Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A True Witness

“A true witness delivereth souls: but a deceitful witness speaketh lies.”
(Prov. 14:25)

When we find ourselves trying to convince lost people that they need what we’ve got, because they would never come to us asking what we have, something is wrong. I have heard an in-your-face kind of witnessing coming from individuals whose lives would never spark any spiritual interest otherwise. By no means am I touting what some have called “life-style evangelism” as being all that is necessary in carrying out the Great Commission. Still, evangelism without a corresponding “life-style” would seem to be a good example of salt that has lost its savor (Matt.5:13,) and, as a consequence, ends up being “good for nothing.”

We read in Acts 4:13, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” People could have assumed that because Peter and John were obviously common laborers, and not learned scholars, they were, therefore unworthy of their attention. But the obvious fact that they spoke from first-hand knowledge of Jesus made it impossible to ignore them. When you have spent time with God, and in His Word, it shows—not in pious platitudes, conscious and unconscious witness. It is knowledge that works itself out in daily living.

Probably one of the highest compliments I have ever given my husband is that he has a “working knowledge of God.” He never refers to Him in the abstract. He witnesses for the Lord with the same familiarity as when he talks about his family. In one day, at a hotel where we were staying, I watched him witness to a ninety-year-old woman and an atheist attending a conference on world religions. The latter, who, of course, did not believe in God, nevertheless, willingly accepted a tract and a, “God bless you!”

None of us is perfect; and because of that, are always capable of sin and failings. But there should be a difference between us and the world—not necessarily in the way we look, but, more importantly, in the way we live. Prayer should be as natural as breathing; praise should be a normal part of our conversation; integrity should be the mark of our dealings with others; and love (especially for fellow believers) should be a reality, not a rule. In short, our witness should ring true. Our walk and our talk should not be sending mixed signals.

A true witness has first-hand knowledge, not just hear-say.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Pre-emptive Strike

“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” (2 Cor. 10:4)

A pre-emptive strike, as you would imagine, is a military attack designed to prevent or reduce the impact of an anticipated attack from an enemy. In the eyes of those who value peace at any price, it is sometimes seen as provocative rather than preventative, and, granted, it is possible to act on impulse without justification. The key, of course, is having knowledge of your enemy’s purpose, past performance, and present capabilities. But when these have been fully ascertained, only a fool would sit back and wait to be attacked. Since I write “for the girls,” you have already suspected that I am not offering a justification of a particular method of military warfare, but using it merely as an illustration of what I see to be a Bible truth.

Are we to wait until the Enemy strikes before we engage? and when I say Enemy, I am referring to Satan. Some would say we are our own worst enemy, and the devil has more important fish to fry, but I notice that in his first recorded human contact, it was the woman that he approached, not the man. I realize there are those who see the devil behind every bush, but there are just a many (if not more) who are oblivious, even when he is breathing down the back of their necks. As to his purpose, it is clear: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet.5:8). Notice it does not say he is seeking a “what,” but a “whom” to devour. He prey is not the world or society; it is us (Luke 22:31). As to his past performance and his present capabilities, we have more than enough examples in the Bible. Therefore, if anyone is a candidate for a preemptive strike it is Satan. But how does one go about delivering a handicapping blow to such a fierce enemy?

In the case of the military, a preemptive strike can be either physical or non-physical. In other words, anything that can be done to reduce the impact of the enemy’s blows before they hit could be seen as offensive, and because of their timing, pre-emptive. For instance, I know Satan will attack my mind, therefore I must not mistake imagination that can quickly become a breeding ground for wickedness (Prov.6:18), for meditation, a window to the sweetness of the Lord (Psl.104:34). This is why the next verse in 2 Corinthians ten reads: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Likewise, if I am smart, I will not allow my body to become an easy target for the devil’s fiery darts by keeping it under control and “in subjection,” as Paul said (1Cor.9:27). I am also aware that my enemy is looking for any chance he can find to fill my heart with a spirit of deception (Acts 5:3), therefore I need to constantly focus my affections on the One who has said, “Son, give me thine heart” (Prov. 23:26).

If I were fighting flesh and blood, I could know that shunning “the place of temptation” would suffice, but since we are told that we “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against…spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph.6:12), I must assume that my spiritual battles will more likely have to be fought in familiar, and seemingly safe, places. We are like the man in the book of Amos running from a lion, who flees to his house for safely, only to be bitten by a serpent when he wearily leans on the wall (Amos 5:19). For this reason, preemptive measures will always be appropriate in the Christian life. The enemy of our souls has set his sights on us, personally, and although we may consider ourselves to be inconsequential, the fact that he wants us gives us some indication of what is at stake.

