Monday, December 31, 2007

The Other Image

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Gen.1:27)

This verse says that God created mankind in His own image, and that image is displayed in two different ways—male and female. This is not to say that God is a woman. All of inspired Scripture refers to Him in the masculine gender. What it does say is that the differences in the sexes that make them complimentary to one another are all found in God. I need not look to goddesses like Diana, Isis, or Ishtar to find someone who understands me. God knows what it is to give birth (John 1:13); nourish (Eph.5:29); and comfort (Isa.66:13).

God may have created Adam first, but you and I as women were not an afterthought with Him. Femininity, the real source of a woman’s beauty, comes directly from God. And when we deny it or neglect it, we deface that part of His image that He has stamped upon us uniquely. God saw fit to make someone who would be enough like Adam to make him feel comfortable, but different enough to arouse his interest. Fulfilling the purpose of God and catching the eye of “Adam”—who could ask for anything more?

“Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” (1Cor.11:11-12)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Dear Family, Friends, and Readers,

We have babies in our lives again. After nearly ten years, our great-grandchildren, two-year old Ethan, and his four-month old sister, Haley, are filling our hearts and cheering our lives as only a little child can do. They live nearly and hour and a half away, but we are still able to see them from time to time, and our granddaughter, Glory, keeps us well supplied (via e-mail) with pictures, bless her heart!

None of our children are close at hand now—Andrew nearly three hours; Josh and Charity, a good ten hours; and Leah, across the country, from us. Now Andrew and Leah are experiencing the mixed emotions of seeing their own children leave home; while both Josh and Charity’s children are either in, or nearing, their teens. Of course, this all leaves my husband and me wondering how 74 and 64 years (respectively) overtook us!

Because of our limited income—and seemingly limitless family—we have given up trying to buy Christmas gifts for them. Instead, our daily prayers for them are the love gifts we have tried to lavish upon them. I sometimes think that when someone coined the phrase, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” he or she was thinking of children, not sweethearts. Now that we as parents are more like invested observers than active participants in the lives of our children, it is our hearts and not our hands that hover over them.

My husband and I now look at one another across the room, and, thank God, we don’t see a stranger. For we have found, as dearly as we love them, it was not our children that bound us together all those years, but the love we share for Jesus Christ and one another. When our children left the nest, there were still three of us left!

As I write these words, we have family and friends for whom we are praying, who are battling a cancer that is threatening their lives. For that reason, our own sometimes debilitating maladies seem hardly worth mentioning. Suffice it to say, our testimony is that of the Psalmist: “The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness” (Psalm 41:3). We are able to report, as well, that God has supplied all our needs (and some of our wants), because of friends and loved ones who stand in the gap financially for us. For them, there are no words of gratitude that would ever suffice.

But there is another Baby in our lives, whose birthday Christmas is meant to commemorate. And just as our babies grew up, so did that Baby. There is an old gospel song I used to sing that asks, “Do you worship the Babe in the manger, but reject the Christ of the Cross?” It asks a legitimate question, because as sweet as that Baby was, it was the Man he became who purchased salvation for us all by His death, burial, and resurrection. I love babies, and if I had lived then, and could have been in the temple with Anna, I would probably have asked to hold Him (Luke 2:36-38). But it was the Man, Christ Jesus, whom I embraced all those years ago; and He is far dearer to me than the Baby ever could have been.

May your own Christmas be sweet because you are reminded once again that on that night in Bethlehem, a Savior was born; and may the coming year find all of us in His will, walking by faith.


Salle and Richard

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Perverted Pleasures

“Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures forever more.” (Psl. 16:11)

Who among us does not like to be pleased? Besides our physical appetites—sustenance (Deut.23:24 & Esther 1:8) and sex (Gen.18:12 & Ezek.16:37)—there are individual wants that, when fulfilled, bring us delight and enjoyment. They satisfy a personal desire. For instance, when I have puzzled through an especially difficult and intricate problem, it gives me great pleasure. And finding a really great out-of-print book in an unexpected place can send me over the moon!

God, “who giveth us richly all things to enjoy,” has made provision for our pleasure. In fact, as the verse says, He keeps them close at hand—His right hand—ready to share with us. But like all things God has given us, Satan delights in seeing us pervert them. It pleases him, if you will. Perversion is distorting something good until it becomes something bad, changing the proper use into improper practice. Sometimes it is overt and obvious, as in sexual perversion; but sometimes it is unnoticed and subtle, as in tolerating questionable companions or developing all-consuming pastimes. Nearly anything can become perverted; and when that happens, it changes the way we live.

1. Perverted pleasures lead to careless, self-centered living.

“Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, that
dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none
else beside me…” (Isa.47:8)

2. Perverted pleasures lead to fruitless living.

“And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they
have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and
pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.” (Luke 8:14)

3. Perverted pleasures lead to (spiritual) adulterous living.

“… lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” (2 Tim. 3:4)

4. Perverted pleasures lead to hateful living.

“…serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy,
hateful, and hating one another.” (Tit. 3:3)

5. Perverted pleasures lead to short-sighted living.

“Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to
enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” (Heb. 11:25)

The end of allowing ourselves to pervert the pleasures God has given us to enjoy, is not a pretty picture. Sin never is. There is a difference between enjoying God’s gifts “richly” and enjoying them wrongly. This is one of those articles I write that calls for individual application. We each know what pleases us; and we must each decide if one or more of those things has become, or is in danger of becoming, perverted. To my mind, the most troubling verse I cited was 2 Timothy 3:4. Spiritual adultery—loving the pleasures of this world more than we love God—is a serious indictment. Some of us need to run quickly to the Lover of our souls, as He calls to us even now…

“Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Song of Solomon 2:10)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

To Tell the Truth

“[Y]ea, let God be true, but every man a liar…” (Rom.3:4a)

If these words tell us anything, it is that when our stories, or our conclusions, differ from God’s, we are the ones who are lying. In other words, there is only one truth (The Bible never speaks of “truths,” only “truth.”); and you and I cannot be relied upon to always have it. We can have a living, eternally binding relationship with the Author of all truth, Jesus Christ (Jno.14:6), and we can have access to His living Words (1Pet.1:23), but we have this Treasure in “earthen vessels” (2Cor.4:7). And that’s the fly in the ointment. We can strive to serve God with a perfect heart, but a willing mind is the best we can hope for, says David. “And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and a willing mind…” (1Chron.28:9). Fortunately, the Apostle Paul tells us this is good enough, as far as God is concerned: “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not” (2Cor.8:12).

Does this mean we should always be questioning everything we believe? Not at all, especially when the people of God down through history have, by and large, believed the same thing. Most importantly, there can there be no dispute about the truth of redemption in Jesus Christ. According to God, anyone who would do that is an unquestionable liar (1Jno.2:22). When this does becomes questionable, nothing is sure; and one is doomed to flounder (and eventually drown) in a sea of perpetual seeking.

As believers, you and I are not “seeking the truth”; we have it. It is only for us now to grow in knowledge (2Pet.3:18), by allowing the Teacher to guide us into all truth (Jno.16:13). David says, “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me” (Psl.138:8); and I take that to mean everything, including my understanding.

What does all this mean to me, a great-grandmother, sitting in a little room in an obscure, old western town with more history than future? (I’m talking about the town!) It means that the foundation of my life has been, and still is, sure and steadfast. I have not believed a lie; I have embraced the Truth. That’s why I open the pages of God’s Word daily, knowing that though I may not know all the answers, I’m in the right classroom! My vessel may be faulty, but I drink from the Fountain of Truth.

And it is no small consolation to me to be able to say to my four children, “I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths” (Prov.4:11). To have told them anything else would have been to tell them a lie.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Contentious Cora or Prudent Polly

“...the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping.” (Prov.19:13b)
“...a prudent wife is from the Lord.” (Prov.19:14b)

Although we know that there are plenty of homes where the husband is the weak link and the main source of strife and pain, it must be acknowledged that Solomon attributed the majority of his observations on inadequacies and failures in marriage to the wife. Aside from Divine inspiration, we could probably think of a lot of reasons for this—seven-hundred to be exact! But I must admit, from my own observation, I tend to agree that in the majority of cases, a good wife is more capable of outweighing the inadequacies of a poor husband then vice versa. And, likewise, a bad wife can render both the intentions and actions of a good husband well-nigh useless. These two verses in Proverbs 19 provide us with just such a contrast in wives—a contentious one and a prudent one.

