Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One Thing Needful


“But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)


         In the familiar story of Mary and her sister Martha, much has been made of Martha’s fevered service that ended in criticism of her sister and ill-advised words to Jesus. And I have been one those many engaged in this discussion. But on this first day of a year that many of us look forward to with fear and trepidation, to say the least, it is these words of Jesus to Mary that speak to my heart anew. To my way of thinking, there are three thoughts laid out here that can help us set a course for the coming year, and through all of life, for that matter.


One Thing is Needful


“But one thing is needful…” 


         These four words stop us in mid-sentence when we are tempted to say, “But what about__?” Other things are nice, but only one thing is needful. Other things may reach a level of importance; but only one thing reaches the level of supreme importance. Only one thing is actually needed. In this case, it was service that clamored for preeminence, but fell miserably behind in standing before God. In the great scheme of things, our service to God does much more for us than it does for Him. I think I need to say that again: Our service to God does much more for us than it does for Him. Service to Him is wonderful. It has brought me great joy through the years. But what God does for me when I spend time at His feet is like food, water, and air to me. I need it. In fact, as Jesus told those in Mary and Martha’s house that day, I need it more than anything else in this world.


One Word is Pivotal


“…and Mary hath chosen that good part…”


         The pivotal word here is “chosen.” Mary was neither commanded by Jesus to sit and listen at His feet; nor was she encouraged by those around her to do so, as far as we know. Whether or not you put fellowship with Him above all else is a choice that you alone make. In the end, you set your own priorities. For all the many texts in the Bible that assure us of the Sovereignty of God, there are a surprising amount of others that make it clear much of the Christian life depends on our choices, and whether foreordained or the result of free will, we are still called upon to make them. Devotion to the Person of Jesus Christ is not mystical; it is methodical. Deliberately choosing the path of unbroken fellowship (stumbles and all) may not be popular, especially with non-stop saints; but the fact remains, Jesus said, when you do it, you have “chosen that good part.”


One Principle is Over-Riding 


“…which shall not be taken away from her.”


         The over-riding principle that gives credence to the argument that communion with Christ is the only truly needful thing, is that it is the only thing that cannot be taken away from us. The day will come when you and I will not be able to render service to God as we want or in the way to which we are accustomed. When that day comes, it will be important to have one area in our Christian life that remains constant and familiar. Something that has already taken its place as the most important part.


         And we have it on good authority that the one thing—the one needful thing—is a reserved spot at the feet of Jesus.


    The most important part of the Christian life is the part that only God sees.


 


 


                                                                                               


 



Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Invisible Beam


“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, and perceiveth not the beam that is in thine own eye?”  (Luke 6:41)


         Or as my husband likes to paraphrase it, why do we always see the splinter in our brother’s eye, but somehow never seem to be able to make out the telephone pole in our own? The truth is, many, if not most, of us are guilty of criticizing others, while we ourselves may be guilty of far worse, in God’s estimation. The fact that we are at fault may not excuse others’ guilt, but neither do their imperfections lessen our own culpability. God purposely uses this over-the-top metaphoric speech to show us just how blind we can be to our own vulnerabilities.


         What is it that makes this beam—this telephone pole, if you will—right before our very eyes, so invisible to us? If I had to give a one-word answer, it would be “prejudice.” Not in the sense that society has corrupted the word to identify anyone who does not go along with its latest cultural mores; but rather, a preconceived opinion that completely disregards any fact that might contradict it. This is why one refuses to be corrected by anyone outside his or her own comfortable alliances (e.g., denomination, church, fellowship, peer group, etc.). It is also why we may be skeptical of anyone below, or above, our own education level. And why we tend to list sins by priority and feel more comfortable in a group whose list resembles our own.


         This is important. Not just to our relationship with one another, but God, as well. As long as we are minimizing our sins by magnifying the shortcomings of others, we run the risk of harboring chronic sins that contaminate our fellowship with Him (Psl.66:18). If we fail to put this truth in the right perspective, we are always going to assume the gigantic beam is in the other fellow’s eye, while that insignificant little mote is in our own, instead of the other way around. In which case, we never will see straight! 



Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Give Thanks


I Give Thanks


Thousands of memories—family and home


Hosts of dear friends—new and old


Ample supply from an Unseen Hand


Numberless Promises on which to stand


Knowledge of the ages; great Truth the ponder 


Stories of majesty, glory, and wonder 


Grace for the journey each step of the way


Indwelling Spirit to brighten the day


Victory promised o’er death and its sting


Infinite ages to dwell with the King


No need to worry; on this I depend


God of creation is my Father and Friend. 


                                            Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!