The Enemy will strike, but his blows can be blunted in all cases, and evaded completely in some. It will require anticipatory action on our part—a preemptory strike, if you will, and only those who are serious about victory will rise to the occasion.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

With Eternity's Values in View

“…the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. /Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness.” (2 Pet. 3:10-11)

Talk about global warming! The whole thing is going to burn up one day, says Peter. According to those who keep such records, the temperature of the earth has risen one degree Fahrenheit in the last one-hundred years. And for this I should be driving my car less? Believe me, I can think of far better reasons for staying home than that! Actually, reading 2 Peter 3:10-12 in 2006, it would be much easier to believe the earth will succumb to a nuclear cataclysm long before it is overcome by greenhouse gases. I acknowledge our role as stewards of God’s earth; but, obviously, this is yet one more ploy to keep us so occupied with the temporal that we lose sight of the eternal.

If our view of this earth leads us to major on trying to preserve it, we have the wrong view. According to Peter, when we have the right perspective of the earth and our relationship to it, it will change the way we conduct our life. It will be characterized moreby holiness and godliness. Paul makes the same point in Titus 2:11-13, where he says that those who actually understand the truth of the “blessed hope” of Christ’s Second Coming live “soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.”

We used to sing a little chorus in Sunday School when I was a young person that said: “With eternity’s values in view, Lord/With eternity’s values in view/May I do each day’s work for Jesus/With eternity’s values in view.” I understand, of course that much of life is concerned with the immediate, and rightly so. We may be citizens of Heaven, but we are occupiers of Earth. It is all right if our hearts are in the clouds as long as our heads are not. If we are unable to function in society, we can never hope to influence it for Christ. Still, having said that, I cannot help but think it would be a good thing to ask myself at the end of each day, “Did I do anything today that will outlast me, or, better still, outlast this earth?” How about you? What have you done lately that had eternity built into it?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Striving Lawfully

“And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” (2 Tim.2:5)

Like many of you, I enjoy watching the Olympics, both the winter and summer ones. I marvel at the physical abilities of these young (and not so young) athletes and am amazed at their determination to push themselves to the limits of, and in some cases, beyond, their natural capabilities. However, you are aware, I’m sure that there are some whose drive to win causes them to seek ways to “enhance” their natural abilities in order to do better than they could otherwise, giving them an unfair advantage over other contestants. For instance, I was watching during the summer Olympics in Athens in 2004, when it was announced that the winner of the gold medal in the women’s shot-put competition was being stripped of her award because she failed a drug test. She took a chance that she would not be found out, and she lost.

Paul says in 2 Timothy that, as Christians, it is possible to think we are winning the race in our Christian lives because of seeming spiritual successes. But, sadly, our great “feats” will not pass the Judge’s test if we break the rules. And, make no mistake; there are rules. Customs change; but the rules do not. Uniforms may look different; but Biblical standards of decorum remain the same. Equipment may be updated; the God’s guidelines for procedure are never outdated. Those rules unequivocally laid by the great “Rule-maker of the Universe” are timeless.

God’s rules are not arbitrary, nor are they man-made. They are fair, and we can be sure, well thought out. Neither are they vague. That is only true of those activities and practices that fall under the category of “doubtful disputations” (Rom.14:1& 14). God’s standards of conduct (and competition) are precise, as found in the eternal Word of God (James 1:21). Therefore, if you and I are striving for the mastery in the Christian life, we must constantly refer to the Rule-book; because we only cross the finish line a winner when we have striven lawfully.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Just a Piece of Paper

“He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1John 5:10-11)

“Marriage is just a piece of paper.” According to my grandson, Richard, this is the consensus of opinion among his friends and acquaintances at Berkeley, here in California, where he just graduated. And he is quick to tell you these are not second generation hippie radicals speaking. These are, for the most part, young people coming from homes much like his own, though without the same strong Biblical foundation, perhaps. He tried to point out in a recent essay what may be some of the reasons for this cynical attitude. It was not these, but, rather, their definition of marriage that rankled.

Obviously, those of us who have lived with one person for thirty, forty, fifty, or more years know that marriage is much more than a piece of paper. It is laughter and tears, heartthrobs and heartaches, ecstasy and agony, but mostly, just plain hard work. It is things like not getting your own way, and finding out how liberating that can feel. It is looking back on agreements and compromises that would rival the accomplishments of a professional diplomat or negotiator. It’s the constant perfecting of the art of keeping someone interested for almost half a century! I could go on, but my intended thesis is this: Marriage is not just a piece of paper; nevertheless it is a piece of paper. And, to my way of thinking, that is a good thing.