“[T]he contentions of a wife are a continual dropping” (cp. 27:15). This is what is called in literary terms a “metaphor”—an implied comparison. It is not literally the case, but the effect is the same! I’m told that an ancient form of torture was to place the victim so that a drop of water fell at intervals on his or her forehead. The prospect that it might never end proved to be more than most could bear. The same can be said of a husband who is badgered, wheedled, criticized, whined to, or argued with, incessantly. For some of these unfortunates, after awhile, it becomes unbearable. It may not come loudly or crudely, but this in no way eases the pain. Constant scraping of the skin, no matter how light, will eventually draw blood. “Contention” is an interesting word that can have either a positive or negative denotation. Warren Wiersbe has observed that it is one thing to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3), but quite another to be just plain contentious! And it’s easy for the lines between the two to become blurred. Some people who profess to be standing on a principle are actually stuck on a policy. This is destructive to any relationship; but in a marriage, it’s disastrous.

But let’s bid a hasty farewell to “Contentious Cora” and find more pleasant company with “Prudent Polly.” The second half of Proverbs 19:14 tells us that “a prudent wife is from the Lord.” This word—prudence—is often used interchangeably with wisdom (16:21a). Indeed, prudence has always seemed to me to be the feminine version of wisdom. That’s not an authentic definition, of course, but here’s one that really is, from the Oxford English Dictionary: “Sagacious in adapting means to end; careful to follow the most politic and profitable course; having or exercising sound judgment in practical matters; circumspect [Eph.5:15], discreet [Titus 2:5], worldly-wise [Luke 16:8].” What a wonderful resume for a prospective wife! Houses and riches may be inherited, according to the first part of verse 14, but a good wife comes from God alone.

If you’re like me, one day you may bear a striking resemblance to Polly, while on another, your husband would swear he’s married to Cora! We blame circumstances, hormones, or even the weather, anything but the heart, or so it seems. Frankly, occasional melancholy may overtake all of us from time to time, but I see no justifiable reason for ever being down right cantankerous!

One of the incongruous characteristics of marriage is that it has the ability to make one very happy or very unhappy. As the old Puritan writer, William Arnot, has pointed out, “This divinely-appointed union is, in human life, like the busy bee returning laden home. The sweetest honey and the sharpest sting lie in it both; and they lie not far apart. But for the honey it has been created, not for the sting: for the honey it lives and labours, not for the sting.”[1] If that be the case, some of us are more deserving of the pet name “Honey” than others.

Solomon’s words may not be “politically correct”; but you can always count on them being practically (and painfully) correct. Am I courageous—and prudent—enough to accept them?

[1] Arnot, William. Studies in Proverbs: Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Scales of God

“…for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.” (1Sam.2:3b)

I don’t know about you, but scales have never made my list of favorite things, even when the numbers registered improvement. I guess it’s because they are so fickle. They can change your mood from pleasure to frustration in a week’s time, it would seem. Granted, the scale is only a gauge of my own behavior (unless there is an organic problem), but that only adds to the frustration. Still, as significant as these scales are to some of us, we should never lose sight of the most important one you and I will be weighed on: the scales of God.

In Hannah’s magnificent prayer of praise to God for the gift of a son, she acknowledges it is not our body or our mind that is weighed by God, but our actions. As important as our thought life is, it is not the things thought in the mind, but the “things done in [the] body” that we will give an account of to God (2Cor.5:10). To the extent that our thoughts precede our actions (a great extent, by the way), they are part of our accountable actions.

This works both ways. Good intentions can fade away from neglect; and wicked plans can have their legs cut out from under them by sincere repentance. In both cases, it is the resulting action (or inaction) that is added to God’s scale.

Of course, the whole idea of God having, much less utilizing, any kind of scale to measure our actions is abhorrent to many people. Natural man will go to any length to try to ignore his accountability to God, even inventing cults and isms that allow him to believe he is the master of his own fate. But, as I have pointed out in the past, Almighty God is someone “with whom we have to do” (Heb.4:13). He cannot be evaded. For all our blustering and pontificating, one day you and I will stand before Him and give an account.

As far as eligibility for Heaven is concerned, the balance will always be tipped against us. The best person who ever walked this earth (outside of Jesus Christ) will hear the same words King Belshazzar heard in Daniel 5:27: “Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting.” The only hope we have of tipping the scales of Divine justice in our favor is the intervention of Christ on our behalf. When He is added to the equation, by repentance of sin and faith in His death, burial, and resurrection, then—and only then—will the odds be stacked in our favor.

Those of us who have the assurance that our sin debt has been paid and we are as sure of Heaven and though we were already there, should, nevertheless, be mindful that sins that will never impose the wrath of God on us (1Thess.5:9), can still bring His displeasure and discipline. God never ignores sin. And sin always kills something. It may not be our souls, thanks to Calvary, but it can kill a lot of other things, not the least of which is our joy and sweet fellowship with the Father.

The next time you step on a scale, remember it’s not the most important one in your life. There is another one that is weighing your actions. And say, what was your latest weigh-in?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

My Brother's Keeper

“And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel, thy brother? and he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen.4:9)

Notwithstanding the fact that he lied (he knew exactly where his brother was), Cain asked a very astute question. In essence, “How responsible am I for other people?” Whether we take it in its original setting-a blood relation, or a fellow believer, or just another human being, the question is still relevant today. In Cain’s case, it was rhetorical, with the obvious answer (at least, in his mind) being, “No.” To which God, if He had been so disposed, could have replied, “Just because you’re not his keeper doesn’t mean you can be his killer!” Fortunately, God does not share my bent for sarcasm.

Obviously, there are many who, if they were honest, would have to answer the question the same way. Not that they approve of murder, it’s just that their philosophy of “Live and let live” could more accurately be characterized as “Live and let die.” Either literally by failing to speak out against such sins as abortion, euthanasia, drug trafficking, etc; or spiritually, by failing to share the Gospel in whatever way they can with people who will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. One does not have to be a zealot or a crusader, but as the wise man says, “[A] word spoken in due season, how good it is” (Pro.15:23b). Whether it is a word of encouragement, warning, or rebuke, failing to speak when the occasion and the Holy Spirit’s prompting call for it, indicates someone who neglects not only the keeping of his brother, but the keeping of his own character.

But, on the other hand, there are those whose answer to the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” would be a quick, “You bet, I am!” This is the man or woman who seems to have assumed responsibility for the conduct, choices, and convictions of everyone within his or her sphere of influence. This includes, first and foremost, family members; but friends, co-workers, and subordinates are vulnerable, too. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this phenomenon is its built in immunity from criticism, the appearance of an apparent benevolent motivation. But whether the motive is admirable or simply advantageous, the result is still the same; stunted spiritual growth—for everyone involved.

What then do I owe my “brothers and sisters,” whatever their connection to me? Well, Paul felt that he owed a debt to all men that could only be paid by proclaiming the Gospel (Rom.1:14-16). And, beyond this, he acknowledged one other obligation: “Owe no man anything, but to love one another” (Rom.13:8a). If I truly love people, I will neither overlook them nor overshadow them. I will acknowledge sin, while at the same time proclaiming the Savior; and I will never seek to have dominion over someone else’s faith (2Cor.1:24), knowing that to do so would be to judge another man’s servant, and “to his own master he standeth or falleth” (Rom.13:4).

Am my brother’s keeper? Yes, but no more than he is mine.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Unbelievers or Misbelievers...Which?

“And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26)

As you can see from this scripture in Acts, it’s easy to do—doubt the credibility of another believer, that is. It is easy to come to the conclusion that he or she has not believed “to the saving of the soul” (Heb.10:39); and is one whose belief is merely akin to that of the trembling devils’ (Jam.2:19). But, in reality, there are those who have simply “err[ed], not knowing the scriptures” (Matt.22:29). Unfortunately, we are in danger of mistaking the two.

Misbelievers can be untaught, like Apollos (Acts 18); ill-informed, like the two despondent disciples on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24); or indisposed, like Demas, who became disillusioned with the Christian life, and captivated by the philosophy of this world (2Tim.4:10). Such individuals may hold to doctrines that are unscriptural (to our way of thinking) or display lifestyles offensive to our spiritual sensibilities, but neither of these qualifies him or her as an infidel. Paul even went so far as to tell the Thessalonian believers that people in the church who refused to follow his own teaching should be taken note of and avoided, but not ostracized (2Thess.3:14-15). They do not detract from our own faith, but neither do they add to it.