 



                                                                  

Harold's Caramel Pie


Dear Readers: Many of you will be in charge of preparing Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends. Before you do, I thought you might enjoy reading something I wrote several years ago about one of our family “traditions.” It’s all true, except for the obvious literary license I have taken with some of the dialogue. A good opening text might be Proverbs 17:22. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”


Harold’s Caramel Pie 


            My brother-in-law swears that his renowned recipe for caramel pie was passed down to his family from a great aunt, who relented on her death bed, and revealed her treasured secret to members of the family huddled around her. Being of Kentucky (“Brier-hopper”) extraction myself, and not altogether unfamiliar with such family traditions, I’m fairly certain that it went something like this: 


            “How much longer you reckon she can hold out, Aunt Lizzie? She’s wheezin’ some’n awful.”


            “It’s untellin’, Martha. She’s powerful stubborn when she wants to be. You young’uns should have seen her in her prime. She could catch a chicken, wring its neck, pluck the feathers, and have it cut up and fried before breakfast. She’ll be missed, sure.”


            “You don’t suppose she’d give us her recipe for the caramel pie before she passes on, do you?” Young Martha’s brawny husband had goaded her into making this request that very morning.


            “Marth,” he had said, his eyes narrowed menacingly, “If you let that old woman die without findin’ out how to fix that pie…” What followed must have emboldened poor Martha so that now she was suggesting the unheard of, wheedling the secret recipe out of the poor dying woman. 


            But, the way Harold and the rest of his family tell it, that’s exactly what happened. And, frankly, I can see all the family gathered around her, with young Martha sitting in the corner, pencil and paper in hand, asking feverishly from time to time such things as, “How much brown sugar did she say?”


            I suppose now would be a good time to say something about my brother-in-law, Harold, himself. My sister may not appreciate me for saying this, but her husband is decidedly…well…different. If he were rich, I could call him eccentric; but since he has always been decidedly middle-class, I’m forced to label him as simply strange. Someone whose daily attire at home has been little more than his under shorts and a tee shirt, for as long as I’ve known him, augmented only by an occasional towel wrapped around his waist if company turns up unexpectedly, could not be considered “mainstream.” At least, not to most people. And believe me; this is only one of his peculiarities. Mind you, he can look quite handsome and debonair when he ventures out. His sleek black hair (now silver), patrician nose, and pleasing smile, never fail to turn heads.


            But it’s his two culinary masterpieces that have endeared him to our family, while, at the same time, causing untold frustration. We all love his memorable fudge, which is never quite perfect enough in his own estimation; and, as far as his caramel pie…well, we would all gladly die for it. Any maddening idiosyncrasies he may possess are all forgiven after the first bite.


            At Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any other large family gathering, someone is always sure to ask, “Did Harold bring the caramel pie?” Once we’ve been assured that our palates will indeed be afforded this ultimate treat, we’re all able to relax and enjoy each other and the rest of the meal.


            How can I describe it? It’s as though you had somehow acquired the most perfect caramel morsels ever made, and they were now gently bursting in your mouth, then sliding sensuously down your throat on a fluffy pillow of meringue. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.  Some, struck inarticulate by the taste, will say, “This sure is rich!” as though you’d given them far too big of a piece. It never fails, though, they always manage to wolf down every last crumb, often scraping the plate quite rudely.


            But the trouble started for me when my brother-in-law found out his daughter had given the recipe to me. Remember, it’s Harold’s caramel pie—Harold’s secret recipe caramel pie—and, after all, it’s not as though I am “blood kin” or anything.


            “You shouldn’t have given it to her,” he fumed to his daughter. “Oh, Dad, for pity sakes, she won’t let it outside the family,” Debbie had argued. But I knew the situation was still strained when I happened to mention that sometimes when I made it, the filling didn’t always “set-up” just right, and he snarled, “Your tablespoons were probably even.  Anybody should know they’re supposed to be slightly heaping.” This came in a withering tone that really said, “What did you expect? It’s a family thing.”


             Family thing or not, this baby is not easy to make, no matter who you’re related to. The worst part is that you must never—I repeat, never—stop stirring while you’re making the filling, which can take fifteen or twenty minutes, but will seem like three hours. And, trust me; there will always be something to tempt you away from the stove—nature calling, children crying, phones ringing, fire—but whatever happens, you must never stop stirring. Not if you know what’s good for you. That is, unless you’re just fond of lumpy goo clinging desperately to the bottom of the pan.


            I was careful to drive this truth home to my own daughter, Leah, when she got married and asked for the recipe. (Yes, I threw caution to the wind, and prayed that Harold wouldn’t find out.) She listened intently, nodding her head, and saying, finally, “I see.” However, I wondered if perhaps I had been a little too heavy handed with my instructions when she admitted to me a few years later that once, when she put her little son’s baby seat on the table while she stirred the filling, she was horrified to look over and see the seat (along with Joseph) teetering on the edge of the table. While she agonized over the decision of whether or not to stop stirring, sure enough, the seat, along with her precious child, slipped over the edge to the floor.