The underlying assumption behind the statement, of course, is that the piece of paper is meaningless. And this is where I part company with the young “philosophers” that Richard questioned. These same young people are glad, or will be glad, to have the title to their own car or the deed to their own house, even though these are just pieces of paper. Evidently, documents of ownership are more valuable—or at least more preferable—than documents of love, devotion, and allegiance. There is no such thing as “free love,” only freeloaders who lack enough sinew of soul to pledge love that will last and perform “for better or worse, in sickness and in health, so long as we both shall live,” and mean it enough to sign the dotted line.

At a certain point in my mother’s developing Alzheimer’s Disease, she did not know my father and would periodically become very distressed at his presence in the house. For this reason, he (with his good, Kentucky common sense) put their marriage license in a picture frame and hung it on the wall! When she would insist that he was not what he professed to be—her husband—he would simply point to the document that proved it. You could argue that his care of her during this trying time in their lives was credentials enough, but even God himself recognized the importance of a “record,” as the verses above will attest to.

I have in my possession a copy of the marriage record of my maternal grandparents, George W. Blount and Lou Anna Sparks. The marriage took place on April 14, 1887, in Lee County, Kentucky. My grandfather was thirty-three and my grandmother was sixteen. It was the first (and last) marriage for them both. I keep it in my file of important papers. And you will find in the same place a certificate printed on embossed paper, enclosed in an envelope that has begun to yellow with age. It confirms that Salle Jo Hopkins and Richard Douglas Sandlin were united in marriage “according to the Ordinance of God and the Laws of the State of Ohio at Grace Baptist Church, on the 14th day of October in the year of Our Lord, One Thousand Nine Hundred and Sixty-One.” It was signed by the minister, John Rawlings, and witnessed by my sister, Martha Lou Hopkins and a pastor friend of my husband, Wm. L. Jackson. Printed at the bottom is this text: “What therefore God hath joined together; let not man put asunder.”

I do not have to bring this document out periodically to remind myself that I am married to this man. His face is as familiar to me as my own reflection in the mirror, and if God sees fit, will be until I die. Our marriage is more than “just a piece of paper.” But one day my children and grandchildren will hold in their hands a document that will tell them I loved their father and grandfather enough to take his name and give it to them. And, somehow, I think they will be glad to have it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Mind of Christ

“But we have the mind of Christ.” (1Cor.2:16b)
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Philip.2:5)

“I just don’t think he (she) has any spiritual perception at all.” This was said about someone the speaker and I both knew. “Oh, no,” I countered, “I think there’s much evidence of spiritual perception. It just isn’t working itself out in his (her) everyday life.” As far as this particular person is concerned, I may be mistaken, but I don’t think the concept is farfetched. In fact, the two verses cited above seem to bear this out.

The verse in 1 Corinthians is comparing the “natural” (unsaved) man, and the one who has been granted “spiritual” discernment (the saved man or woman). In the case of the latter, Paul says we can be sure that this person has the mind of Christ. Yet, in Philippians, the same writer admonishes us as believers to let the mind of Christ live in us. The key word here is “let,” indicating a choice. “Christ-mindedness,” if I may coin the word, is not inevitable for the child of God; but it is available.

The natural man “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” but the spiritual man does. He or she “gets it”; they just don’t always do anything with it. And, if you are familiar at all with what the Bible says about rejecting light, you recognize this to be a very dangerous life style. As the saying goes, “Light rejected brings greater darkness. We can end up being like the children of Israel, who boasted of having been given the Law, while at the same time refusing to keep it (Rom.2).

You and I, as New Testament believers, have been given the mind of Christ. It us up to us, however, whether or not we choose to let this Mind live and breathe through our daily lives. This brings even greater significance to the popular saying, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Game of Recovery

"The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord...Though he fall, he shall
not be utterly cast down." (Psl.37:23-24)

The radio personality was recounting a golf game he had recently participated in. I was only half listening until he suddenly said something that caught my attention. He was playing unusually well, he said, until something happened that threw him off his stride. He immediately recognized what the problem was and quickly remedied it. “One thing I have learned,” he explained, “is that golf is a game of recovery.” When he said that, I thought to myself, “Actually, life is a game of recovery.” Of course, life is not really a game; it’s dead serious. But, if I may, I want to draw a parallel.

There are many who are able to maneuver through life quite brilliantly, it would seem; that is, until they stumble or fumble. At that point, they simply crumble. Through the years I have met numerous people whose Christian lives had “withered on the vine” because of a past failure. They just could not bring themselves to stand back up, dust themselves off, and start again. Whether it comes from pride or laziness or even true heart-felt shame, it really makes no difference; because, in any case, it turns a detour into a dead-end street.

