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).