          “Mom, did I do the right thing?” she cried piteously to me, hoping for something like absolution, I suppose. But what could I say? I, too, had been torn by such decisions. And as far as we can tell, no real harm came to little Joseph.           


          You’ll be glad to know, too, that the pie turned out just fine. (This only goes to show that children are more resilient than pie filling.) Still, you do have to wonder if the pie was worth the potential disaster. But, then again, those who have eaten it will say the answer is not as obvious as one might think.


            Others have asked for the recipe, but I have been careful not to give it to anyone outside my own family. (I don’t throw that much caution to the wind!) So you will not find either the ingredients or the directions at the end of this story. Nor, I promise you, is it encrypted somewhere within the body of the text.  However, if, for some reason, you happen to be around my deathbed as I am drawing my last few breaths.......


 


 


                                                                                               


           


           


 


 


 


 



Monday, November 24, 2008

The Place of Temptation


“But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.”  (James 1:14)


         “Stay away from the place of temptation.” A good rule to follow through life. The only problem is, according to James, the place of temptation is too close to home to avoid altogether. In fact, he says, we carry it around with us everywhere we go. Lust is the chief enticer, and we all have our own in-house brand. James goes on to say later in his book that it leaches out of the very members of our body (4:1), doing battle with any inclinations for good we may possess.


         Obviously, lust includes, but does not merely encompass, sexual intemperance. Such verses as Exodus 15:9, Psalm 78:18, Romans 7:7, and 1 Corinthians 10:6 indicate that anything outside the boundary of God’s Word, in general, and His will, in particular, are potential lust items, where you and I are concerned. In fact, according to Galatians 5:17, as children of God indwelt by the Spirit of God, we routinely experience a virtual war of lust between the Spirit and the flesh.


         Let’s face it: some temptations can be avoided, but others will find willing reception within us, in much the same way a radio receiver picks up sound waves. Therefore, rules, like blinders, are not sufficient. We will need to regularly change the channel, as it were, inside. We do this, says Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:5, by “[c]asting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.” We will always be confronted with evil. It cannot be overlooked; but it can be overcome (Romans 12:21). Sin is not the result of outward attraction, but inward appetite.



               Lust: the traitor within in league with the Enemy without. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sour Grapes and Wasted Lives


“The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge…As I live saith the LORD, ye shall not have occasion anymore to use this proverb in Israel.”  (Ezekiel 18:2-3)


         God elaborates further on the fallacy of this proverb through the rest of the chapter and summarizes it in verse twenty: “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” I don’t know how much plainer that could be, do you? At some point, life becomes an individual responsibility.


         Whether it is the father or mother who insists upon castigating themselves over the sin or waywardness of a grown child, or the son or daughter who succumbs to the easy choice of laying personal blame on the perceived failures of a parent, the former is assuming unreasonable blame, while the other is sloughing off justifiable responsibility. I am aware parents wield a tremendous influence for good or bad on their children, but the final disposition of one’s life rests upon him or her. Either way, however, another person’s “sour grapes” should not have any effect on our own “teeth.”


         I read an interesting illustration in the biography of the great preacher of by-gone days, Louis Talbot. He once told the story of a young man in his church, who was having trouble getting victory over a particular sin in his life. At one point, the young man threw up his hands in despair and said to Dr. Talbot, “My father had the same problem, and I’m must like him!” “Young man,” the old preacher shot back, “you have a new Father now; start acting like him!”


         Our lineage cannot stop us, but leaning on it can. 



Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Substance of Faith


“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  (Hebrews 11:1)


         The philosopher, Rene Descartes, reasoned that the world is divided into three sorts of substances: God, the mind, and the physical, material being. But God says there is yet another substance: Faith. And I would contend that faith encompasses all three of Descartes’ supposed categories; for it begins with God, is envisioned in our minds, and manifests itself in the world around us.


         I think it was Matthew Henry who said that faith is to the soul what the senses are to the body. Just as the senses relate us to the natural world, faith acclimates us to the spiritual. All things around us—nature, people, sounds, etc.—are actually there, whether or not we are able to see, touch, smell, or taste them. And the same is true of spiritual things. God, and the revelation of Him through Jesus Christ and the Scriptures, is real. If one cannot, or will not, accept it, this does not change the fact.


         As I see it, there are two kinds of Biblical faith: 1) Saving faith, which enables us to respond to God’s initial work in the heart, determining the destination of our souls; and 2) Living faith, that responds to the clear admonitions of Scripture and the promptings of the indwelling Spirit of God. This faith determines the quality of our relationship with God and the effectiveness of our Christian lives. Unfortunately, once we have taken the primary leap of faith for salvation, some of us are hesitant to step up to the next plateau in our walk or faith with God. But the God to whom we entrusted our eternal souls has promised to take responsibility for maneuvering us through this life, as well; and He is eminently able to fulfill that promise.


