Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Great Separator

“But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” (Isa. 59:2)

According to Isaiah, sin is The Great Separator. It is sometimes argued that things such as intolerance and prejudice are the culprits, but when these twin attitudes are displayed against innocent, truly undeserving victims they are unjustifiable—in short, sin, which is my original premise. Whether it is churches, families (or any other inter-personal relationship, for that matter), sin is the wedge that severs the fellowship and unity. If this is true with God, why should we think it strange or inappropriate with the rest of us?

More often than not, the individual who points out the sin is thought to be the “separator”; when, in reality, he or she is only an honest observer of the true culprit. For instance, a child may feel that the doctor who diagnoses a serious illness and places a beloved parent in a hospital has separated him or her from someone he or she dearly loves. But, of course, the truly compassionate doctor has wisely identified an illness that would affect the whole family for an even longer period of time, if the patient was not isolated temporarily and medical care administered. It is only the child’s immaturity that keeps him or her from understanding this.

It is important, I think, to remind us that it is the face of God that is effected by our sin, not His love. Romans 8:38-39 makes this abundantly clear. It does not harden His feelings toward us, but it does hamper His ministering to and for us. Isaiah, speaking metaphorically in verse one of the chapter tells us that sin removes us so far from the presence of God that He cannot quite reach us and has trouble hearing us. His hand is no shorter, and His hearing has not deteriorated, says the prophet, but sin has put us at such a distance that the Omnipotence of God is no longer potent as far as we are concerned. If you and I as children of God could burn that analogy in our minds, I think we would be less inclined to be tolerant of sin—in ourselves or others.

Sin defiles and damns and destroys. It sets husbands, wives, children, and friends at odds against one another. It separates us all from someone at various times in our lives, and it separates us from the face of God any and every time in our lives. Wouldn’t it make more sense to separate ourselves from the true culprit—The Great Separator?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Biblical Persuasion

“Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” (Rom 14:5b)

Biblical persuasion involves the mind, not the heart or feelings. Let’s look closely at what Paul is saying in verse five of Romans fourteen. First, this admonition is to “every man,” not just the more intelligent among us. People who refuse to think, refuse to grow and are never quite sure of anything. Second, there is such a thing as half-hearted persuasion; therefore, Paul insists that we, as believers, must be “fully persuaded.” Third, the directive is to every man in particular. You being fully persuaded in your mind will not suffice for me, and vice versa. Every man (and woman) must be fully persuaded “in his own mind.” Fourth and last, as I have already said, Paul does not hesitate to tell us that spiritual matters should be settled in the mind.

If we consider the heart and mind to be one and the same in Scripture (as many do), there is no problem here. But if when speaking of the heart, we are referring to those emotions that are so easily influenced by non-Spiritual stimuli, Paul puts far less emphasis on “appeals to the heart” than we are inclined to do. Granted, there are many times in the Christian life when our hearts should be stirred and our emotions moved. In fact, if this is not the case, one is justified in questioning the sincerity of someone’s profession of faith. I say this not on the basis of personal experience only, but because it would seem to me that holding a perpetual lid on the indwelling Spirit of God would be like trying to cap a gushing oil well!

What I am asserting, however, is that when it comes to making judgments in the Christian life (as Paul is addressing in this chapter), genuine persuasion must appeal to, and eventually take place in, the mind. Paul always used reasoning to affect persuasion (Acts 18:4); and reasoning takes place in the mind. This did not mean that Paul was stoic or hard-hearted. On the contrary, he acknowledged a love and concern for his “kinsmen according to the flesh” that moved him to the point of wishing himself “accursed from Christ” if that would insure their salvation (Rom.9:3). But he did not use his own agony of soul as a tool of persuasion when he witnessed to them. Spiritual decisions are too important to be determined on sympathy or affections.

The message for us from this verse in Romans is two-pronged. If we want to influence this world for God and righteousness, and if we seek to bring men and women to a truly saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, His Son, we must persuade them in their minds and allow the Holy Spirit to generate the New Birth within them. He alone has been commissioned as God’s “woo-er.” And, by the same token, we must not allow ourselves to be dragged by our heartstrings to a decision that cannot withstand the light of Scripture. A sanctified mind trumps a soft heart every time, when it comes to Spiritual discernment. And I can tell you in all sincerity that what I have shared with you today is something of which I am “fully persuaded” in my own mind.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ulterior Apologies

"Confess your faults one to another..." (James 5:16)

“Confession is good for the soul,” says the old aphorism. This is always true if the confession is made to God. But if the confession benefits my soul while at the same time wounding another’s, it would seem to me to be quite selfish and self-serving.