On the other hand, unbelievers may, and, in fact, should be, our friends (Luke 16:9), but they should not be part of the company we fellowship with, in the strict sense of the word (2Cor.6:14). Fellowship has been quaintly defined as “two fellows in the same ship,” and, obviously, an unsaved person and I are not in the same ship! Other than familial ties, there should be nothing that binds or yokes me together with a man or woman who has the devil for a father (Jno.8:44). I may spend a great deal of time with such an individual, but it will never be considered fellowship. Jesus was a friend of sinners, and so am I; but when He entered a ship, it was his disciples who went with Him (Matt.8:23. And when my little ship is sailing on stormy waters, it is fellow believers who are there to ride the waves with me.

How shall we tell the difference, then, between unbelievers and mere misbelievers? It’s really not so hard, if we are willing to lay aside everything but God’s prerequisite. For instance:

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…" (Acts 16:31)

“That is thou shalt confess with the mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." (Rom.10:9)

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1Tim.2:5)

“…and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1Jno.1:3)

The basis of all Christian fellowship is the recognition of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and God Incarnate. He is not only the dividing line for time, He is the dividing line for eternity. Questions of science, philosophy, and truth pale in comparison to Jesus’ question to His disciples: “Whom do men say that I am?” How a man or woman answers this question determines whether he or she is a misbeliever or an unbeliever. The former requires instruction and the latter, illumination; but they both involve submission.

All unbelievers are misbelievers, but misbelievers are not unbelievers. And they should not be treated the same.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

On Goal-Setting

“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philip.3:14)

“In most cases, the effort is as valuable as the result.” I heard someone say this recently, and I agree. Goals are necessary, simply because without a point of destination, it is impossible to choose a path to follow. “He who aims at nothing is sure to hit it,” as the old saying goes. We usually think of goal-setting as a young person’s activity, but it is my opinion that nostalgia, as lovely as it is, should never stifle aspiration. My goals may not be as long-range as my grandchildren’s, but that does not make them any less lofty. Here is the point I am trying to make: It is the process that molds our character, not the goal itself. This is why “pressing toward the mark” should be a life-long pursuit. My character will need refining until the day God makes me perfect, in the likeness of Jesus Christ (1Jno.3:2). And, like the Psalmist, I will not be satisfied until then (Psl.17:15).

But it is not only my age that makes me a proponent of short-term goals, as well as long-term ones. Young people would be well-advised to include both in their plans, too. After all, what we hope to be is not nearly as important as what we are, since what we hope to be can be thwarted by circumstances or death at any time. And this is true no matter how old we are. In the case of a Christian, the ultimate goal should be Paul’s: “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” God gives each of us a calling, and it may function within the local church itself or in the broader scope of His world. Every other goal we have must fall under this umbrella (the calling of God); else we lose the “prize.”

I have several long-term goals that may or may not come to fruition. For instance, the first step in what could be a long-term educational goal has brought me a great sense of fulfillment. And the articles I write, which I hope one day to have compiled in a book, in the mean time, give me much joy, not just from the feed-back I receive, but from the knowledge that I am honing a gift and accessing a Treasure Chest simultaneously. In each case, I am both blessed and bettered by the process. For that reason, for me, there will always be an immediate “goal-to-go” and a future prize to win. I need them both; and so do you.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Stationary Standards

“Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people…” (Isa.49:22)

C.S. Lewis wisely points out in his essay, “The Poison of Subjectivism” that we only make progress by moving toward a constant. If the standard is in a continual flux, any attempts to better oneself are futile. It’s like shooting at a moving target. As much as people like to pretend that right and wrong are subjective, each of us reaches a point where we say, “That’s not fair,” which obviously presumes an assumed standard of fairness.

The word “standard” is a military term referring to “a flag, sculptured figure, or conspicuous object, raised on a pole to indicate the rallying point of an army…often typifying the army or its leaders” (OED). This is true in most cases where it is found in the Bible, especially in Numbers where each tribe of Israel had its own standard (flag) that was raised over their camp. “And the children of Israel shall pitch their tents, every man by his own camp, every man by his own standard, throughout their hosts” (Num.1:52). These verses point out the fact that there are individual and family standards, as well as those laid down by God. Individual and family standards are personal and subject to change, while God’s are universal and immoveable or stationary.

There are two dangers here: seeking to raise my standard over your camp, or seeking to relegate God’s standards to a place of personal preference. To set my own standards as the only reference point for right or wrong (for me or you) is to shoot at a moving target, as I said. To say, “I can’t, or don’t want to do something, so it must be wrong”; or, “I can, and do want to do something else, so it must be right,” is really saying to God, “I make all the rules.” This may sound like intellectual freedom, but it’s really just being jerked around by every cultural idea that comes down the pike.

To say we have become more progressive as a people by removing all absolutes is to say that running in circles is better than heading in a definite direction. And to say that God’s standards, especially as given in the Ten Commandments, are obsolete and subject to personal interpretation is to leave ourselves to stumble through life, with nothing fixed to hold on to.
I have personal standards that have modified through the years, as I have grown in wisdom and knowledge of Word of God and life; but the standards of God that I learned as a child have never changed. And for that reason, I have reached this point in my life with few regrets. God’s standards are stationary, immoveable, written in stone. They should not be added to or subtracted from. As Moses said, “Ye shall not add unto the word that I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Deut.4:2)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Inequity of Equality

“Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine no thine, but divide it." (1 Kings 3:26)

Not only are all men not created equal (in spite of Thomas Jefferson’s inspiring words in the Declaration of Independence), at no time in this life will they ever be so. And to assume they are or, worse yet, to try to make them equal, perpetrates an injustice on them and others.

A case in point is this familiar story from the life of King Solomon, as found in the third chapter of 1 Kings. Initially, it would appear that both mothers wanted the living child. Yet, one offers to give him or her up, in order to spare his or her life, while the other is inexplicably content to divide a dead baby between the two of them. Granted, she was the not the real mother (as Solomon wisely discerned), but what in the world was she going to do with half a dead baby? Obviously, nothing. Some sort of distorted desire for equality made her willing to sacrifice the very life of a child in order to make her feel she had evened the playing field, so to speak.

I have seen parents do this very thing with their own children. Not in a life or death situation, perhaps, but certainly when it comes to quality of life. Treating them all even-handedly ignores both natural temperaments and individual needs; while dispensing praise, whether deserved or undeserved, equally, is to diminish the achievement of the former and encourage the underachievement of the latter. Besides the fact that it is dishonest, it cripples both children for adult life.

It is safe to say that those individuals who were catered to in a misguided quest for fairness are the ones who are least capable of dealing with the real unfairness of life. On the other hand, those who understand that what seems unfair on the surface may in reality be personalized attention from a loving Heavenly Father, are able to see apparent human disadvantages as being, in reality, Spiritual advantages. Anything that makes us more dependent upon God could hardly be considered a drawback. Evidently, God considers unfair treatment to be beneficial since He allowed His only begotten Son to suffer it.

We as Christians would be well advised to deem the will of God to be far better than what we might consider to be fair treatment. As one old Puritan has said, God shows His love by both His strikes and His strokes. And as mothers, the sooner we are able to make our children understand that they are special enough to us to be given individual, tailored-to-them attention, the sooner they will be prepared for the life He has prepared for them.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The God Who Devises Means

“For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him.” (2 Sam.14:14)

Are we to believe that God found Himself faced with an unforeseen problem that required innovative strategy? “Oh, dear; now what?” I hardly think so. This is yet another example of an Infinite God deigning to use terminology understandable to finite beings, as when He told Moses that seeing the afflictions of Israel in bondage to Egypt motivated Him to “come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians” (Exo. 3:7-8). Obviously, in this case, He used Moses to deliver the people, and it was not till the coming of Jesus Christ to this earth that He Himself actually “came down.”

Why then does He use this terminology, telling us that He devises means so that we who are exiles without passports (so to speak) can nevertheless find refuge one day in the City of God? And make no mistake; we have incurred the holy wrath of God by our sin—by birth (Adam) and by choice (free will). Our sin has offended God to the point of impossible reconciliation apart from supernatural intervention. As C.S. Lewis so aptly put it: “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement; he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.” We have no redeeming qualities. There is no “essence” within us except the essence of sin. And this is what God is trying to tell us, I think. When He says that in comparison to the act of Creation, our redemption required a far more intricate strategy, He is pointing out the sheer hopelessness of our condition.