         We say that in order to be able to hold on to something, the thing must have substance. Abstracts like love, curiosity, or pity, for instance, are intangibles. But God says faith has evidentiary substance that can change hope from air to an anchor that can be held on to. Hebrews 6:18 tells us to “lay hold upon the hope set before us.”


        Faith…we need to get a handle on it!   


 



Saturday, November 15, 2008

Who is Jesus?


  “[F]or if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” (John 8:24b)


         Christianity is not about God; it is about Jesus Christ. Religion is about God (or a god); and everybody has one, even so-called “free thinkers,” whose true god, if materialized, would look eerily like themselves. Since He has been the basis of faith for millions upon millions down through history and today, my question about Jesus Christ is not insignificant, nor is it inconsequential. As the verse in John indicates, getting it wrong will leave you holding the bag—of your sins, that is—when you stand before God. My husband likes to quote C.S. Lewis,who contends that the sheer audacity of Jesus’ claims about himself forces one to categorize Him as either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord God. And to try to sidestep the decision, automatically puts one on the side of one of the first two choices.


         Truth assumes the possibility of error and, by design, sets itself against it. As one reads the Bible, it becomes abundantly clear that it is a Book that presents opposites: the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:6); evil and good (1 Peter 3:11); those who are God’s friends and those who are His enemies (James 4:4); a broad way leading destruction and a narrow way that leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14), to name a few.


         Having laid down the premise that what one thinks of Jesus Christ determines the legitimacy of his or her claimed relationship with God, I now take the inerrant Word of God to answer the posed question…and another.


Who is Jesus? 


1. He is the Son of God and God the Son (Matt.1:11; John 1:1 & 14).


2. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth (Philippians 2:9-11).


3. He is the one who died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead


    (1 Cor. 15:3-4).


4. He is the only valid way to approach God or gain Heaven (John 14:6;


    Acts 4:12).


5. He is the one who will be our Judge when we stand before God (Acts 17:31). 


Who is not?


         Oddly enough, this question is every bit as important as the other one. You see, God takes it very seriously when you or I presume to share in His glory (Isa. 48:11). When we claim to be “sons of God” in the same way as His “only begotten Son,” we have claimed for ourselves the deity reserved for Him. We only become children of God “by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26). He may live within me (Gal. 2:20), but that does not make me Divine any more than Jesus in Mary’s womb made her sinless. We may give our life for another, but it will only save a life, not a soul; and the only hope for our own resurrection is belief in His (John 11:25).


         There is only one Jesus Christ; and what we think about Him determines what God thinks about us (John 1:12).   



Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bloom Where You're Planted


“Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.” (Psalm 92:13)


         We could limit this verse to its historical setting of the Old Testament Temple or even the New Testament, mystical Body of Christ; but why should we, when we can just as easily (and even more helpfully, I think) equate it with the literal “house of God,” spoken of in 1 Timothy 3:15? Surely, for purposes of edification, it would do no disservice to the past Temple to apply the principle of this verse to a corporate body of believers in today’s Church age. With that in mind, let me paraphrase the verse and the principle: Christians who are grounded in a good church do better than those who are not.


         The operative word here is “good,” of course. And it should be pointed out   that by church we mean people, not brick and mortar. Nor is number of any consequence (Matt.18:20). A handful of believers banded together in a covenant of love, observing New Testament principles, as laid down by the apostles (principally, Paul), can meet all the requirements for a New Testament church; while a thousand people meeting in a beautiful structure, who disregard Biblical doctrine and policies, constitute nothing more than a social club.


         I well understand there are Christians who have been hurt in some church, somewhere; and I know it can happen in so-called “good” churches. But exceptions are only exceptions because they are not the rule. I am aware, too, that church attendance and affiliation can be emphasized to the extent that some people make it the supreme gauge of spirituality. But the fact still remains, the early believers gathered together in individual bodies on the first day of the week to break bread in communion, hear the Word of God expounded (Acts 20:7), and receive offerings (1 Cor. 16:2). And here is another fact you will acknowledge if you are honest: The best Christians you know, who are physically and geographically able, are known to be found with God’s people on the Lord’s day. Again, any exception is just that: an exception.


      You've heard the little saying, “Bloom where you’re planted,” the thought being, though you may not like where you are, you can still excel. Well, this verse promises even more. If you and I are not scattered here and there, hopping from one group to another, but are actually “planted” in fellowship with a group of believers, we can not only bloom…we can positively flourish!


 


           “Satan watches for those vessels that sail without a convoy.”