Not only do we see examples of this in day-to-day personal encounters, it can often be seen in so-called, “confess your faults” services in churches. Sentences that begin, “I confess to having had bad feelings toward so-and-so, because...” are always a dead give away that grievances that might seem petty otherwise are now going to be “shared” in a way that will make them seem more important, while at the same time lending an aura of humility to the confessor. I have heard everything from mere perceived personal slights to sexual inadequacies of a mate aired—things that could have and should have been taken care of privately. After all, is the confession about our feelings or someone else’s failures?

I will have to say, I have seen this tendency more often in women than in men, which is not to say it is a gender-sensitive trait. It is not. But perhaps because we women are generally more adept at sharing our feelings, we are, for the same reason, more in danger of sharing them too often and too indiscriminately.

An apology should not be taken lightly, whether one is the giver or receiver; but you will be hard pressed, I think, to find a directive from God to confess or apologize for having bad feelings toward another. We are told to confess our “faults,” not our feelings. And notice the verse instructs us to make it a one-on-one (“one to another”) conversation, not a public proclamation. In any case, unless the Holy Spirit is the initiator, it is possible to create more bad feelings than we eliminate. Remember, God is the only One who can—or has—promised, “[T]heir sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Contradictions of My Father

My father, Jerome Jackson Hopkins, was born in Crab Orchard, Kentucky on December 28, 1909. On his and my mother’s marriage certificate his occupation is listed as “farmer,” but before they came to Ohio to live he had already worked for a time in the coal mines. In the few pictures we have of him from this time, his chin is tucked in, and there is the beginning of a shy smile that only hints at the quick, homespun wit behind it—reminiscent of a Will Rogers.

His sister told of one occasion when she was chiding him for his choice of ties to wear with a certain shirt.
“Oh, ‘Rome,” she insisted, “that doesn’t go.”
It goes if I go!” was his quick reply.

Certain characteristics of my father seemed to contradict one another, it seemed to me. For one thing, though he was unschooled, he was, nevertheless, quite intelligent. If he went to school at all as a child, his education must have left little impression on him, for he never spoke of it. Though he could be self-effacing at times, I’ve seen him converse often and confidently with people far more educated than he. He was aware of the advantages of a good education, but never allowed his lack of it to keep him from providing for his family and making his mark in life.

At first encounter, he could seem brusque and “crusty,” but this trait only belied the fun-loving, truly kindhearted man underneath. My siblings and I grew up with merciless teasing that prevented us from being thin-skinned as adults and able to laugh at ourselves when necessary. If I stumbled while walking, he might say, “That girl would fall over the flowers in the rug!”

Much of his “harrumph,” however, was employed merely to keep a tender heart from becoming too visible. Outward manifestations of affection were hard for him, and those times when his emotions reached his eyes were visibly painful for him. He had the heart of a musician (with a good deal of the talent, too), and he could be moved by its beauty. I’m told that I, the youngest, am the only one of the children who ever saw him kiss my mother. Yet he loved her dearly—for sixty years. Nor did any of us children ever doubt that he loved us, because, on the contrary, we knew that beneath that crusty exterior lay a caring heart.

Anyone who knew my father would have considered him a colorful character, yet there was never anything off-color about him. With all of his jovial banter, there was never an edge of suggestion, or mean-spiritedness.

He would regale us with stories of people, he knew as a child, like the family down the “holler” whose children were unable to speak very well. When their little dog, Rat, would try to follow them to school, one of them would call, “To pa theah waa” (Go back there, Rat). And when the daughter, Stella, fell down while carrying a bottle of milk, her brother reported, “Telty pell down and pilt it.” To my childish mind there was no hint of ridicule to these stories, simply a statement of life as it was when he was boy.

My father became a Christian when I was quite young, soon after my own salvation experience at the age of nine. Although he had expressed a belief that it was impossible to be a truck driver and a good Christian at the same time (I’m not sure why), he managed it handily till the day he retired. Over the years, he was a deacon, Sunday School teacher, choir member, and consistent witness. I learned from someone who had often been his visitation partner that his standard greeting was, “Hello, my name’s Jerome Hopkins, but people call me ‘Hoppy.’ I’m on my way to Heaven, and I just thought I’d stop by and see if you’re interested in going with me.”

My father died on November 10, 1996 at the age of 86. He left behind five children, thirteen grandchildren, and thirty great-grandchildren. More importantly, he left behind a legacy of love and devotion to God and his family.

