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)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Rebuke: A Double Blessing

“Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof is brutish.” (Prov.12:1)

A brute, according to the dictionary, is a “savage, insensitive person, displaying animal qualities and desires”; one who is “not intelligent, but irrational.” Solomon displays such an individual as the opposite of a man or woman who loves instruction. They are contrasts, however, that play off one another. Sound, effective instruction will always involve some degree of reproof, while the individual who cannot sustain a rebuke will be forever uneducated in the important lessons of life. They, like the animals, are forced to learn by experience. In the case of the brute beast, it’s because they lack the capacity to learn any other way. In the case of a “brutish” human being, it’s because they lack the humility that is required to learn. To receive instruction, one must first assume that the instructor knows something he or she does not know. This is hard for some people. And, Solomon says, they are worse than fools. “Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? There is more hope of a fool than of him” (26:12).

Those among us who might be tempted to pride ourselves in our ability to take a reproof graciously should make sure that we do not have to be the ones who decide how, or from whom, it will come. God may choose to rebuke us through a kindly Samuel (1Sam.13) or an amiable Abigail (1Sam. 25); but, on the other hand, He may send a ranting Shimei (2 Sam.16), or worse yet, He may speak through a donkey (Num.22)! The individuals who are able to see the hand of God behind the most unworthy instrument of instruction or rebuke will find themselves twice blessed. Not only will they learn the intended lesson from God that comes with the rebuke, they will have exercised themselves in humility, something guaranteed to make one a recipient of an extra helping of the grace of God.

“But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” (James 4:6)

Monday, June 4, 2007

Walking with the Wise or Fraternizing with Fools

“He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” (Prov.13:20)

Commenting on this verse, the Puritan writer, William Arnot, makes this astute observation: “Your character goes far to determine the company that you will keep; and the company that you keep goes far to mould your character.” This insight would be discouraging indeed if we didn’t know that it’s possible to stop the vicious cycle by consciously choosing different companions. We may not be able to choose our family, but it is certainly within our power to cultivate some relationships while shunning others.

It might be worthwhile for each of us to consider what type of person we are attracted to. We all have some acquired preferences, even biases, especially when it comes to how someone looks. This is only natural (1Sam.16:7). But only those who are truly shallow will allow this to become their definitive estimation, whether favorable or unfavorable. Beyond this, is it wit, popularity, financial status, verbal skill, or a sparkling personality that makes us choose the company of certain people? Or, just as bad, would we rather be with those who are conscious of some of these qualities in us, and, therefore, can be counted on to provide assurance that we are being truly appreciated? Still others, I have noticed, are drawn to individuals who are “wise” alright, but with a worldly wisdom (Jam.3:15). And, sad to say, this can be seen in some believers. Such Christians, Charles Bridges describes fearfully, as being able to “live in a worldly element, without feeling out of their element… able to breathe a tainted atmosphere without sensibility of infection.”

The reason that a habitual companion of fools will eventually be destroyed is found in 1Corinthians 15:33, where we read, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.” It may be countered that perhaps good manners might correct evil communications, but the verse does not predict this, so why risk it? Oh, I’m not advocating isolationism. Even Paul the Apostle admitted earlier in this Epistle that in order to be isolated from all sin and worldliness, one would be forced to “go out of the world” (5:9-11). He does advise, however, not to “keep company” with those who practice this lifestyle. In other words, don’t make them your frequent companions.

Who, then, shall I choose for my companion? Shall we ask the man after God’s own heart? David tells us in Psalm 119:63, “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.” These are the truly wise. Unless an individual fears God and is willing to go by His precepts to the best of his or her ability, no matter how amiable, attractive, or exhilarating he or she may be, I dare not choose their company.

