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.