“Yet,” says the verse, in spite of insurmountable odds and unforgivable injury, “yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him.” And the means” He devised was Himself. The God, who did not bother to redeem fallen angels, nevertheless chose to provide a means of redemption for fallen man, by the only means sufficient: His own Death and Resurrection.

The great question is not how? but why?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Friendship: God's Unnecessary Gift

“A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born to adversity…A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” (Prov.17:17; 18:24)

In his wonderful little book entitled The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis argues that friendship is the “least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious, and necessary.” He goes on to say, “Without Eros [marital love] none of us would have been begotten and without Affection [familial love] none of us would have been reared; but we can live and breed without Friendship. The species, biologically considered, has no need of it.” But I would say (and he would agree), we cannot thrive without it. God does not command us to have friends, but it’s obvious from reading the Bible that He does assume that we will. It would seem to me that these three loves—marital, familial (especially children), and friendship—can become intermingled in a way that tends to blur the unique qualities of each. Let me relate this to women, in general, and wives in particular.

If we are not careful, we can treat a husband with the same “nurturing” protection (I’m being nice) we would give a child. Making sure he says the right thing, wears the right clothes, meets the right people and, most of all, feels the right emotions (ours!). My husband is my best friend because we share the same philosophy of life (God’s); we have a vital common interest (our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren); and we embrace a common goal in life (to glorify God’s Son, Jesus Christ). And, as an added perk, I happen to be in love with him! But to expect him to share my interest in feminine enterprises, enjoy every writer that I do, or “feel my pain” with a woman’s sympathy, is to ask of him what he cannot give, and, quite possibly, may limit his inclination to provide those things I most need (and can expect) from him. The tears that will elicit a warm hug and comforting words from another woman may either paralyze him, or, worse yet, cause him to spring into action to find a major remedy!

Well, what do our two verses tell us about friendship? First, people who want friends have to act friendly. No...come to think of it, that’s not what the verse says. It says he (or she) must show himself to be friendly. Lots of people act friendly but know nothing about being a friend. For all the fun we may have with our friends, friendship is a serious business. In addition, we learn that a true friend sticks with you through thick and thin—“at all times.” Closer even than a brother, if need be. I find it touching that Solomon considered the closest of natural relationships to be the one of brother-to-brother. As a woman, I would have been tempted to say husband and wife, or mother and child. But, for all our close, often gregarious, manifestations of loving friendship, I suspect men are better at it than we. I may be wrong, but I don’t think so.

This kind of friendship assumes that things will be overlooked—not to say, condoned—but certainly overlooked; for, again, the verse says “at all times.” (“When my friends are one-eyed, I look at their profile.”—J. Joubert) This should not be considered too terribly magnanimous on our part when you remember that Jesus calls us friends (Jno.15:15). A friend may wound (27:6), but his love will never wane. This would probably be a good time to point out that a good friend is not always the person who comes to the rescue. A true “kindred spirit” will recognize there are times when one must step back, lest the Holy Spirit be hindered in the life of his friend; for a “friend” who would do this is no friend at all. The mark of a sterling friendship is that refusing to step in will not cool it, nor will coming to the rescue add anything to it. It simply is what it is, and cannot be denied. It may be nurtured by kindness, but it does not need to be needed. Friendship is a meeting of equals, perhaps not in station in life or even intellect, but certainly in worth to the relationship. The only exception is our friendship with the sinless Son of God.

And it is with this unique, glorious friendship that I end. I have said that friendship is not necessary, and it is certainly true in this case. I needed a Savior to redeem me from the wages of sin. Jesus Christ could have done this very well without bothering to become personally intimate with me. Yet He chose to bear His heart to me, admitting that He laid down his life because He loved me, and because He had chosen me to be His friend (Jno.15:13) He did not need this friendship; He wanted it. I cannot pretend to be the kind of friend to Him that He is to me, but He told me, if I do what He has commanded—“love one another, as I have loved you,” He will know that I love Him, and that I am His friend (Jno.15:12-14).

I have been blessed with wonderful, true friends, especially my husband of forty-six years; but the One who stooped to call Abraham His friend (Jms.2:23), stooped farther still to call me His friend. And this friendship surpasses them all!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Papier-mâché Peace

“For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” (Jer.6:14)

Papier-mâché (pronounced, “paper ma-shay”) is not seen much anymore. Or at least I don’t see it. It is made of either paper pulp or sheets of paper glued together and is shaped into boxes, jars, or fancy articles often used for decoration. They are never meant to last. The word has come to also describe “something easily destroyed or discredited; false or illusory,” to give the dictionary meaning. The prophet Jeremiah spoke in his book of people who offered this kind of peace—easily discredited and completely illusory—and of those who were eventually disillusioned by it.

In the first place, as wonderful as peace is, I think we sometimes overrate its importance. I tend to agree with Matthew Henry (1662-1714) who wrote, “Peace is such a precious jewel that I would give anything for it but truth.” The doctor who assures me I am healthy when I actually have a cancer growing inside me may give me peace of mind, but it comes at a dear price. The oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein was far more peaceful than what they are now experiencing, because any dissent was brutally silenced. Probably the most ferocious, conquering religion down through history to the present day, is referred to as a “religion of peace.” As I say, “peace” is a very ambiguous word, nothing to hang your life or your soul on.

The God of the Bible offers true peace one way alone: through a Person. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom.5:1). Any other brand of “peace,” whether you get it from a pill, a bottle, a book, or a religious huckster, is just the papier-mâché kind. It may do for a while to decorate your life, but it was never meant to last. I’m thankful my peace is secured by a three-fold cord:

God the Father—the “God of peace” Heb.13:20
God the Son—the “Prince of peace” (Isa.9:6)
God the Holy Spirit—the "Spirit…of peace” (Eph.4:3)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Simple Seduction

“For at the window of my house I looked through my casement, And beheld among the simple ones, I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding.” (Prov.7:6-7)

This young man, who falls under the spell of the infamous “strange woman,” is said to be “simple.” In other words, as the dictionary defines it, “lacking in ordinary sense or intelligence.” He hasn’t got a clue. If Hollywood were telling the story, the vignette in this chapter would be told as an entertaining comedy of errors; but on the stage of real life, it plays itself out as a tragedy. This young man, “void of understanding,” made some devastating mistakes and they are just as prevalent today as they were then:

1. He went to the place of temptation (7:8). When he turned the corner onto her street, the die was cast. It was only a short distance then to her door, which he thought had a sign on it that read, “Pathway to Pleasure.” What it really said, however, was, “Highway to Hell” (7:27).

2) He thought he would be the exception to the rule (6:27-28). Somebody else might get burnt, but he would not. Over-confidence almost always leads to short-sightedness, never able to see (or fear) potential danger.

3) He thought he could make up for it later (6:29-32). Wrong again. Solomon reasons that although a man who steals because he is hungry must be held accountable, still, one can understand his motivation. And it is possible for him to make restitution. But what do you give to repay a man or woman whose spouse you have taken? or whose virtue you have sullied?

4) He thought it would be forgotten over time (6:33-35). But the verse says, “his reproach shall not be wiped away.” It doesn’t say he cannot be forgiven for this sin, but the reproach connected with it will haunt him (or her) indefinitely.

But what of the “strange woman” in the story? Shall we not shine the light of truth on her as well? For if there are men who still fall prey to such behavior, there are still women who prey upon them. “The adulteress will hunt for the precious life” (6:26b). We are told very little about how she looks, but much about the way she acts. We know she uses her God-given beauty, and her eyes, the window of the soul, as a lure to her unsuspecting victims (6:25); and she meets the boy “with the attire of an harlot.” Rather than trying to pin-point the attire (which obviously has changed through history), I think the indisputable lesson is this: There is a way of dressing that says to those who see you, “Come and get it.”

Her actions, however, are listed for all to read—from the man who is in danger of being caught, to the woman who thinks her weapons of allure are unique. To the former God says, “Beware!” To the latter He says, “We know you.” one of her greatest weapons is flattery (7:5 & 21), which I would characterize as intemperate praise. Though the compliments may be true, they are given without restraint, and with an ulterior motive.

“She is loud and stubborn” (7:11). She will be heard; and she will have her way. She has an impudent, “in your face” kind of look, and she would rather be the initiator when it comes to affection (v.13). Verse 14 gives us an especially odious feature of her character: she insists that she enjoys the blessing of God. Why, she even attends church. “Christian fornication,” no less! “I have been waiting all my life for you, and our rendezvous of love will be unique,” she whispers. “And my husband is gone; there’ll be no one to see us” (vv.15-20).

