Monday, October 30, 2006
“Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner…” (2 Tim. 1:8)
We are probably guiltier of doing the right thing at the wrong time than we are of doing the right thing in the wrong way. Or, at least, just as guilty. I wrote recently about the mistake of being ashamed of victory. In my reading today in 2 Timothy, I was struck by how way off the mark we can be when it comes to being ashamed of other things, as well. There are other places I could cite besides those in this book, but there was enough here to make me take a good, hard look at myself.
In this second letter to his protégé, Timothy, Paul cautions him not to be ashamed of the testimony of Christ (v.8), stating in verse twelve that he had placed all hope for the safety of his own eternal soul in Jesus Christ. And he was willing to suffer anything for His testimony, even the stigma of being called a jailbird. Jesus Christ is no one to be ashamed of. No one ever accused Him of any wrongdoing and made it stick. I find that some people invoke the name of God lavishly in their conversation; but are, on the other hand, sparing in their mention of the manifestation of God on this earth—the Man, Christ Jesus. God, a word that can be very “generic” in our pluralistic society, can be bandied about with little fear of ostracism; but exalting Jesus Christ, the name to which every knee will bow (Philip.2:10), and the only name whereby one can be saved (Acts 4:10-12), can sometimes get you labeled as being exclusive and narrow minded. But it’s little enough price to pay, as far as I’m concerned. Paul was put in jail for the testimony of Jesus Christ, while the Apostle John was left to die on a lonely island (Rev.1:9); and neither one of them regretted it.
But there is something else in the first two chapters that we should not be ashamed of either; but we often are. Paul’s other wish for the young preacher was that he not be ashamed of him—Paul—because he was a prisoner of Rome. In fact, he goes on to mention that the one attribute of their mutual friend, Onesiphorus, that stood out to him, was that he was never ashamed of the Apostle’s “chain” (v.16). This observation challenges me to ask myself, “Am I ashamed of my brothers or sisters in the Lord who are sometimes shunned (if not imprisoned), not because they are guilty of gross sin, but because they are “different.” For one reason or another, they see nonessentials differently than others of us do. They may be too controversial, or (as Paul was accused of being) too confrontational. They are clapping on the second and fourth beats, rather than the traditional first and third. We do not have to agree with, or even understand, all of God’s children; but we do have to love them. And if Jesus Christ is not ashamed of you and me (Heb.2:11), we have no reason to be ashamed of them.
Did Paul happen to mention anything to Timothy that we should be ashamed of? As a matter of fact, he did. In chapter two and verse fifteen, he said, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” If we are not reading and studying the Bible—working at it—for the approval of God, and not other people, we should hang our heads in shame. We are imperfect people, so we need a perfect Book to show us the way. I can’t count on you, and you can’t count on me, for the answers. And if we will not take the time to do it, it’s a “dirty, rotten shame!”
Shame is too important to waste on the wrong things. It can lead us to repentance toward God, or it can make us cowards. It can spur us on to excellence in our Christian lives, or it can turn us into ineffective Pharisees. Without a doubt, it can be one of the things that determines whether or not we will be “ashamed before him at his coming” (1Jno.2:28).
Friday, October 27, 2006
“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…” (Heb.12:2a)
Some of the exercises we do in my physical fitness class at school are designed to improve our sense of balance. We are often reminded that balance has nothing to do with age and can be improved no matter how old you are. I have learned that the key to standing continuously with one foot on the knee of the opposite leg, while holding both hands clasped above your head is to remain focused on one place in the room or landscape. If our eyes begin moving from side to side, so will our bodies! In order to keep our balance, we must remain focused.
This same physical principle holds true for our spiritual lives as well. There is a reason why God says in Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth…” Not only does it save you from hell; it also is the way to keep from falling over in this world of spiritual pitfalls and morally uneven terrain. There is a constant tugging on all sides to try to tip us one way or another. Our own personal world, like the earth itself, must revolve around the Son if we are ever to experience equilibrium—equipoise, if you will—in this life. The verse in Hebrews tells us why.
Our faith begins and ends with Him. Everything else is just incidental. Even spiritual things. Our church and its doctrines, our ministry and the good things we do for others, not to mention prayer and Bible reading, are all good things; but none of them are an end in themselves. Jesus Christ, the “finisher of our faith,” (I say this reverently) is where the buck stops. His is the face on which we must focus if we want to keep our spiritual balance, and when we set goals for ourselves—and we should—they should be in a direct line with that vision. The answer to any question we have in life will only be right if He is factored into the equation.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “A body is said to be in stable equilibrium when it returns to its original position after being disturbed,” and a Christian’s Spiritual balance can be gauged by how long it takes him or her to return their gaze to Jesus Christ. He is the center of our gravity, and the only One who can keep us from losing our balance (Jude 24a).