There will always be circumstances that throw us off our spiritual stride. It may only be a misstep, or it might be a full-blown flat-on-your-back crash. Either way, the next move is ours. We can lie there and feel sorry for ourselves, or we can let God do a work of recovery in our lives.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Touching Base

“For then shalt thou have thy delight in the Almighty, and shalt lift up thy face unto God.” (Job 22:26)

What fun we had yesterday with our granddaughter, Glory, and her little son, Ethan! She brought him over for a few hours and after lunch we took him to a nearby park to play. He will be one year old this month and is already walking. (If you think grandmothers brag, wait till you’re subjected to great-grandmothers!) As you would expect, his new skill has given him impetus to explore new places. At one point, we looked over to see that he had climbed up on one of those play structures that has the slides and a tunnel and was traveling, painstakingly, back and forth through the tunnel. During his wandering, however, he would intermittently toddle back over to his mother, put his hands on her knees, and look up into her face. I told Glory, “He just needs to know you’re still here.” He was touching base—his mother.

I do that, too—with my Heavenly Father. Sometimes, in my rush to see and do so much while I am still able, I toddle off in all directions, till I suddenly find myself farther away from my “Base” than I want or need to be. Oh, I know He’s always there, but I need to lift my His face to Him, as the verse in Job says. And what a relief it is just to touch Him and gaze into that beloved visage. You understand, of course, that I am speaking metaphorically. Still, the Spirit of God living within me provides a unique reality that those who only knew Him “after the flesh” (2 Cor.5:16) could never have.

As we walked them to her car, little Ethan laid his head contentedly on his mother’s bosom, and we all smiled, knowingly. He had played himself out; now he would sleep. And when you and I have played ourselves out in this wonderful, but tiring, and sometimes dangerous world, we will lay my heads on the bosom of our Father and fall asleep. And when we open our eyes, we will look around and find ourselves…Home.

Friday, May 5, 2006

Sanctification by Imputation

“For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws in their hearts, and in their minds will I write them. (Heb. 10:14-16)

Quite a title, isn’t it? These two wonderful words, when put together, provide a Biblical truth that would surely make an Episcopalian jump for joy! Don’t let them scare you. Once you’ve considered their meanings and laid them side by side, they’ll be rolling off your tongue like a song in no time. And once you understand their implication for everyday Christian living, you’ll thank me for adding them to your working vocabulary.

Sanctification is probably the more familiar of the two, and you likely think it has something to do with being holy. Verse fourteen would tend to verify your assumption by adding the idea of perfection. Actually, it has a two-fold meaning: a separation that which is sinful, and also a setting apart for godly purposes. The old-time Methodists would have said that it is a process that begins after conversion wherein one can reach a point of perfection. The Calvinist or Reformed view holds that this is, at best, a pipe dream and, at worst, heresy. Being just a plain Bible-believer, I can tell you that I concur with Paul. There is nothing good in my flesh, and even when I want to do the right thing, it’s the getting it done that often eludes me (Rom. 7:18). That’s where the other word comes in.

Imputation is simply attributing, vicariously, something to someone that he or she could not obtain or accomplish on his or her own. And that’s exactly what happened. Someone made an offering of Himself (vicariously) that makes us (believers) perfect forever. The sacrifice of Calvary is an ongoing compensation that produces a manifestation of its presence. According to verse sixteen, God’s laws that were written on “tables of stone” and then with writing instruments for perpetuity, have been written in the minds and hearts of God’s elect. It is a covenant He makes with us when we accept Him as Lord and King of our lives. As one preacher I heard said, “Nobody had me to tell me that such-and-such was wrong. I knew it in my heart.” (Sadly, he felt that we, his audience, were not as spiritually astute as he!) You and I are in need of exhortation to righteousness, but you can only stir up something that is already there.

So, like the old preachers used to say, “I’m saved, sanctified, and satisfied!” I will be sanctified as long I am justified, and that will be forever. The salvation I am “working out” (Philip. 2:12) is what God has “worked in” (2:13). And any sanctification I possess (and am able to display) is the result of imputation. I received them both over fifty years ago and they will both stand good for eternity. Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Random Thoughts on Grief, Holy Ground, and Hard Preaching

These three paragraphs come from several years ago, but they bear repeating, I think. Hopefully, you will be as provoked to think as I was to write. In any case, here they are.

● Grief ●

“…none spake a word unto him for they saw that his grief was very great.” (Job 2:13)

Some grief is too great to be expressed. While at the same time, we often search for words of comfort when there are none. Not because there is no comfort, but because the comfort will not come through words. Grief that cannot be expressed, like “groanings that cannot be uttered,” call for a specialist—the blessed Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26). It is not for nothing that He is called “the Comforter.”

