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.”