Sunday, October 22, 2006
“But he [Jesus] rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” (Luke 9:55)
In today’s vernacular, Jesus would be saying, “You don’t know where you’re coming from.” Because a city of Samaritans (racial outcasts to the Jews) chose not to have Jesus stop by their town on His way to Jerusalem, two of His disciples, brothers James and John, tried to talk Jesus into letting them “command fire to come down from heaven and consume them,” just like Elijah did in the first chapter of 2 Kings. But their zeal said less about their love for Jesus than it did about their own natural inclinations. A spirit of anger in a man or a woman, which is both hasty and harbored, is the sign of a fool, says the wise man in Ecclesiastes (7:9). And, as Jesus tells us, it is possible to have a wrong spirit and be unaware of it, or even to look upon it as a sign of Spirituality.
What kind of “spirit” do I manifest? What kind do you? Please understand I am not speaking of the Holy Spirit and His fruit in our lives. I am drawing our attention to the atmosphere and attitudes that provide a backdrop for the things we do and the way we do them. For instance, there are some people who are more easily influenced by error than they are by truth. (1Jno.4:6). In fact, there is a spirit about them that is always skeptical of Biblical principles, while at the same time gullible when it comes to every hair brained intellectual theory that comes down the pike. Sometimes what may look like honest inquiry is really dishonest skepticism. This is not to say that anyone who questions a particular doctrine has an ulterior motive; but when the Word of God is plain, and the vast majority of good men down through Church history have acknowledged the veracity of certain truths, failure to see these truths is to manifest not only willful ignorance, but a spirit of error.
Then, there is the man or woman who might mistake a “spirit of fear” (1Tim.1:7) for healthy dependence upon God, or even the equivalent of a “spirit of meekness” (Gal.6:1), both of which are assets in the Christian life. But when one sees that the spirit of fear is contrasted to “power, love, and a sound mind,” it becomes evident that failing to see the difference between fear and meekness is to run the risk of being a spiritual cripple. Meekness understands it is not above falling, but is courageous enough to confront sin and patient enough to affect restoration. Fear, on the other hand, has neither the power nor love to deal with people, because the mind is preoccupied with itself.
Finally, a “spirit of bondage” (Rom.8:15) is no indication that one is a mature, obedient Christian. Those who live for God because they fear His wrath, or that He will disown them, only prove that they have an unhealthy (and unbiblical) idea of what it means to be a child of God. God wanted us to know just how secure we are as His children, so He told us that we are not only His by birth (“Abba” [Papa]), we are His by law—adoption (“Father”). Some people, who are unaware of the spirit of bondage they have come to live with, serve God…or else; others of us serve God…because there is nothing else. He is not only my Father, He is our life. To deny Him would be to deny myself; and for Him to deny me, He would have to deny Himself. Even if the former was possible, the latter could never be. “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2Tim.2:13).
You who are familiar with the Word of God are aware that I could go on. But my purpose has been to show that, like James and John, we can have a wrong spirit that either masquerades as a right one or at least appear to be an understandable one. In the case of the two disciples, they were blessed to have the clear rebuke of God the Son to point out their misplaced zeal. But you and I are equally blessed, in that we possess, as believers, God the Holy Spirit to do the same within us. It all depends on which spirit we choose to obey. We may not know “what manner of spirit [we] are of,” but we can know. The real question is, once we know, what will we do about it?
Friday, October 20, 2006
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” (Zech.9:9)
This Old Testament prophecy to the nation Israel about the coming King was fulfilled when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on “an ass’s colt” (Jno.12:14-15), along a path strewn with palm branches instead of a red carpet. He did not ride in an ornamental chariot, or even sit astride a conqueror’s steed. Instead, His blessed feet dangled on either side of a small donkey. Zechariah says that this King comes to us “lowly.” Neither His position nor His kingdom is lowly; but, rather, it is his demeanor that calls for this unlikely adjective. “I am meek and lowly in heart,” said Jesus. That is why when we meet Him in the gospels, this King washes feet, holds little children in His arms, tells stories, cries at funerals, sings with friends, fries fish over a camp fire…and rides into town on a donkey.
When God took the form of man, He gave us a picture of man at his best; and the Man, Christ Jesus demonstrated the very attribute that garners the respect of God the Father: “Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly” (Psl.138:6). Ironically enough then, the highest point in our Christian lives may not be when we are the most respected, but when we are the least noticed. But humility cannot be sought after, or else it becomes just one more bid for glory. “Humble yourselves in the sight of God,” says James (4:10), not in the sight of man.