● Holy Ground ●

“Then said the Lord to him [Moses], Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground.” (Acts 7:33)

I have seen preachers take off their shoes before they preached, the idea being that they were standing on holy ground. I suppose this could indicate either humility or pride. I do know that when God told Moses to remove his sandals, Moses was not standing behind a pulpit; he was standing in the presence of God. And anyone who finds himself or herself in such a place will feel anything holding him or her to this earth is unnecessary baggage. Wherever God condescends to meet with us is holy ground, whether it is behind a pulpit, on the backside of a desert…or sitting in a rocking chair.

● Hard Preaching ●

“Therefore it is no great thing if his [Satan’s] ministers also be transformed as ministers of righteousness…” (2 Cor. 11:15)

Apparently, hard preaching against sin by “ministers of righteousness” is not a guarantee that the one doing the preaching is actually speaking for God. It’s no big deal for the devil, says Paul, to find someone to condemn your sin; the trick is to find that saint, preacher or otherwise, who will help you on your way to victory over that sin. The one whose ministry could be defined as “confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith…” (Acts 14:22)

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Glorifying God...the Hard Way

“This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.” (John 21:19a)

A.W. Tozer suggested that a spiritually productive prayer would be, “God, glorify Thyself, and do it at my expense.” It is safe to say, most of us would consider the glory of God to be the highest of all goals. Indeed, in the Westminster Confession considers the glorifying God to be “man’s chief end.” Sometimes, though, this all sounds well and good until we find ourselves with our backs against the wall—at least theoretically. (Our pastor told us last week about a new book entitled, God Never Has Failed Me, but He Has Scared Me to Death a Few Times!) As one preacher said, “We’re never as dedicated as we think we are.”

Still, our most meaningful goal, as recipients of the undeserved grace of God, must be to use whatever means God puts at our disposal to magnify and glorify His name. One way that can easily be overlooked is what we find is this verse in John—our death. And this is appropriate, I would seem, because, while older people are living longer, young people are dying earlier. This may sound like a contradiction, but if you pay attention to statistics, I think you will agree. Therefore, just as it’s never too late to think about living, it’s never too early to think about dying. And, as this indicates, just as there is more than one cause of death, there is more than one way to die. By this I mean, some deaths are more significant and meaningfully. Or, to use John’s term, there are some deaths that “glorify God”; in which case, there are others that do not.

How, then, shall you and I glorify “the God of the living” by our deaths? Besides the many we read of in the Bible, we know of countless examples of deaths down through history that served to inspire, and, in some cases, inflame those around them. But, in each case, I would venture to say that the common thread among them would have to be this: These people glorified God in their deaths, because they glorified God in their lives.

Those who live well, spiritually, generally have a way of dying well. And exceptions are just that—exceptions. In addition, it is good to remember that we may plan our funerals, but others will take care of the eulogies. We are writing our obituaries now. And, personally, if anything good is said about me at my home-going celebration, I don’t want it to be vague hear-say, I want there to be convincing evidence. I want my death to make Heaven seem more real and more accessible. I want the reality of Christ in a life to be more validated than ever. In short, I want my death to glorify God.

“According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing
I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now
also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be life, or by
death.” (Philippians 1:20)

Monday, May 1, 2006

Winning the Heart of God

“For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.” (John 16:27)

How are we to reconcile the conditional love referred to in this verse with verses such as John 3:16 that tell us God loved the whole world? Perhaps the same way we reconcile the way you and I claim to love all God’s creation yet are unmistakably drawn to certain areas and aspects of it, for personal reasons. Or the fact that my love for children carries with it a special affinity for those four that I gave birth to. Why should I question the motivations of God when my own are exclusive? Having lain to rest a seeming contradiction, we are now free to look at this verse as it stands and glean a precious truth.

Tell me if I’m wrong, but does this verse not say that God loves me in a special way because I love His Son and have chosen to regard Him as just that—the Son of God? Frankly, I find this is as understandable as the motivations I mentioned earlier. I, too, am partial to people who think highly of my children and who recognize them as being “chips off the old block!” When you compliment them, you have complimented me (and their father, of course).

It goes without saying, this has nothing to do with whether or not a man or woman is going to Heaven or hell. That determination and choice is a free gift God offers to the world He loves. I’m talking (and so is our Lord, I think) about the kind of relationship two people share who love the same thing. In this case, God and I love His Son, and that is enough to warm the hearts of both Him and me. And the way I look at it, what’s not to love?