                                                                     — George Swinnock (1627-1673)


 



Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Glass of Milk or a Filet Mignon


“For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:13-14)


         What’s the difference between milk and meat? In the spiritual realm, I mean. We all know in the physical realm it depends on whether you are trying to feed a baby or an adult, primarily. Well, it’s not much different when it comes to spiritual matters. So, the next question, obviously, is who does God categorize as being spiritual babies, and who may wear the distinction of being “of full age?” One might be tempted to see the latter as someone who can explain the intricacies and implications of the Old Testament tabernacle furnishings and practices, or perhaps the imagery in the Book of Revelation. If so, one would be wrong. According to this passage, spiritual grown-ups are simply those able to discern between good and evil. And don’t kid yourself; there are not all that many who fall into this category.


         Surprisingly enough, the discipline that will bring one to this favorable plateau in his or her life Christian life is not necessarily how much Bible we read, or even how much prayer we offer. Instead, it is the discipline of our senses that is required here. That’s rather an eye-opener, isn’t it? Mundane things such as what we look at, listen to, consume, touch, or even smell, all have the capability of stunting our spiritual growth. As important as our daily contact with God through prayer and Bible reading may be, it can all be sabotaged by intemperate senses.


         We cannot, nor should we, deny our senses. After all, they are God given. But unbridled, they can fool us, at best, or destroy us, at worst. They simply cannot be relied upon to tell us what is good and evil…unless they have been “exercised unto godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). And one of the best exercises is a strong, definite “NO!”


If you’re still making decisions based on how things look, or how they make you feel, you’re still a spiritual baby. Grow up!  



Sunday, November 9, 2008

In the Morning


“Cause me to hear thy loving-kindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.”  (Psalm 143:8)


         King David, the man “after God’s own heart,” offers to you and me a few insights on the important subject of morning devotions. As it turns out, it involves two things: We hear from God (“Cause me to hear thy loving-kindness”); and God hears from us (“I lift up my soul unto thee”). In my own case, it seems the former outweighs the latter. I think, first of all, it is because when I lift my heart to God in the morning, it marks the beginning of a dialogue that continues throughout the day. Then, too, although prayer may be an ongoing pursuit, unhindered time in the Word of God is not always as easy to find, once the day’s activities have begun.


         This time—the morning—is the time for concentrated contact. It’s as if the two of us (the Lord and I) were walking together (or “abiding,” as the apostle John calls it in chapter fifteen of his Gospel); but then we stop momentarily to speak face to face (2 Cor. 3:18), as when Samuel told Saul, “Stand still a while, that I may shew thee the word of God.” This is the point in our relationship when I am most often assured of His “loving-kindness,” and when His Spirit bears witness that I am His. This is also the time when I am most apt to find out “the way wherein I should walk.” Here is when the answers I need begin to crystallize in my mind, especially for those questionable things that call for a personal audience with the Father.


         The pivotal words in the verse are these, I think: “In thee do I trust.” We will only take this morning appointment with God seriously and give it the priority it deserves, if all our trust is in Him. If we are fairly sure we can handle life on our own, God’s input will not seem overly vital. On the other hand, if you, like I, have lived long enough to see just how incapable we humans are, these morning moments with the Master will have become not a ritual, but a full-blown reality                                  


                                 THE SECRET


  I met God in the morning, when the day was at its best;


  And His presence came like sunrise, like a glory in my breast.


  All day long His presence lingered; all day long it stayed with me.


  And we sailed in perfect calmness o’er a very troubled sea.


  Other ships were blown and battered; other ships were sore distressed;


  But the winds that seemed to drive them brought to us a peace and rest.


  Then I thought of other mornings with a keen remorse of mind;


  When I too had loosed the moorings with His presence left behind.


  So I think I know the secret learned from many a troubled way;


  You must meet God in the morning if you want Him through the day.


                                              -- Ralph Spaulding Cushman



Friday, November 7, 2008

For Love's Sake


                      “Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee…” (Philemon 9)


         In this little book, only one chapter long, Paul is asking his friend, Philemon, to forgive their mutual acquaintance, Onesimus. This man had wronged Philemon, but in the providential workings of God, had met Paul, and consequently, the Lord. In appealing to Philemon for forgiveness on behalf of Onesimus, the apostle pleads on the basis of love. Have you ever wondered if it was Paul’s love, or Philemon’s, or even Onesimus’ that was being cited? It doesn’t actually all that much, does it? The point is, real forgiveness does not occur without love for someone.


         There are times when our love for an individual gives us the necessary impetus to forgive him or her for a slight—or even a great—offense. And there are other times when not to forgive would hurt a third party, and that person may be dear enough to us that it tips the scale in favor of the other. But, as you well know, there are occasions, when there is no earthly reason for us to extend forgiveness. And in such cases, we must ask ourselves if there is not a heavenly one.


