Wednesday, November 28, 2007

To Tell the Truth

“[Y]ea, let God be true, but every man a liar…” (Rom.3:4a)

If these words tell us anything, it is that when our stories, or our conclusions, differ from God’s, we are the ones who are lying. In other words, there is only one truth (The Bible never speaks of “truths,” only “truth.”); and you and I cannot be relied upon to always have it. We can have a living, eternally binding relationship with the Author of all truth, Jesus Christ (Jno.14:6), and we can have access to His living Words (1Pet.1:23), but we have this Treasure in “earthen vessels” (2Cor.4:7). And that’s the fly in the ointment. We can strive to serve God with a perfect heart, but a willing mind is the best we can hope for, says David. “And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and a willing mind…” (1Chron.28:9). Fortunately, the Apostle Paul tells us this is good enough, as far as God is concerned: “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not” (2Cor.8:12).

Does this mean we should always be questioning everything we believe? Not at all, especially when the people of God down through history have, by and large, believed the same thing. Most importantly, there can there be no dispute about the truth of redemption in Jesus Christ. According to God, anyone who would do that is an unquestionable liar (1Jno.2:22). When this does becomes questionable, nothing is sure; and one is doomed to flounder (and eventually drown) in a sea of perpetual seeking.

As believers, you and I are not “seeking the truth”; we have it. It is only for us now to grow in knowledge (2Pet.3:18), by allowing the Teacher to guide us into all truth (Jno.16:13). David says, “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me” (Psl.138:8); and I take that to mean everything, including my understanding.

What does all this mean to me, a great-grandmother, sitting in a little room in an obscure, old western town with more history than future? (I’m talking about the town!) It means that the foundation of my life has been, and still is, sure and steadfast. I have not believed a lie; I have embraced the Truth. That’s why I open the pages of God’s Word daily, knowing that though I may not know all the answers, I’m in the right classroom! My vessel may be faulty, but I drink from the Fountain of Truth.

And it is no small consolation to me to be able to say to my four children, “I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths” (Prov.4:11). To have told them anything else would have been to tell them a lie.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Contentious Cora or Prudent Polly

“...the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping.” (Prov.19:13b)
“...a prudent wife is from the Lord.” (Prov.19:14b)

Although we know that there are plenty of homes where the husband is the weak link and the main source of strife and pain, it must be acknowledged that Solomon attributed the majority of his observations on inadequacies and failures in marriage to the wife. Aside from Divine inspiration, we could probably think of a lot of reasons for this—seven-hundred to be exact! But I must admit, from my own observation, I tend to agree that in the majority of cases, a good wife is more capable of outweighing the inadequacies of a poor husband then vice versa. And, likewise, a bad wife can render both the intentions and actions of a good husband well-nigh useless. These two verses in Proverbs 19 provide us with just such a contrast in wives—a contentious one and a prudent one.

“[T]he contentions of a wife are a continual dropping” (cp. 27:15). This is what is called in literary terms a “metaphor”—an implied comparison. It is not literally the case, but the effect is the same! I’m told that an ancient form of torture was to place the victim so that a drop of water fell at intervals on his or her forehead. The prospect that it might never end proved to be more than most could bear. The same can be said of a husband who is badgered, wheedled, criticized, whined to, or argued with, incessantly. For some of these unfortunates, after awhile, it becomes unbearable. It may not come loudly or crudely, but this in no way eases the pain. Constant scraping of the skin, no matter how light, will eventually draw blood. “Contention” is an interesting word that can have either a positive or negative denotation. Warren Wiersbe has observed that it is one thing to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3), but quite another to be just plain contentious! And it’s easy for the lines between the two to become blurred. Some people who profess to be standing on a principle are actually stuck on a policy. This is destructive to any relationship; but in a marriage, it’s disastrous.

But let’s bid a hasty farewell to “Contentious Cora” and find more pleasant company with “Prudent Polly.” The second half of Proverbs 19:14 tells us that “a prudent wife is from the Lord.” This word—prudence—is often used interchangeably with wisdom (16:21a). Indeed, prudence has always seemed to me to be the feminine version of wisdom. That’s not an authentic definition, of course, but here’s one that really is, from the Oxford English Dictionary: “Sagacious in adapting means to end; careful to follow the most politic and profitable course; having or exercising sound judgment in practical matters; circumspect [Eph.5:15], discreet [Titus 2:5], worldly-wise [Luke 16:8].” What a wonderful resume for a prospective wife! Houses and riches may be inherited, according to the first part of verse 14, but a good wife comes from God alone.

If you’re like me, one day you may bear a striking resemblance to Polly, while on another, your husband would swear he’s married to Cora! We blame circumstances, hormones, or even the weather, anything but the heart, or so it seems. Frankly, occasional melancholy may overtake all of us from time to time, but I see no justifiable reason for ever being down right cantankerous!

One of the incongruous characteristics of marriage is that it has the ability to make one very happy or very unhappy. As the old Puritan writer, William Arnot, has pointed out, “This divinely-appointed union is, in human life, like the busy bee returning laden home. The sweetest honey and the sharpest sting lie in it both; and they lie not far apart. But for the honey it has been created, not for the sting: for the honey it lives and labours, not for the sting.”[1] If that be the case, some of us are more deserving of the pet name “Honey” than others.