God will.

The best line of defense against sexual impurity is found in the first four verses of chapter seven. It is Solomon’s favorite remedy: the wisdom of the ages as found in the Word of God. Keep God’s laws and commandments at your fingertips; and write them indelibly on your heart (v.3). It was Charles Bridges, the old Puritan, who suggested that “the love of Christ is the counteracting principle of the love of lust.” Impure love must be met head on with the purest of all loves.

So mark it well: the “strange woman” still walks among us. She waits to ruin the lives of those who are simple enough to succumb to her seduction. You may see her anywhere, even at church—or perhaps, even in the mirror.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Bundle of Life

“…but the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God…” (1 Samuel 25:29)

I was told of a friend who recently found out that a loved one is near death. This individual was so devastated that he (she) became violently ill himself (herself). I told the person who shared this bad news with me that I was afraid the individual would be devastated without this particular family member. As I pondered this later, a verse in Genesis leaped to mind. One of Jacob’s sons, speaking of the bond between his father and youngest brother, said, “…his life is bound up in the lad’s life” (Gen.44:30). In both cases—Jacob and my friend—the reaction to the loss of the loved one would be literally life-threatening (v.31).

I know what it is to lose a father and mother from this earth, but I have not yet known the grief of losing a mate or a child, and perhaps I never will. I do know, in Jacob’s case, the bond between him and two of his sons (Joseph and Benjamin) caused him, and those around him, much unnecessary heartache. In light of this, perhaps it would be good to remind ourselves of this Biblical principle: My life should not be centered on anything or anyone that can ever be lost to me. This has nothing to do with love and everything to do with reality. If what I see and feel is more real to me than the invisible, ever-present Jesus Christ, and my never-ending relationship with Him, then I will always be in danger of clinging to temporary substitutes.

Abigail described David as a man “bound in the bundle of life” with the Lord. You and I would say he was all wrapped up in God! This did not mean he was incapable of human love, by any means. If anything, to me, measured love that asks no more of the beloved than what can rightfully be expected, makes a deep, abiding love that will warm both hearts.

When Jesus said in Matthew 10 that anyone who loves father, mother, son or daughter more than Him is not worthy of Him, He didn’t just mean we should be willing to leave them for His sake, but also to lose them.

You’re right; “Easy preaching but hard living.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Marryin' Kind

“And another said, I have married a wife…” (Luke 14:20)

At first consideration, this phrase, spoken by a man seeking exception from following Jesus at this particular time, seems rather odd. For instance, to marry a woman who is already a wife would constitute bigamy, would it not? On the other hand, if he is saying, “Now that I’ve married her, she’s a wife,” this would seem fairly obvious, redundant even. But since every word from the mouth of God is worthy of more than a first consideration, may I share with you some of the thoughts that have newly come to me as I read these unusual words from this young husband?

First, whatever else may be said about this man, he was fortunate enough to get not just get a bride, but a wife. There is a difference. A wise young man will look for a girl with the kind of virtues that wears well over time. Long after the girlish body and youthful features have given way to a more “mature” figure and a face with more character than youth, she will be even more attractive and interesting to him than the young girl who caught his eye and then his heart.

Second, I would contend that just because a woman has been married long (or often!) does not mean she’s good at it. I have known young married women who had early acquired the fine art of taking care of a man. Not as a mother (heaven forbid!), but as a true friend, ardent lover, co-laborer in faithful parenting, and a co-conspirator in outrageous fun! On the other hand, I have seen some older wives who seemed as clueless as a teen-ager when it came to making even the most obliging husband happy.

Finally, I will run the risk of being misunderstood now by saying I believe every woman should be “the marryin’ kind,” capable of the give and take necessary for any healthy relationship. This is not to say that all women should be married. The Bible assumes there will be unmarried women in the churches, and even gives instructions about their conduct and how they are to be treated. What I am saying is that singleness should be a matter of the will of God and nothing else. Preference is not a good enough reason. At least, that’s my opinion.

The wise man said, “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing” (Prov.18:22). And like I said, the operative word here is “wife.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How's Your Infrastructure?

“So will I break down the wall that ye have daubed with untempered mortar, and bring it down to the ground, so that the foundation thereof shall be discovered, and it shall fall, and ye shall be consumed in the midst thereof: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.” (Ezek.13:14)

What with broken levees (think New Orleans) and collapsed bridges (think Minneapolis), a common complaint today is the seemingly poor condition of our country’s infrastructure, meaning the underlying foundation and basic framework of our public works, buildings, and transportation facilities, etc. But as important as these things may be, they will not contribute to the downfall of a nation like a rotting moral infrastructure will. As Alexis de Tocqueville, renowned French political thinker of the Modern Age concluded of early America, after a nine-month visit, “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” And lest there be any doubt as to the source of this goodness, he also wrote:

“Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions…I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion—for who can search the human heart?—but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.”

No amount of wealth, beautification, or contrived ecological balancing can make up for moral decay. A nation is, first and foremost, people; and the condition of their hearts provides the truest picture of its stability.

But what of you and me? Do a glowing complexion, trim body, and lively step only hide a crumbling spiritual condition within? In the case of bridges and levees, it takes a catastrophe to see just how weak the inner workings are; and in the case of a Christian, it is usually a tragedy or disappointment that gives us a true glimpse of our own spiritual flimsiness. When, as they say, push comes to shove, are we the ones being pushed and shoved?

What makes a good infrastructure anyway? I may not be an engineer, but I do have some common sense. I know, for instance, that any structure needs at least three things: a good foundation, good building materials, and good maintenance. Those who are true children of God by faith in Jesus Christ have a sure foundation (1Cor.3:11) that is capable of withstanding every storm that arises. “But,” says the apostle in the previous verse, “Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.”

Those whose Christian lives are primarily surrounded and bolstered by emotion, without benefit of theological structure or character building instruction, will always be vulnerable to the battering winds of doubt. “Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge,” says Peter (2Pet.1:5). Devotional reading is fine—necessary even—but it will never take the place of diligent Bible study and disciplined living, when it comes to spiritual maturity and steadiness. The Word of God is the history of redemption and the instruction manual for life, as well as a love letter from God.

Finally, even the sturdiest of structures needs regular maintenance. We often talk about the danger of stagnating in our Christian lives, but the truth is, we are either going forward or losing ground spiritually. This is what Jesus meant, I think, in His explanation of the parable of Seed and the Sower, when He said, “For he that hath, to him shall be given; and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath” (Mark 4:25). As I have written elsewhere, “Hearers of the Word (v.24) are continually receiving what God has provided for their spiritual growth; however, non-hearers are not only deprived of nourishment for new growth, but any spiritual gain they made in the past, is soon depleted.” Those “branches” whose connection to the “Vine” is merely life-sustaining, don’t just fail to grow, they soon wither (Jno.15). “Spirituality is about the nourishing and tending of personal faith,” writes Alister McGrath, in his little book, Beyond the Quiet Time. True Bible spirituality is fixed on Jesus Christ, and is nurtured and maintained by a growing relationship with Him.

When the enemy comes in like a flood (Isa.59:19), will your spiritual levee hold? and will the bridge of your faith stand the heavy burdens of life? In short, how’s your infrastructure? Without a doubt, it’s the most important question you’ll be asked today.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Winsomeness of Wisdom

“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom...Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” (Prov. 3:13, 17)

“Winsome” is an old English word meaning “pleasant.” Before I gave it to my older daughter, Leah, I used to have a very old book that was published in 1900, and which I treasured, called Winsome Womanhood. It enumerates (and extols) those virtues found in the truly beautiful woman. Perhaps one reason God chooses to replace the word “wisdom” with the feminine “she” or “her,” is because wisdom—true Biblical wisdom—is enveloped in beauty. Not that wisdom is soft, or effete (weak or ineffective), for there is nothing sturdier or more resilient than the wisdom of God. But the wisdom that is from above, says James, is pure, peaceable, and gentle—adjectives more often used for a godly woman. Wisdom does not shout profundities; it whispers truths. It does not indoctrinate; it instructs.

Verse 14 of this chapter in Proverbs tells us that wisdom is worth spending for—time or money. This is one reason why Paul points out that those who are able to effectively and powerfully expound the Word of God are worthy of both (double) honor and monetary reward (1Tim.5:17-18). Solomon repeats this theme in chapter 23, where he admonishes us to “buy the truth.” Nothing can begin to compare with wisdom—neither precious jewels nor fine metals—nothing. Wisdom is absolutely incomparable (v. 15). Solomon never seems to run out of good things to say about it. It’s the “principal [first] thing” (Prov.4:7).