         You and I have a dearer Friend than even Onesimus’ friend, Paul, who has said to God the Father, “If he hath wronged thee [and we have], or oweth thee ought [and we do], put that on my account…I will repay it.” And He did. As the song says, “He paid a debt He did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay.” And He did it for love’s sake.


         Now, for the sake of this One, Jesus Christ, for whose sake God forgave the awful debt of sin we owed, can you and I not find reason enough to forgive those who have “trespassed against us?” Can we not do it for love’s sake? Not ours…or theirs…but His?



Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Last Word


“Therefore I esteem all thy precepts [authoritative commands or directions] concerning all things to be right.” (Psalm 119:128a)


         I have suggested that dogmatism on secondary things is sophistry; it sounds good, but it won’t pass the test of accuracy. But if this is true of secondary things, then it only stands to reason that dogmatism is acceptable—no, imperative—in the case of primary things. The precepts of God are unequivocally right, and to waffle on them is to attempt to contradict God, never a smart move. Notice how dogmatic the Psalmist is: All God’s precepts concerning all things are right, he says. Period. End of story. This leaves no room for variation or gray areas, open to individual persuasion. Under no circumstances, anywhere, any time, are things such as idolatry, thievery (including the redistribution of income), lying, perjury, coveting (including living beyond one’s means), blasphemy, murder (including the murder of unborn babies), adultery, fornication, homosexuality, etc., ever acceptable to God. We may feel there are “extenuating circumstances,” but that only proves one does not esteem God’s precepts as highly as the Psalmist did.


         Every man and woman has (or should have) the right to his or her own opinion; but that does not mean it is a valid one. Your opinion is as important as mine, but neither one is as important as God’s. One may question the relevance of Biblical principles in a postmodern world, but that only shows the individual’s own irrelevance! Our questioning changes nothing. The ancient world’s assertion that the earth was flat did not keep it from turning on it’s axis. And for you and I to engage in sins such as those mentioned does not change their status as sins one iota. It does, however, change us…for the worse.


         How highly do you and I esteem the precepts of God? As highly as the Psalmist did? High enough to live by them?


       God’s Word is the last word, because it was the first Word. (John 1:1)


 



Monday, November 3, 2008

Those Ever Present Gnat-Strainers


“I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad.” (Psalm 119:96)


         Here we have a sure-fire cure for dogmatism on secondary things in the Christian life. Having spent a good portion of my own Christian life in a part of the Body of Christ that over time seemed to become more lax on Biblical directives, while at the same time becoming ever narrower in the matter of externals, this verse was a great eye-opener to me. It was especially distressing to find that many of the young people in this group could see the hypocrisy in this and were coming to the conclusion that the direct commands of Scripture could be lumped in with these so-called, all-important, externals. This, of course, led to cynicism, and in some cases, near-ruined lives.


         Like the Psalmist, I, too, “have seen an end to all perfection.” I have seen outward lives that bordered on asceticism, and inward fellowship with God that bordered on nonexistent. For, as I heard one preacher say, “Externals are often used to prop-up a weak inner life.”


It was recognition of the first part of this verse—that there was not, nor would there ever be, perfection in me or anyone else—that helped me to understand the second half: God’s commandments are “exceeding broad.” They, unlike the way to Heaven (Matt.7:13) are not nearly as narrow as some of us have been led to believe. Jesus maintained that His yoke was easy (Matt.11:30). Yet the Pharisees were determined to put a yoke upon the people of God that neither they, nor their fathers before them, were able to bear (Acts 15:10). 


        And they’re still at it. 


        Mark it well: eternal principles and Divine directives are essentials, worthy of genuine narrow-mindedness. Transitory externals, however, do not fall into this category. Those who cannot discern the difference will always be at the mercy of the “gnat-strainers,” and will end up swallowing anything…even a camel (Matt. 23:24). 



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Star Quality


“And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)


         If we’re honest, we would all have to admit we have harbored thoughts of what it might be like to be a real “star.” In whatever field of endeavor we may have sensed a spark of potential, the idea that our performance might somehow be considered stellar, cannot help but create (if only momentarily) thoughts of “what if.”


         It’s probably true that Heaven is not impressed with the same things that impress you and me. In fact, Luke 16:15 says as much. God is as recognition conscious as we; He just doesn’t regard the same things as being worthy of recognition. Fortunately, this verse in Daniel gives us insight into a couple of things God thinks will give us, as His children, star quality.


         Not surprisingly, wisdom, a recurring theme in Scripture, is named. But here again, we mustn’t let the world write our dictionary. When they talk about wisdom, they mean “life skills,” which may help you in this life, but are impotent when it comes to getting you safely into the next. Only the eternal precepts of the Creator reach this high plateau; and if the God in whom dwells all wisdom (Col.2:3) is the Lord of your life, then you are well on your way to shining “as the brightness of the firmament.”