The good news is that these wise men and women can be found, and in unexpected places. Yes, some are behind pulpits, but many are in the pews, and not just those in your own church, either. As a young mother, I learned from older, godly women as we cooked, folded clothes, or took care of our children together. It was not “counseling” (which was not in vogue yet!); it was learning lessons of life from someone who had already been down the path, and who knew where some of the pitfalls were. If I have any wisdom today it’s because I have tried to cultivate friendships (or, at least, conversations) with individuals who have maneuvered (or are now maneuvering) through life with grace, humility, and integrity. Few of these people were well known—except to God. I was like the men spoken of in Zechariah 8:23 who said, “We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.”

And not all of these wise companions are alive today. There are countless saints of God who have left us their thoughts in words that are a great source of wisdom to those of us who are willing to seek them out. Warren Wiersbe has a wonderful book of excerpts taken from the writings of great men of the past called Giant Steps. When I read some of these, I feel as though I am walking beside them, seeing the glory of God in their faces.

I must again remind us that this verse lays before us a choice, as so much of God’s Word does. It would seem to be a fairly easy one, yet I have known many who habitually made the wrong one. These are the people who falter through their Christian lives because they fail to keep company with those who would “lead them on to God,” as the old song says. And mark it well: You will never rise above the people with whom you choose to surround yourself.

So choose wisely; choose to walk with wisdom.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Wasted Grace

“But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain…” (1 Cor. 15:10a)

My daughter, Leah, shared a sweet story with me that she heard a preacher tell some time ago. She decided to commit it to paper while it was fresh in her mind, and I have decided to share it with you. I think it will inspire us and cause us to evaluate our lives once again.

Several years ago, the story was told of a young lady named Carol Lee who was a student at the University of Georgia at Athens. She was diagnosed with a rare condition known as Gaucher's Disease. At that time, less than 4,000 individuals in the United States suffered from the disease.

Probably in an attempt to utilize their time and resources wisely, it is the practice of the FDA not to extensively research cures for any disease that has 200,000 or less known cases.

The effects of Gaucher's disease include the swelling of one's internal organs, accompanied by severe bone deterioration. It is extremely painful; and, at the time that this story took place, there was no known treatment or cure for it.

Carol Lee was destined to die; there was no doubt about that. Then a tiny pharmaceutical company in Georgia heard of her plight and took it upon themselves to research a treatment for her condition. They eventually found a drug or combination of drugs that would at least arrest the condition and give her more time.

They contacted Carol Lee's family to tell them the good news/bad news. Good news: they had found a drug to treat and temporarily arrest Gaucher's disease. Bad news: the treatment would literally cost $1,400 per day. Without hesitation, Carol Lee's father, who was a multi-millionaire, ordered the treatment to begin.

As the father began to exhaust his resources, the family resorted to selling personal items to secure the funds for Carol Lee's treatment. The touching story soon became public. One day, in a news interview, Carol Lee was asked how she felt about the fact that her father was virtually bankrupting himself to keep her alive. She responded, "Many nights, as I lie back on my pillow to drift off to sleep, I have to wonder... 'Did I live a life today that was worth $1,400?’"

And many nights, as I lie back on my pillow and drift off to sleep, I have to wonder... "Did I live a life today that was worth the very life of God's Son?" Or did I "waste" His grace

Obviously, the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, but, as the verse in First Corinthians tells us, even Paul recognized that humanly speaking, and for all practical purposes, it is possible for a child of God live a life so self-centered that it appears void of any useful purpose. We need not do great things every day, but we can be involved in meaningful activities regularly. I try to spot check my own life from time to time with this searchlight: What am I doing that will outlive me? That is one reason I chose (and was able, thank God) to give my children a full-time mother while they were still in our home. It was the best (and most satisfying) investment I ever made.

That is also why I write. I have read enough books, old and new, to know that great thoughts and ideas outlast slick book covers and smart advertising. This is not to say that my thoughts are always great but that the subject matter is! If I can give lost men, women, and children good reason to consider the claims of Jesus Christ, and if I can inspire other believers—especially women—to want to please Him in every aspect of their lives, then I will have a satisfying answer to my own question. As Leah said, the grace of God is worth far more than $1400 a day. It is worth all I am and have.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so Divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.