I have said that wisdom, though gentle and peaceable, is, at the same time, strong and sturdy. In fact, verses 19 and 20 inform us that wisdom, coupled understanding and knowledge, was the tool God used to form the earth, establish the heavens, and inaugurate the cycle of precipitation. It has been said that the Bible is not a book of science as such, but, one thing is sure: every true law of science had its conception in Genesis 1:1, with the wisdom of God.

No wonder Solomon urges his son to “let them not depart from thine eyes” (v. 21). “Read, read!” he says. “Read them and keep them.” The Proverbs are not platitudes to intone; they are principles to instruct. They’re rules to live by. When you walk, he says in verse 23, they’ll keep you from stumbling and making a fool of yourself. A fall may not do irreparable damage (although it might), but it always brings embarrassment. Everyone falls, but when people do it constantly, something is wrong. Perhaps their balance is off, maybe they are in too big of a hurry, or they simply may not be watching where they’re going. “But,” says the wise man, “Wise-up, and you won’t fall so much!”

Lastly, in verses 24 and 25, we find out that Biblical wisdom is a safety net against fear:

“When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid; yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh.”

When my husband used to be away overnight preaching somewhere, I would climb into bed at night and pray, “Lord, protect me,” as though I didn’t need His protection long before I laid my head on the pillow. It’s just that somehow I always feel more vulnerable when asleep than when I am awake. God knows that about me (and you?), so He has given this and other promises to comfort us. Not only can you and I sleep safely, we can sleep sweetly, as a baby sleeps, knowing we have a loving Heavenly Father standing watch. Like Jacob, who slept soundly on a pillow of stones (Gen.28:11), or Peter, chained between two soldiers, who had to be struck by the angel to be awakened (Acts 12:6-7), we can close our eyes with the calm assurance that however we are awakened, we will awake with our Savior.

John Foxe tells in his famous book of Christian martyrs about a man named John Rogers, who, he says, “on the morning of his execution, being found fast asleep, scarce with much shogging [shaking] could be awaked.” Neither “sudden fear” nor “desolation of the wicked” can overwhelm the soul fastened upon its God, that happy man or woman who has found—and has retained—true Wisdom.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Accountable to Who?

“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Rom.14:12)

We hear much today about the advisability of having individuals around us to whom we see ourselves as being accountable to. Whole enterprises, whether Christian or non-Christian oriented, are built around this concept, from such entities as Promise Keepers to Alcoholics Anonymous. The thing is, we all know that all of these, sometimes helpful, endeavors, no matter how well-intentioned, are often less than successful. But should this surprise us, I wonder. In the case of the former (P.K.), one has only to look at the example we have of our Lord’s twelve disciples, and the fact that one in this close-knit, spiritually advantaged group ended up betraying Him to His death, to see the weaknesses of even Christ-centered accountability. And with the latter (A.A.), the fact that it is necessary to admit perpetually, “I am an alcoholic,” is indication of its precarious success.

Marriage vows obviously carry the expectation of accountability (1Cor.7:4), as does membership in a local body of believers (Matt.18), and citizenship in a country (Rom.13); but the prevalence of divorce, sinful church members, and civil law breakers proves that they are not always the deterrent they should be. And I have my own idea of why this may be: Human accountability is only effective when Divine accountability is the overriding motivation. Unless a man or woman lives his or her life in the light of Romans 14:12, no human restraint will suffice to inspire Biblical, moral standards of conduct. The irrational person who does not fear God will certainly not feel accountable to another human being. This is true whether the man or woman is a believer or non-Believer.

Alistair McGrath, in his book, Doubting, quotes Polish philosopher and writer, Czeslaw Milosz, who said: “A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death—the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice and murders we are not going to be judged.” Atheism is a wishful stab in the dark against Divine accountability.

In the same way, the child of God who sidesteps a direct commandment of God, assuming He knows the weakness of the flesh and stands ready with forgiveness in hand, is guilty of the sin of presumption (Heb.10:26); and no amount of human accountability can withstand such arrogance. Even Jesus pointed out that in the final analysis, one would be far wiser to fear the One who is able to kill both body and soul in hell than someone who is able to only kill the body (Matt.10:28). It is He to whom we are ultimately accountable.

I have said this not to lessen the reality of our accountability to those who have every right to expect truth and equity from us, but rather to point out that this will never be enough to keep us true. Only the man and woman who understand that they are under Divine, as well as human, scrutiny will feel the urgency to live their lives as best they can on the highest plain possible.

I am very conscious of the possibility of offending those who look to me with the (rightful) expectation of seeing the reality of a life given to Jesus Christ and the measure of accountability that this brings. But this pales in comparison to the unquestionable certainty that I will give account of myself to God. And His opinion of me is of far greater consequence than the opinion of any mere mortal.

“And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” (1Jno.2:28)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Only God

“And Jesus answered…Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Luke 4:8)

When a man or woman’s philosophy of life is pared down to its basic premise (and, rest assured, everyone has a personal philosophy), it has one of two reference points: God or me. We either trust what makes sense to us or what God has said. This is not to say that what God has said does not make sense. It only says that reasoning is always presuppositional, and some people reason horizontally, while others reason vertically, if you take my meaning. Those who choose to make their own reality apart from God, do so, not for intellectual reasons, but ethical ones. Their own way of life is more important to them than the Way of Life (Jno.14:6). Unfortunately, we’re not just talking about life; we’re talking about life and death (Pro.14:12). But all of this talk of choosing must be balanced with the very real truth that in any encounter between God and man, He will always be the Initiator and the Enabler, because He is the Superior. To put it another way:

I - Only God Can Reveal God

Jesus said in Matt. 11:27, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” Not only is the Gospel of Jesus Christ an historical religion based on actual facts, it is a revealed religion based on personal corroboration by God to individuals. The two disciples walking on the Emmaus road, disheartened by the apparent loss of their Master, with all their reasoning, found no peace of heart till the risen Christ opened their eyes and revealed Himself to them. Then—and only then—did their hearts burn (Luke 24:13-22). The historical truth of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ should be shared with those we meet; but only God can turn facts into eternal, supernatural truths that affect the hearts—and minds—of men, women, and children.

II – Only God Can Please God

Isaiah 53:10 makes it abundantly plain that the only act that pleased God enough to allow you and me into Heaven was the sacrificial death of His Son on the Cross. God Himself, in the Person of Jesus Christ, is the only One with whom He was completely “well-pleased” (Matt.17:5). One of our dear friends, who is now with the Lord, used to remind believers that this same truth held in our struggle to live holy lives before God. Self-sanctification is an exercise in futility, before and after salvation. Nothing nullifies the fact that “they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom.8:8). But though my flesh will never please God, my “body” can be offered daily in order for God to please Himself through my life (Rom.12:1).

III – Only God Can Be God

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This is the first commandment God gave to His people, Israel. And Jesus Christ elaborates: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” The little saying, “Lord of all or not Lord at all” is a bona fide truism. Eve lost Eden because she succumbed to the devil’s lure: “Ye shall be as gods…” (Gen.3:5). Perhaps the worst idolater of all is not the heathen who worships a god made of stone, or some element of nature, but the man or woman who considers his or her own feelings or reasoning to be the final authority in matters of this life or the one to come. Self-sufficiency is not only an illusion, it is a religion. And it is reasonable to ask, “If Jesus Christ is not Lord, is He Savior?” (Acts 15:11; 16:31; Rom.10:9, etc.)

God can be seen in His world and in His Word, but only as He reveals Himself individually. Those of us who know Him in an intimate way through His Son, Jesus Christ, cannot boast of our intellect that discerned the fallacy of all other religions, nor our innate “longing for God.” In point of fact, God opens our minds and touches our hearts—in whatever order He chooses. The truth of God satisfies the keenest intellect and touches the hardest heart…if the Spirit of God chooses to reveal it. Every man or woman gets some kind of light (Jno.1:9), but light rejected brings greater darkness (Rom.1:19-22). On the other hand, “…the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Prov.4:18).

Only God can reveal God; only God can please God; and only God can be God. Has He revealed Himself to you? Is He pleasing Himself through you? Is He the God of your life? These are questions only you can answer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

All That Comes and All That Goes

“To every thing there is a season…A time to get, and a time to lose...”