         Not only that, but when you are one who gives priority to turning others toward the path of righteousness, God gives you star billing, as well. Whether pointing the lost to the Savior or influencing fellow believers to live a holy life, it all amounts to the same thing: a stellar performance.


         Oh, I almost forgot to mention that stars shine the brightest when the sky is dark. You know, “The darker the night, the brighter the light.” So you know that dream you had about being a star? Well, it’s not so far-fetched, after all. And you don’t have worry about being just a splash in the pan, either. Daniel says you’re going to shine forever and ever.


         Wow! What a billing!  



Sunday, October 26, 2008

Where Do You Go For Answers?


“Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that ye go to enquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron?” (2 Kings 1:3)


      The angel of the Lord sent Elijah to make sure the king of Samaria got the message, which, in effect, was this: When you can’t (or won’t) go to God for answers, you’re stuck with phony substitutes. I’ve seen Christians running here and there for answers to important, life-changing questions; and I think to myself, “Why did you bother asking God to save you? Just for fire insurance? It’s like saying to God, “You take care of eternity, and I’ll handle the here and now.” And, as a matter of fact, I am one who is inclined to question the validity of a person’s salvation sincerity, if he or she refuses to allow God to be the Lord of his or her life, especially when it comes to decision making.


         I once heard a professing Christian say, “I have a problem with things like that; I’m a Pisces.” (For you who are as uninformed as I on such things, Pisces is the 12th sign of the Zodiac.) I’m sorry, but I was unable to restrain myself from saying, “Oh, and do you consult fortune tellers and ouija boards, as well?” Is that where it ends when you begin to seek for direction in life outside the Book of Life?


         No doubt, people like this are looking for instant answers, easy ones that can mean anything we want them to mean. But there is a distinct advantage to going early and often to the Word of God, beyond the obvious one of getting the right answer. When we read extensively by any author, we begin to anticipate his or her thinking pattern. And in the case of the Bible, it’s God we’re tracking here. After awhile, Biblical principles can become such a part of our thinking that, many times, when we go to its pages, it’s not just to find the right perspective, but to confirm our own. It’s a reciprocal thing.


         Best of all, the delicate, supernatural phenomenon that takes place as we immerse ourselves in the pages of Holy Writ, not only provides the right answers, but also—and this is the supernatural part—it provides the inclination and power to act upon them.


         So, where do you go for answers?



Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hiding or Just Holding


“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Psalm 119:11)


         There is not a question in my mind that the Book I pick up daily and hold in my hand is the perfect Word of God. I believe this not because of any histories of textual criticism I have read through the years, but because I have lived those same years in its pages and heard the Voice of God speak. In this aspect of my Christian life, like all other aspects, I have gone “from faith to faith” (Rom.1:17).


         But there is something I think bears mentioning here: It’s one thing to hold the Word of God your hand, but another thing to hide it in your heart. As obvious as this truth may seem, I have known some who held that the first reality would subsequently lead to the second. This kind of thinking can quickly degenerate into a schismatic superiority, which refuses to recognize that wrong doctrine and wrong living can be, and often are, taught and practiced, while using the right Bible. As Paul tells us, it is possible to hold the truth unrighteously (Rom.1:18b). “If so-and-so, and so-and-so, had only been in a church that used such-and such-Bible, their marriage would not have broken down.” No, the fact is, Peter denied the Son of God, when he was within seeing distance of Him; and you and I can disregard the principles of the Word of God, while holding it firmly in our hot little hands.


         Notice, the text did not say, “Thy word have I held in my hand, that I might not sin against thee.” Access to the truth does not guarantee acquisition of it, and even less does it indicate adherence to it. And this is nothing to trifle with, since the Bible teaches the principle of greater light resulting in greater responsibility (Luke 12:48).


         If you hold God’s Word in your hand today, hold it soberly and cautiously, not defiantly and confrontationally; for, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, it’s a “two-edged sword”; and it cuts both ways.


 


                         A Bible in the heart is worth two in the hand.


 


 


 


         



Friday, October 24, 2008

Understanding: A Matter of the Heart


“Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words.” (Daniel 10:12; cp. Prov.8:5 & Isa.6:10)


         The Bible is the only book I know that requires heart preparation to be understood—I mean, really understood. There are many books that require head preparation, and that includes books about the Bible. This is true, because these are not God’s words, but the author’s, utilizing his or her own vocabulary. That’s only one of many reasons why one should broaden his or her word recognition ability. There are many wonderful books written by what are respectfully called, the “Old Divines,” and we shouldn’t miss them simply because we are unfamiliar with their vocabularies. That’s why I keep a dictionary nearby lest I fail to grasp some weighty, insightful thought the author was capable of expressing.


