you unto Joab, come near hither, that I may speak with thee.” (2 Samuel 20:16)

      Second Samuel twenty is a violent chapter, filled with sedition and murder. Because of Absalom’s rebellion, the men of Israel and Judah were preparing to war among themselves. But in the midst of all this, we read of a lone “wise woman” who comes from out of nowhere, seemingly, with words of wisdom and reason for King David’s commander-in-chief, Joab, who is on the verge of acting upon an impulsive rage. You can read all the particulars in the rest of the chapter; but, suffice it to say, just as Abigail kept David from doing something he would have regretted later, this unnamed woman helped to bring temperance and reason to the inflamed Joab.

       I wonder, do you and I bring calm to a highly charged situation, or do we add fuel to the fire? When questionable decisions are being made in haste, do we jump on the bandwagon (maybe even pushing it ourselves), or do we quietly suggest that everyone catch their breaths and take a longer look? Do those around us feel driven to act quickly, or do they find themselves more inclined to make deliberate, well thought out moves?

       If, in each of these examples, we fall into the second category, you and I may one day find ourselves being referred to as a wise woman also. In the end, I cannot help but think what we do ourselves is no more important than what those within our sphere of influence are encouraged to do. After all, we’re only one. Matthew 11:19 tells us that “wisdom is justified of her children.” In other words, wisdom—or the wise woman—is vindicated by the lives of those who follow after her, those who act wisely themselves because of her inspiration.

       Oh, Spirit of God, make me like that wise woman!