Solomon’s words may not be “politically correct”; but you can always count on them being practically (and painfully) correct. Am I courageous—and prudent—enough to accept them?

[1] Arnot, William. Studies in Proverbs: Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Scales of God

“…for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.” (1Sam.2:3b)

I don’t know about you, but scales have never made my list of favorite things, even when the numbers registered improvement. I guess it’s because they are so fickle. They can change your mood from pleasure to frustration in a week’s time, it would seem. Granted, the scale is only a gauge of my own behavior (unless there is an organic problem), but that only adds to the frustration. Still, as significant as these scales are to some of us, we should never lose sight of the most important one you and I will be weighed on: the scales of God.

In Hannah’s magnificent prayer of praise to God for the gift of a son, she acknowledges it is not our body or our mind that is weighed by God, but our actions. As important as our thought life is, it is not the things thought in the mind, but the “things done in [the] body” that we will give an account of to God (2Cor.5:10). To the extent that our thoughts precede our actions (a great extent, by the way), they are part of our accountable actions.

This works both ways. Good intentions can fade away from neglect; and wicked plans can have their legs cut out from under them by sincere repentance. In both cases, it is the resulting action (or inaction) that is added to God’s scale.

Of course, the whole idea of God having, much less utilizing, any kind of scale to measure our actions is abhorrent to many people. Natural man will go to any length to try to ignore his accountability to God, even inventing cults and isms that allow him to believe he is the master of his own fate. But, as I have pointed out in the past, Almighty God is someone “with whom we have to do” (Heb.4:13). He cannot be evaded. For all our blustering and pontificating, one day you and I will stand before Him and give an account.

As far as eligibility for Heaven is concerned, the balance will always be tipped against us. The best person who ever walked this earth (outside of Jesus Christ) will hear the same words King Belshazzar heard in Daniel 5:27: “Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting.” The only hope we have of tipping the scales of Divine justice in our favor is the intervention of Christ on our behalf. When He is added to the equation, by repentance of sin and faith in His death, burial, and resurrection, then—and only then—will the odds be stacked in our favor.

Those of us who have the assurance that our sin debt has been paid and we are as sure of Heaven and though we were already there, should, nevertheless, be mindful that sins that will never impose the wrath of God on us (1Thess.5:9), can still bring His displeasure and discipline. God never ignores sin. And sin always kills something. It may not be our souls, thanks to Calvary, but it can kill a lot of other things, not the least of which is our joy and sweet fellowship with the Father.

The next time you step on a scale, remember it’s not the most important one in your life. There is another one that is weighing your actions. And say, what was your latest weigh-in?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

My Brother's Keeper

“And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel, thy brother? and he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen.4:9)

Notwithstanding the fact that he lied (he knew exactly where his brother was), Cain asked a very astute question. In essence, “How responsible am I for other people?” Whether we take it in its original setting-a blood relation, or a fellow believer, or just another human being, the question is still relevant today. In Cain’s case, it was rhetorical, with the obvious answer (at least, in his mind) being, “No.” To which God, if He had been so disposed, could have replied, “Just because you’re not his keeper doesn’t mean you can be his killer!” Fortunately, God does not share my bent for sarcasm.

Obviously, there are many who, if they were honest, would have to answer the question the same way. Not that they approve of murder, it’s just that their philosophy of “Live and let live” could more accurately be characterized as “Live and let die.” Either literally by failing to speak out against such sins as abortion, euthanasia, drug trafficking, etc; or spiritually, by failing to share the Gospel in whatever way they can with people who will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. One does not have to be a zealot or a crusader, but as the wise man says, “[A] word spoken in due season, how good it is” (Pro.15:23b). Whether it is a word of encouragement, warning, or rebuke, failing to speak when the occasion and the Holy Spirit’s prompting call for it, indicates someone who neglects not only the keeping of his brother, but the keeping of his own character.

But, on the other hand, there are those whose answer to the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” would be a quick, “You bet, I am!” This is the man or woman who seems to have assumed responsibility for the conduct, choices, and convictions of everyone within his or her sphere of influence. This includes, first and foremost, family members; but friends, co-workers, and subordinates are vulnerable, too. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this phenomenon is its built in immunity from criticism, the appearance of an apparent benevolent motivation. But whether the motive is admirable or simply advantageous, the result is still the same; stunted spiritual growth—for everyone involved.

What then do I owe my “brothers and sisters,” whatever their connection to me? Well, Paul felt that he owed a debt to all men that could only be paid by proclaiming the Gospel (Rom.1:14-16). And, beyond this, he acknowledged one other obligation: “Owe no man anything, but to love one another” (Rom.13:8a). If I truly love people, I will neither overlook them nor overshadow them. I will acknowledge sin, while at the same time proclaiming the Savior; and I will never seek to have dominion over someone else’s faith (2Cor.1:24), knowing that to do so would be to judge another man’s servant, and “to his own master he standeth or falleth” (Rom.13:4).

Am my brother’s keeper? Yes, but no more than he is mine.