Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Creed or Deed?

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”. (2Tim.2:15) “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Tit.2:14)

Ravi Zacharias has made the observation that some people relate better to ideas than they do to other people. The question remains, “Is this a bad thing?” You may disagree, but I would contend that it is the same as asking whether it is it better to be right-handed or left-handed. I say this knowing there are those who consider left-handedness to be less than ergonomically efficient in a world in which approximately 80% of the population is right-handed; and also knowing that some people would argue, right-handedness represents those inclined to “do” more than “think,” while others would argue just the opposite. To my way of thinking, there are people who are better at enlightened reasoning than engaging conversation, and to belittle either inclination is like forcing a naturally left-handed child to use his or her right hand.

This brings me to the real question I want to address, however: Is it more important to know what you believe or to put what you believe into practice? Creed or Deed? Granted, people who hear the Word of God without doing it are only deceiving themselves (James 1:22), but people who “do” without a clear understanding of what God is really asking them to do are like the people Paul wrote about who had zeal “but not according to knowledge” (Rom.10:2). God would have us to be “zealous of good works” (Tit.2:14), not merely “zealous of the traditions of our fathers” (Gal.1:14). To serve God because others do, and in the same way everyone else does, might be acceptable if we did not have an instruction Book of our own. Paul’s prayer for the Christians of Colosse was that they would be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col.1:9). Notice the words, “spiritual understanding.” God would not have given us a Bible of our own if He had not also made provision for a personal Tutor: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth…” (Jno.16:13).

Having said that, and to go back to our original analogy, are there those Christians who are better at “rightly dividing the word of truth,” while others are more “zealous of good works”? No doubt; but to limit ourselves to the one we do best is like tying one arm behind us. One hand may work better than the other, but we have far more physical dexterity if we are able to use both. People who are gifted in Biblical apologetics need to “be careful to maintain good works,” (Tit.3:8) as well; and people who are filled with zeal for God need to also be filled with spiritual wisdom and understanding. When it comes to deciding which is more important, knowing the Word of Truth or putting it into practice, the answer is that you and I should be spiritually ambidextrous! It’s not Creed or Deed; it’s Creed and Deed.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Of Bushels, Brethren, and Broken Pitchers

“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt.5:15-16)

D.L. Moody pointed out that verse sixteen does not instruct us to make our light (or testimony) shine before men but simply to let it. If it’s there, it will shine….unless it is camouflaged. In this case, the cover-up is a bushel basket, and obviously, it doesn’t matter whether it is clean or dirty, which says to me that both our sin and our self-righteousness will suffice to hide the glory of God.

I can think of another good way to dim the light as well. As they say, “The darker the night, the brighter the light.” In other words, our light will shine brighter in the world than it will in the church house, if we are willing to take it there. This is not to say that we should neglect the house of God, by any means; what I am saying is that my testimony to the reality Jesus Christ and my relationship with Him, will have greater impact in the company of those who sit in Spiritual darkness than it will among already enlightened brethren. Granted, our light cannot have “communion” with darkness (2Cor.6:14), but it can, and should, have contact, not to show commonality, but dissimilarity.

Another way to let a light shine is to break the vessel that encloses it. Just as the pitchers that the Israelites held in their hands when they went to fight the Midianites had to be broken in order for the light inside them to be seen (Judges 7), so these vessels of clay that house the Spirit of God within us are sometimes broken so that His glorious light is shed abroad in the hearts of those we come in contact with. We all are aware of the glow of Heaven that can emanate from those saints who walk through the valley of pain and disease with the God of all comfort.

If the Light is truly there, it will shine. You and I have only to let it shine, uncovered, undimmed, or unclothed, if need be. It was not meant to warm and illuminate us alone, but those around us, as well. So, let it shine; let it shine; let it shine!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Promise and Performance

“And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)

You’ve heard the old saying, “Put your money where your mouth is.” In other words, it’s easy enough to say you can or will do something, but the question is, can you or will you actually come through? With you and me, the best intentions do not always guarantee the best of results. As Paul himself admitted, the will to do good may be present, while the ability to perform it may prove illusive (Rom.7:18). And a willing mind may be acceptable with God (2Cor.8:12), but among our fellow men and women, who cannot see our minds, it is performance that counts. With God, however, there are no limitations on either.

We read in Romans 4:21, “And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.” God never makes promises He cannot keep. In this case, it was His promise to Abraham that he would have a son; and it may have been some twenty-five years later before the son was born, but the promise was kept. This same God, who has the ability to save and keep us
(2Tim.1:12; Heb.7:25), has the ability to make good on every promise He makes to you and me, whether it is a general promise to all in the Body of Christ, or one that He gives to us individually as unique members of that Body. God’s performance abilities can be seen and known both intellectually, in the Word of God, and experientially, in our everyday lives. They are unquestionable.