The entire July issue of Decision magazine is given to the celebration of the life and death of Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth. Along with all her many wonderful qualities, it was a blessing for me to read about someone with some of the same quirks that I possess. For instance, she was a self-admitted pack-rat, a lover of small antiques, and an inveterate searcher for old books. My husband grinned when I read to him of a friend’s memory of her “on her hands and knees, looking on the lowest bookshelf, or on a ladder trying to get up to the top shelf in these really old, old bookshops.” Only a few days earlier, I had been in just such positions in a wonderful bookshop in Modesto called, “Yesterday’s Books.”

Besides her love of study in general, and the Bible in particular, she was known for her kindness to others and her incurable optimism in the face of loneliness, hardship, and pain. The article states that her children were “mostly unaware of their mother’s loneliness and struggles to manage the family when their father was her away. Her son, Franklin, offered this tribute to his mother:

“I don’t think she ever talked about him leaving. We knew he was preaching, but we thought that everyone’s father was away a lot. It’s just something we grew up with. She was always positive and would quote the old mountain man: ‘Make the least of all that goes, the most of all that comes.’”

Solomon tells us in one of the many seasonal aspects of life he points out in the first part of Ecclesiastes 3, there is “a time to get and a time to lose.” It’s just a fact of life, and nothing can change it. Not even money or prestige. People enter our lives and then they leave them, one way or another; possessions are susceptible to loss or destruction; and fame is fleeting. But for the Christian who sees the hand of God behind all this coming and going, the old mountain man’s philosophy is, by far, the best way to balance the two. “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” So said the beleaguered Job (1:21). Rather than clutching and mourning those things and people that are taken away, we should be embracing—and yes, enhancing—those things and people God is bringing to us. Our “Hello’s” should outshine our “Good-bye’s.”

I am reminded of the angels’ admonition to the disciples when our Lord was ascending back to Heaven:

“Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven: this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)

It is important to remember that our Lord was crucified, buried, raised, and taken back to the Father; but we must never forget that He left so that He could come back. It is those things and those people God is bringing to us (or back to us) that we should be making the most of.

Make the least of all that goes, the most of all that comes.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Correct Response to Divine Chastening

“My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction.” (Prov. 3:11)

The fact that Job characterized the man or woman who is chastened of God as being “happy” is proof positive that people don’t always look at Divine correction in the same way (Job 5:17). He goes on in the verse, however, to say the same thing Solomon says in the cited verse in Proverbs and the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 12:5: “[D]espise not thou the chastening of the Lord.” Divine chastening is a given in the Christian life. As Charles Spurgeon has rightly observed, “God never allows His children to sin successfully.” The question is how should we respond to it?

Solomon gives us some help in verse eleven of Proverbs three, where he points out two mistakes that we as God’s children are in danger of making when we experience chastening. As this text (and the others mentioned) indicates, our first instinct is to despise it. In other words, treat it like a bitter pill that has to be swallowed; so just grit your teeth and tough it out. This kind of attitude lends itself quite easily to blaming our “misfortune” on other causes and visible instruments, refusing to see the hand of God wielding the rod of correction. They are like the people we read about in Jeremiah2:30. “In vain have I smitten your children; they received no correction.” God means for His chastening to be both felt and acknowledged for what it is. Obviously, not all misfortunes, whether they are physical, financial, or relational, etc., are the result of Divine chastening. But it’s safe to say, the man or woman who does business with God regularly will know the difference.

Secondly, we can become “weary,” or as the writer of Hebrews says, we can “faint” when God rebukes us. This is just as bad. Here is the person who becomes despondent and full of self-pity, whose “soul refuse[s] to be comforted” (Psl. 77:2). They will not accept forgiveness, choosing rather to wallow in their despair. They lie in a spiritual swoon, until what they consider to be sufficient penance has been achieved.

Sadly, neither of these individuals is in a position to hear what the rod of God is trying to tell them. “[H]ear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it” (Micah 6:9b). Do you want to know what the Rod of God is saying? Turn to Hebrews 12 for the answer. And here I borrow from one of my husband Richard’s sermons.


1. to show He loves you (v.6)

2. to show you are His (v.8)

3. to bring you into subjection (v.9)

4. to help you live a holy life (v.10)

5. to make you more fruitful (v.11)

Verse 12 of Proverbs 3 tells us that God does not delight in chastening us; He chastens us because He delights in us. To a child, there is one thing worse than being corrected, and that is being ignored. Like any good parent, God does not leave us to ourselves to fester in the corruption of sin and disobedience. He kindly applies the rod of correction; for, as the old Puritan said, “God loves us when He strikes us just as well as when He strokes us.” We should respond to Divine correction in the same way we respond to all God’s manifestations of love to us: with thanksgiving. Now what was it again Job said? “Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth.”

Sunday, July 8, 2007

What We Owe Our Children

“…for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.” (2 Cor.12:14b)

I once heard a pastor’s wife from Texas repeat something she heard an elderly saint in her church say, who obviously did not know much about grammar, but who possessed a great deal of wisdom about human nature. Commenting on a family of brothers and sisters who all ended up bad, she said, “Well, they didn’t have no raisins’; they just growed up.” Sad to say, that is the lot of many children today. The idea that “it takes a village to raise a child” may seem to make sense in a society that has managed to splinter the basic idea of a home through education, legislation, and self-gratification. But the fact remains, the best arrangement, as presented by God, is one father who is a man, one mother who is a woman, and one Book, which is the Bible. One of the first two may be lacking (e.g., Timothy), but the principles laid down in the last are infallible. The grown son or daughter is free to choose his or her own way, but he or she can never fully eradicate Biblical precepts taught by godly parents if internalized by the Spirit of God. They will eventually be either acknowledged or faced, one of the two.

The cited verse in 2 Corinthians has been used to prove that parents should plan financially for their children’s future, something that may, in any case, be a good thing. But to offer this verse on parental obligation as something that goes beyond providing for children at home (1Tim.5:8), it would seem to me, is to put other such verses in the same category (personal instruction, correction, and discipline, etc.). I would not quibble with those who disagree, but I do think the argument is ambiguous enough that I am comfortable using the verse as a springboard for personal thoughts on those intangible things that I think parents owe their children. I’ve put them in a time frame.

First, parents owe their children yesterday. By this I mean, every child should have happy memories to share with their own children and to cherish as they grow older. This is not to say that everything in their lives as they are growing up must be happy, with no hard times or disappointments. Such a childhood is both unrealistic and unhelpful. Shared hardships and mingled tears give rise to mutual victories that make some of the sweetest memories of all.

Second, we owe our children today. They deserve our attention, both undivided and divided, especially when they are young. The first (undivided) involves quality, and the second (divided) speaks of quantity. And make no mistake; both are significant. The times when you are simply there at home with them—within hollering distance!—are just as important as those times when everything else takes second place, and you are within whispering distance.

Third, we owe them tomorrow. Here I mean the assurance of fulfilled promises. There are few things in life as intense as the anticipation of a child. From infancy, they are hard-wired with an assumption that the ones who are responsible for bringing them into the world are obliged to tell them the truth. They may become dissuaded of this at some stage, and it will have a great influence on how they look at other people and life, in general.

Finally, we owe our children eternity. They deserve to have a knowledge of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Think of it; when you and I brought a life into this world, it was one that will exist forever. To succeed in giving our children yesterday, today, and tomorrow, with no provision for eternity is to abdicate them to the devil, as far as we are concerned. They may be well fed, well clothed, and their future well provided for, but they are destitute of the only thing that gives meaning to life—a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

As you who are parents know, raising children is an expensive endeavor, one reason why some have opted out, no doubt. Yet these four things (yesterday, today, tomorrow, and eternity), in themselves are quite inexpensive. Granted, they will cost you time, which some equate with money, but the dividends well outstrip the expenditures. It is not an exact science. The results are not always prompt and are never perfect. (Why should one expect perfect results from imperfect ingredients?) But to neglect these things I have mentioned is to insure failure, unless God intervenes in His mercy. My husband and I always wanted our children to have every Spiritual advantage. Then it was up to them to take that advantage or squander it.

Our children are our greatest assets. We don’t owe them a living, but we do owe them the tools to build a life. “And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isa.54:13).