Perhaps some might think that the greatest contradiction of all about my father is that this obscure, rascally boy from the backwoods of Crab Orchard, Kentucky would one day be walking on streets of gold. Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor!

Friday, June 16, 2006


“Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” (Isa. 48:10)

This seemingly innocent word—“chosen”—has engendered much controversy in the Body of Christ through the years. Its prevalence in the Word of God is undeniable; it is its priority in salvation, however, that is most hotly contested. Verses such as Ephesians 1:4, and especially 2 Thessalonians 2:13 (“…God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation…”), indicate a predetermination on the part of God that, for some, completely negates free will, and, therefore, all personal responsibility. For my part, I acknowledge the former, accept the latter, and recognize the Higher. I believe I was chosen to salvation by God, as 2 Thessalonians says, but “belief of the truth” was also a necessary component. And I also believe that the complete comprehension of these two elements falls under the category of what David calls things “too high” and “too wonderful for me”; and I, like he, “cannot attain unto it” (Psl.131:1 & 139:6).

Not only does the reality of having been chosen by God come into play in the matter salvation, it also is the starting point of true service for God. Verses such as Acts 9:15 and 2 Chronicles 29:11 attest to this. But it is the cited verse in Isaiah that spoke to my heart this morning as I was reading. It is easy to sense malevolence and therefore display bitterness when fiery trials befall us. But this verse lets us know that there is no positive and negative when it comes to God’s dealings with His children. The same infinite wisdom that chose me to spend eternity in Heaven with God, and that positioned me for service for Him in the meantime, is the same loving wisdom that hand-picks me for assignment in “the furnace of affliction.” Just as chastening is a certificate of paternity (Heb.12:8), trials are the mark of favorability. It is God’s way of saying you and I are suitable for refining.

No child of God should seek trials, but neither should we bristle and complain in them. They are evidences of the hand of God in our lives, just as surely as the mountain top experiences are. As you can see, they are reserved for God’s “choice” saints.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Backward Glance

Many years ago, when I was a young mother and pastor’s wife, we had a small church paper to which I contributed regularly. This was back in the late sixties, when Dr. John R. Rice was the editor of the Sword of the Lord. They published books as well, and many of you probably have some of them. His secretary, Viola Walden, was a great compiler, and in one of her compilations (actually several of them), she used one of my little homespun pieces. I came across it again recently and thought it might be nice to pass it along to my readers, some forty years later. We shall see if the young mother was very different from the “mature” great-grandmother.

Let Me See Your Hands[i]

What kind of hands do you have? Are they long and slender? Or are they short and plump? Are they rough and red? Or are they smooth and soft? Maybe they are strong and steady, or maybe they are weak and shaky. I don’t know which of these things are true of you; but, if you are a mother, I think I can safely say your hands are full.

When your husband was courting you, his first show of affection probably was to hold your hand. It was your hands, more than anything else that gave your baby assurance of your love and protection.

My mother knows whether or not her pie curst will be good by the feel of the dough in her hands. And what woman would buy a piece of material that she had not first run her hand carefully over?

The Bible has a lot to say about hands. In fact, long before the FBI knew it, God told us in Job 37:7 that a man could be traced through his fingerprints. And as far as a woman’s hands—if you’ll check the verses concerning the “virtuous woman” in Proverbs 31, you’ll find the words “her hands” used seven times. They tell us that she worked willingly with her hands, planting a vineyard, making cloth, caring for the poor and her household, in general.

If God feels that the feet of a preacher are beautiful because they are used to spread the news of the Gospel, then surely He must think busy, helping hands are the loveliest part of a woman. Remember the little song the children sing: “Oh, be careful little hands what you do. Oh, be careful little hands what you do. There’s a Father up above looking down in tender love; so be careful little hands what you do.”

Say, what kind of hands do you have?

I probably wrote those words late at night after putting our little ones to bed. That would have been the only chance I would have had to do it! Even then, I wanted to see my thoughts on paper, whether anyone else ever did. As one of my English teachers used to say, “How do I know what I think till I see what I say?” My hands may not be as busy as they were in those days, but, thank God, my mind is just as agile (sometimes). The hands that used to change diapers are now trying to change lives through the written word. Sometimes, like Job, I miss those days “when my children were about me” (Job 29:5), but I understand that my service to God and my children did not end when they slipped from my fingertips to step out into their own spheres of responsibility. The Psalmist says, “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age” (92:14), and my goal is the tribute given to the virtuous woman.

“Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.”

[i] Walden, Viola. Under Construction. Murphreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1994, p. 94.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Walk Softly

“Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly…” (Gen. 33:14)

In one of her many inspiring writings, the missionary, Amy Carmichael advised her workers to “walk softly with the Lord.” This provides a very helpful image for me as someone who sometimes steps too assuredly on unsure paths. It is too easy for me to speak my mind before it has reached a rational conclusion!

Walking softly suggests many things. In the case of the verse cited in Genesis, it was Jacob acknowledging that he was forced to lead his family and livestock behind Esau, because he would not be able to keep up with him. In other words, he was conceding a weakness. For most of us, this is very hard to do. In the past, Jacob could always find a way to come out ahead, but since his wrestling match with the Angel (Gen.32:24-31), things were changed. He, like those among us who have been subdued by God, will be content simply to finish his course (2 Tim.4:7). Instead of winning the race, his desire will be to “win Christ” (Philip.3:8), pleading, “I will not let me go, except thou bless me.”

By walking softly, Jacob put the welfare of others above his own ambitions. He could look powerful to Esau, or he could be a blessing to his family; but he couldn’t do both. And, as believers, we can come across as luminaries in the Kingdom of God or glowing testimonies in our personal circle of influence; but seldom do you see both. There are exceptions to this, of course; but my point is that voices that are the loudest can seem distorted up close.

Walk softly with God in order to hear His voice and to make your own more audible to those around you. In the walk of faith, the only One we have to worry about keeping up with…is God.

Monday, June 5, 2006

A Repairer

“…and let them repair the breaches of the house, wheresoever any breach shall be found.” (2 Kings 12:5b)

Recently, I was singing the old hymn, “May Jesus Christ Be Praised,” and my mind was caught by the use of the word “repair” in the first verse: “Alike at work and prayer/To Jesus I repair.” Obviously, the word has at least two meanings, with the first one as listed in the OED being, “To go, betake oneself, make one’s way, to or from a place or person.” I knew, of course, that was what was meant in the hymn, but my mind quickly jumped to the second meaning, and then, a correlation between the two. Going (or “betaking oneself”) to Jesus is the best method I know of for repairing what is wrong in any life.

The word is found fourteen times in our King James Bible, and twelve of them, including the verse above, refer to repairing breaches (breaks) in “the house of God,” the Temple. But it was a more personal activity that came to mind as I meditated—the repairing of lives and relationships; because, after all, when you “re-pair,” you put back together two things (or people) that were once part of a pair but are now single, isolated units. What better job description could you ask for?

And there are so many places where this ministry of mediation is called for. Someone to stand in the gap between two offended or neglected parties. Whether it be a marriage, family members, church members, co-workers, or just a severed friendship, someone who could care enough to try to take two “singles” and “re-pair” them. Oh, it cannot be done in all cases, I know, and perhaps should not be in some. But it seems to me that it ought to be at least tried.

Perhaps you would like to join the ranks of the “re-pairers.” Whisperers, critics, and busy-bodies need not apply, however. These do more separating than putting together (Pro. 16:28). Galatians 5:22-23 would make a good resume, I think. In any case, the recognition the job reaps will be worth it.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt.5:9)

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Truth Handlers

“But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.”
(2 Cor. 4:2)

“Truth is always objective; but truth is never only objective. It is held hostage to the virtue, sleight, ambition, flaws, sins, and passion of the individuals who encounter it.” This observation of our son, Andrew, concerning the human handling of truth, gives us the main reason why, when spoken or written, it does not always accomplish all that it is capable of. According to the cited verse in 2 Corinthians, the Word of God—all Truth—can be associated with both craftiness and deceitfulness. Truth presented harshly, with mean-spiritedness, can very easily turn the hearer away, so that he or she is more persuaded by what is false, simply because of a more agreeable delivery. This is naive and shallow, I will admit; but then there are many naive and shallow people.

Likewise, truth put forth in a haphazard, lazy way may become trivialized in the mind of the one who hears it. There are those whose judgment of information is based, to a great extent, on the attractiveness of its packaging. Therefore it should be communicated with the best possible vocabulary the speaker or writer is capable of.

Of even greater concern, however, is the crime of using truth for the purpose of cruelty, derision, or intimidation. Such a person would procure what is good and fine, only to prostitute it on the altar of opportunism. One should always remember, however, that in such a case, Truth itself is never soiled…only the intellectual hack.

God forbid that we should traffic in unlived Truth.
--Harry A. Ironside (1876-1951)