One day Jesus will return to the earth and then He will ride the conqueror’s charger, with all the trappings that are rightfully His as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But I will not fear that King, because with all the pomp and glory and majesty, I will recognize Him as the One Who once lived among us, meek and lowly; the One I came to know as a little child.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
“…and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty.” (1 Sam.20:18)
My husband and I began our Anniversary yesterday by standing in line at 7:00 a.m. waiting for our turn to have blood drawn for a comprehensive screening. The occasion was the Health Fair that our local hospital sponsors yearly, a time when tests such as this can be gotten for a nominal fee. While we were waiting, a crusty old gentleman (older than us!) sauntered up to talk to the couple in front of us. “How are you?” he was asked, and he shot back, “That’s what I’m here to find out!” Someone made a comment about his age and then suggested that perhaps the reason he was still living was because he had not found anyone yet to take his place. It was a whimsical observation, of course, but the idea set my mind to whirring.
We, as children of God, would all like to think that when the Lord takes us to Heaven there will be a noticeable void, if not to the world, at least, to those who knew us. But, in reality, would it not be better if there was someone (or “someones”) remaining, who would be a reminder of the fact that we had made a difference with the life God gave us? Not replicas, just reminders. As a mother, I have always hoped that my girls would bear the imprint of my touch on their lives—at least, in any positive characteristics I may possess. Though I would certainly never want them to be “me” (I have always had higher aspirations than that for them!), I suppose what I am trying to say is that if anyone ever observes that something about them is reminiscent of me, I hope they will not be disappointed.
My thoughts dovetailed into these three points: First, we only leave a void if we have carved out a place for ourselves in the lives of others; second, we can help fill the void if we have taken the time to consciously influence those lives for God and right; and three, recognition is not nearly as important as reproduction.
I bear the marks on my own life of women who have influenced me through the years. Most of their names you would not recognize, but their memory is sweet to me. (One of them was my mother.) If I sought to boast of any of any virtues, I would list first that I was wise enough to pick good role models. They live on in the things I say and do and feel, but in such a subtle way that my individuality was never in jeopardy, I trust.
In the final analysis, the most important question is not “Will I be missed?” but “Will I be represented?”
Sunday, October 8, 2006
“But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.”
The inability to wait is a sign of lack of hope. That is what the verse says. Impatience shows disbelief in promises—others or our own. It says I can only trust what is under my own control at this very moment. It is not merely an indication of pessimism, but actually fatalism.
My older daughter, Leah, commented the other day on a sign she saw posted at her local Wal-Mart, acknowledging that they would no longer be offering their layaway plan for purchasing merchandise due to a lack of interest and readily available credit. (I have seen this myself, as well.) This interested her not only because it indicated a societal trend, but because she was remembering, I’m sure, how that she as a single mother often used the layaway option in order to have Christmas presents, etc., for her three boys when they were small.
She and I agreed that it says far more about us than merely a change in our buying habits. It gives us a picture of the mindset of our society. Not only do we want immediate possession, we also demand early reward and instant gratification. Buying what we want now, rather than saving for it, may be the wrong choice, in most cases; but cheating to acquire the recognition and advancement we do not want to take the time to earn, and feeling we deserve sexual pleasures God only allows married people, simply because we are “in love,” is far worse. In each case, it means we believe if we do not buy what we want now, we might never have it; or if we fail to assert our right of recognition, someone else may get it first; or if we abstain from satisfying physical desires, we may end up being (or feeling) unloved. At the least, it shows who we consider to be in charge of our lives.
If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches the high premium God puts on those who are able to wait:
Wait I say on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait I say on the LORD. (Psl.27:14)
Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him… (Psl.37:7)
The LORD is good unto them that wait for him…(Lam.3:25)
And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him. (Isa.30:18)
Perhaps God is so insistent upon, and impressed by, patience and the ability to wait, because as the last verse indicates, it is one of His own attributes. (My husband has a wonderful message taking from this text entitled, “Waiting on a Waiting God.”) We know from Romans 5:3 that tribulation works to grow patience, but tribulation is usually beyond our control. On the other hand, waiting is an exercise that requires patience, and waiting is within our control. The better we are at waiting, the stronger our patience becomes. The earthly manifestations of God required (and requires) that His people wait: Israel waited some 750 years after Isaiah’s promise for the Messiah to come to earth; the disciples waited 10 days in the upper room for the Holy Spirit to descend from Heaven; and the Church has been waiting over 2000 years for Christ to return to claim His Bride and rule and reign on the earth. The Christian life is a “waiting game,” and only those who can wait will win. It’s not how well we can work for God, but how well we can wait for Him.
“If you want to measure the strength of a man’s hope, you must measure the quietness of his waiting. Our hope is never so weak as when we are excited.”
-- George Matheson (1842-1906)