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Expect the Best

“When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.” (Jno.2:9-10)

Someone asked me recently what had been my most enjoyable time in the past, and, for the life of me, I was stumped. Certainly not because there was a lack of times to pick from, but because there were too many to try to single out one. As the youngest child with siblings quite a bit older, my childhood may have been quieter and more sheltered than some others’; but neither was it in any way traumatic. My teenage years were fairly typical for a born again Christian girl in the 50’s, as was my life as a young wife and mother. The fact that I was married to an intense, young evangelist and pastor, who was caught up in the “big church age,” as it is sometimes called, may have made family life a little more frenetic than it might have been otherwise, but our children, now that they are older, have few complaints.

Still, why would a woman who has enjoyed being married and mothering four precious children so much, be hesitant to linger over happy memories? Is it because there are less heartaches in these latter years? No, I cannot say that. Is it because I enjoy better health now? Obviously, that is not the case. Is it that I have more financial security now that my children have made their own lives? Frankly, that is not something that can be factored into the equation either. For some reason, though, I find myself agreeing with the poet:

Expect the best! It lies not in the past.
God ever keeps the good wine till the last.
Beyond are nobler work and sweeter rest.
Expect the best!
(Wm. Pierson Merrill)

If I would venture a guess, I would have to say the overriding reason for this anomaly is that time has made me even surer of my God and the infallibility and relevancy of His Word. And this, in turn, has led to an anticipation that outweighs nostalgia, no matter how sweet it may be. I am like the governor of the feast at the marriage of Cana, attended by our Lord. The man marveled that, unlike custom, it seemed to him that the best tasting wine had been saved to the last. He acknowledged, the wine served at the beginning was good, but it couldn’t hold a candle to what he tasted now. I think I know how he felt. The beginning and middle of my life were good—wonderful even; but this last…this last. Oh, my Father, “Thou hast kept the good wine until now!”

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"I'll Save You a Seat!"

“… I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)

When you or I are planning to attend an event where there will be a great crowd of people, and there is a chance we may not be there very early, it’s nice to have someone who has promised, “I’ll save you a seat.” No one likes the idea of going somewhere where there is a distinct possibility there won’t be a place for us when we get there. As the old saying goes, “A place for everything; and everything in its place.” Well, that holds true for people, too.

Judas had his own place (Acts 1:25), and since he was called the “son of perdition” (John 17:12), we can be sure it was not the place Jesus is referring to in this verse in John fourteen. But the fact remains, we all will have a place to spend eternity in. None of us will just “continue our journey.” When we take our last breath, we will have arrived. In Luke sixteen, when the rich man died, we are not told that he hovered in some anteroom before being assigned to his final destination. The Bible says he died, was buried, and immediately suffered the torments of hell. Lazarus, the beggar, on the other hand, inhaled his last, painful breath outside the rich man’s gate, and exhaled, cradled in the bosom of Abraham. There was a place for both men, and in the end, they went to their respective places.

Jesus told his disciples (and you and me as believers, by extension) that the place He had in mind for them was the place where He would be (“…that where I am, there ye may be also”). God told Moses, “Behold, there is a place by me” (Exo.33:21). And it becomes obvious as you read through the Word that beyond the acknowledgement by all men and women everywhere that He is Lord of all, the next “business” on God’s agenda was making a way for us to be with Him. Don’t ask me why. To that end, He has overcome every obstacle, including sin, death, and Satan, and made all preparations. Now, to those of us who are both family and friends, he says, “I’ll save you a seat!” And I am more sure there will be a place for me there—by Him—than I am sure there will always be a place for me here. My Savior has prepared the place, and I am prepared to go!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Which Way Are You Leaning?

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Prov.3:5-6)

If our understanding leans one way, and God’s understanding leans another, we’re leaning the wrong way! This is not to say that our own understanding should be neglected or allowed to wither on the vine. When Paul said, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philip.2:5), he didn’t mean for us to become “mindless.” If you read the context, you will see that it is more of a mind-set that he is promoting. In this case, one of humility. No, we’re not told to put aside our own understanding, just to put it in second place. To say it another way, when it comes to making a judgment, what we think must be weighed against what the Bible says; and when the two disagree, the scales should always be weighted in favor of God’s understanding. There is good reason for this: Jeremiah 10:23 says, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” We are only capable of understanding as far as our own accumulated knowledge. At its best, it’s still finite, and infinite Wisdom will trump it every time.

The one great thing that keeps us from doing this, I think, is found in the first part of verse seven. “Be not wise in thine own eyes.” The great hindrance to all true wisdom is the thought that we have already attained it. You can’t tell some people anything—not even God can. Their mind is like cement. They can’t seem to find the truth for the same reason a thief can’t find a policeman. It would be easy to assume that great intelligence would be more susceptible to such implacable thinking; but we have all seen people with average or below average intelligence who prided themselves in what they like to call “common sense,” and who consider this to be the embodiment of all sense. Too often, however, what they call common sense is only common to them. Their own idea of what is right and wrong. Pride is a funny thing. It can turn up in unlikely and even unreasonable places. It’s like the woman who confessed to her pastor what she feared was the sin of pride in her good looks. However, the pastor was quick to point out that it was not the sin of pride in question here, but rather the sin of “vain imagination!” I think you get the picture.

There are some promises in the Word of God that are conditional, while others are unconditional. Verse six is an example of a conditional promise. “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” If you want God to lead you, you have to consult Him. It only makes sense that a map is only helpful if one refers to it. I think a lot of times we define (at least with our lives) the word “acknowledge” by its most casual meaning, as in the case of acknowledging an acquaintance on the street with a friendly “Hello”—a simple recognition—instead of assuming its more formal meaning, which is to confess something or someone to be what is claimed about them, and to acquiesce to the authority of that claim.

Hebrews tells us, “[H]e that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (11:6). Unless we acknowledge God to be Who He says He is, able to do what He says He can, we need not apply for direction in our lives. He must be acknowledged not only as a subject would acknowledge a Sovereign (which He is), but, just as important, as a child would his Father (which He also is.) A judge may be called upon to decide a question of law; but surely the decisions he makes for his children are no less important. The former may be weightier, but the latter are no less meaningful.

Sometimes I come to God with weighty questions—important decisions. Other times I ask Him for, or about, so-called little things. Either way, I’m comfortable coming to Him. In the first instance, I know I’ll find infinite wisdom; in the second, I can always count on loving compassion and interest. I need to know how to answer my husband when he comes to me for an opinion; but I also want to know where I misplaced my keys. Does He consider either request unimportant? Not at all; because I have acknowledged Him to be not only Lord of Heaven and Earth, but Lord of my life…all of it. There is no desire or secret longing that cannot be trusted to His care. He is the Altogether Trustworthy One! And we can trust in Him, with all our heart.

And shall I fear to trust the One
Who gave Himself for me?
Or should I lean on my own staff
A useless, broken reed?

Ah, no! I will acknowledge Him
As Sovereign, Friend, and Guide
He shall direct my every path
His Presence by my side.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

You've Got It!

“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” (1Jno.5:14-15)

One of the popular catch phrases today used as the assurance of a soon to be fulfilled request, is, “You’ve got it.” It’s designed to let the petitioner know that the request has been noted and will soon be satisfied. In some cases, the phrase becomes positively redundant, and, in my own experience on several occasions, it turned out to be an empty promise! For that reason, I have been known to reply to an emphatic, “You’ve got it,” with an equally emphatic, “Not yet I haven’t!” To me, it would make more sense for the salesperson, waitress/waiter, or whoever, to save the phrase for the moment I have the asked for item in my hand. Then—and only then—have I really gotten it.

We, as believers, have been commanded by God to make and keep promises, with integrity unneedful of a well-defined vow (James 5:12). As the old-timers used to say, our word should be bond enough. Still, even this cannot prevent unforeseen circumstances from sabotaging our most sincere intentions. The ravages of Alzheimer’s may cause a mate who promised to love till death, forget that promise and even the person to whom it was made. Or a promise to return may be prevented by an accident or even death. Because of cases like these and others like them, it is easy to see why the apostle James points out the wisdom in saying, “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (4:15).

I know of only one Person whose promises can live up to the guarantee, “You’ve got it.” John assures us that anything we ask, that is in God’s will, is as good as done. Because as Paul says, every blessing we will ever need has already been set aside for us, just waiting to be picked up (Eph.1:3). And nothing can ever prevent us from having them, because the One who made the promise will never forget us (Isa.49:15); nor will He ever die.

Fifty-five years I asked God for eternal life…and He replied with an emphatic, Divinely guaranteed, “You’ve got it!”

“And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish…” (John 10:28)