Furthermore, the God who can keep His promises, intends to. As Paul says later on in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” In the case of you and me, not only has God promised us, He has promised Himself! “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2Tim.2:13). There is a covenant of love between us that God, if for no other reason than to protect His good name, will not default on. Nor will allow us to (Jude 24).

Mary was blessed, not only because she was chosen of God to carry His Son in her womb, but also because she believed He was able to perform what He promised. Neither you nor I can ever attain to the former, but we can stand confidently beside the blessed Virgin when it comes to the latter. We, too, can believe God and be blessed. And we have every reason to, because what He has promised, He can—and will—perform.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

It Is What It Is

“Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.” (Acts 26:32)

All of us can look back longingly and say, “What if…” The secret is being able to work with what is. In Paul’s case, if he had not made the fatal decision to appeal to Caesar (25:11), he would have been a free man. At least, that’s the way King Agrippa saw it. The truth is, Paul received confirmation from an angel of God that he “must be brought before Caesar” (27:24). Was this proof that he had made the right decision? I’m not sure; but it was proof that this was the game plan for his life now.

Before you accuse me of stating the obvious, let me remind you (and me) that when we say, “It is what it is,” it is usually with bitter resignation. Some poor choices are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but others are so crucial that they can threaten our peace of mind, if not our very lives. In light of that, it would seem to me there are two dynamics that should come into play here. First, prevention. One of the most important character skills that parents should instill within their children is how to make wise choices. It is not, however, a once learned, always applied, skill. Even now, my morning prayer almost always includes the words, “Lord, help me to make wise decisions today.”

The second dynamic is providence. By that I mean the ability to see the hand of God ruling or overruling in the affairs of men. Sin is always a poor choice that invariably reaps unwanted consequences; and even choosing unwisely between two or more good options can lead to regret. In either case, however, one is left with the reality of where you are now. This is where God, who knows what it is to start over, is willing to brush through the ashes to bring forth beauty (Isa.61:3) and blow His breath of grace over dry bones and give them new life (Exek.37). Forgiveness is the promise of a future.

What if is a dead-end street; not even God can do anything with it. What is may not be an ideal place to start from, but you can get somewhere from there, if you’re headed in the right direction, and if you’re willing to let go of all the “what if’s.” When we take what is and give it to God, we find out what it—and we—can become.

Thursday, February 1, 2007


“If any among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” (James 1:26)

In a culture that goes beyond codifying “free speech” to exploiting it, it is tempting to think of those who speak their minds and always say what they think as being fearless and unpretentious. But, on the contrary, God calls them fools (Prov.29:11). Worse, James says, it’s a sure sign that either such a man or woman has no religion at all, or what they do have is not worth much. There are those among us, saved or lost, who cannot reason with you so instead resort to talking you down. As the Psalmist describes them, “[They] have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?” Who indeed? Certainly not God.

James continues his discussion of the tongue in chapter three, using especially graphic language to describe this lethal, “little member.” You will see it referred to as being set on fire of hell, full of deadly poison, and encompassing a world of iniquity. We are often warned of the explosive danger of firearms, but it seems to me that “tongue control” is far more important than gun control, especially since inflammatory and abusive language often leads to violence. We ought to have a bridle on our tongues, James asserts. In other words, being “tongue-tied” is not always a bad thing.

I still have my baby book that my mother kept when I was born. I was her last baby, and as far as I know, the only one of the five she did this for. (We’re talking about a 64-year-old book here!) One of the entries is a notation that at five months they had my tongue clipped so I wouldn’t be “tongue-tied.” (There are some, I fear, who would question the wisdom of that decision!) And I will admit, I have not always used my loosened tongue wisely. We are told in Mark seven about a man with a speech impediment who had the “string of his tongue” loosed by Jesus. Obviously, I think of myself when I read this story. However, for an actual role model I look to Zacharias, of whom it is said, “[H]is tongue was loosed, and he spake and praised God” (Lk.1:64b).

Frankly, I do not aspire to “a thousand tongues” in order to praise my Redeemer, as the song-writer has said. I know the potential for harm that lies within the one I have. Rather, my prayer would be that my tongue, which cannot be tamed (Jms.3:8), would be bridled when necessary and loosened only by the Spirit of God. In my case, it may have been clipped, but it still needs to be tied.