         But, to return to my original premise, in verse twelve, Daniel doesn’t hesitate to admit that there was no way he was going to be able to understand the things God wanted to tell him, if he did not first prepare his heart. He was a learned man, but he was also a wise one (not the same thing). He knew that when it comes to the words of Almighty God, a quick mind is not nearly enough. Only open, clean, and receptive hearts will serve as wicks to light the candle of understanding.


         One of the great marvels of the Bible, to me, is that it is plain enough for those of us with limited education, yet profound enough to challenge the minds of the most brilliant among us. If we have prepared our hearts to understand, it meets us where we are at any given time…and captures us.


 


 


 



Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Free Course Or An Obstacle Course


“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1)


         The Word of God may be like a fire and a hammer (Jer.23:29) and a sharp two-edged sword (Heb.4:12); but this verse says it still may have to run an obstacle course to accomplish its purpose. This is a sad state of affairs. Paul was concerned enough about it that he entreated the Church at Thessalonica to pray that when he preached the Word of God it would have “free course,” an unhindered shot, as it were.


         Initially, you and I might be tempted to list things like poor diction or vocabulary, a faulty sound system, or having to speak through an interpreter as being the most logical message hinderers. But, somehow, I think this misses the point here. All of these things can be overcome if the Spiritual criteria is met.


         For instance, in the Old Testament story of Lot, in Genesis nineteen, we see this man trying to relay to his family a heavenly message that would mean the difference between life and death to them; but, unfortunately he only succeeded in making a fool of himself in their eyes (19:14). His inconsistent life blocked the message, and any urgency was blunted by hypocrisy. Their answer must have been, “You must be kidding!” The message was true, but his life betrayed his—and, by extension, its—sincerity.


         We should not pride ourselves in our boldness to speak for God, if we only give minor attention to our own personal testimony. If our lives belie the message, we have constructed an obstacle course for the Word of God. And it’s too important…too precious. We must make sure it has free course from our lips to the hearts of those whose lives we touch.


 


                              It is all in vain to preach the truth,


                             To the eager ears of a trusting youth,


                             If whenever the lad is standing by,


                             He sees you cheat, and he hears you lie.


                                                                                               — Edgar A Guest



Monday, October 20, 2008

In Everything (Yes, Everything!) Give Thanks


“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)


         This is a tall order, by any standard, yet it is one of only a few things in the Word of God said to be definitely the will of God for your and my life, without exception (like abstinence from fornication, in 1Thess.4:3, for instance). In most cases, unless one is an absolute ingrate, thankfulness would not be so terribly hard. But it is the prepositional phrase “in everything” that becomes the sticking point. It is rather like Jesus’ admonition in the Sermon on the Mount to love your enemies. He went on to explain that loving and doing well for those who love you is nothing especially praiseworthy. Who can’t do that? It is loving someone who is your sworn enemy that separates the men from the boys, or the women from the girls. So, too, when things happen to us that seem to be contrary to what is right and fair, it is then that our thanksgiving has real meat to it.


         I remember when our daughter faced the prospect of losing custody of her three little boys due to the obsession of unscrupulous individuals, at the time. I believed within my heart and soul, this could not be the will of God. But at the same time, I knew I was not omniscient, as God was; and if I wanted to retain my sweet fellowship with Him, I must be prepared to take what His loving heart allowed. And, yes, even be willing to thank Him for it. Our heavenly Father is all-loving, as well as all-knowing, and so, even before she was vindicated, I decided I could trust Him, and in everything give thanks.


God may be sovereign in the affairs of men; but only we can decide if we like it.


 



Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The (Truly) Submissive Wife


“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18)


         Submission, especially in the case of wives, is an often-misunderstood concept. It can easily be excused away, or else used as an excuse for intimidation. Like many other doctrines in the Bible that are both practical as well as profound, it can become a bone of contention, not only in a marriage, but in a church. Perhaps we can gain a bit of insight from this concise but totally adequate verse.


         “Wives, submit yourselves…” Notice the verse does not say, “Husbands, bring your wives into subjection.” Many husbands, to their frustration, have learned that can be counter-productive! There are wives, on the other hand, who have learned it can be categorically dangerous. In any case, it always leads to bitterness and frustration. There are ways for a Christian husband to create an atmosphere conducive to submission, but I leave that for godly pastors, elders, fathers, and mentors to address. My purpose is to point out that Biblical submission (in any situation) should be because of love—not love for the obvious recipient (i.e., a husband), but for the actual recipient (i.e. God). Submission may be a beautiful way for a wife to show love for her husband, but it is an even greater way of showing love for her God.


        “…unto your own husbands…” True submission is a private affair between a husband and a wife. In the same way that excessive public show (good word) of affection can be a sign of private neglect, the seemingly quiet, “here-at-your-beck-and-call” wife can actually be the puppet master, in disguise. Submission isn’t a demeanor; it’s a daily choice. It’s choosing grace over grandstanding, and finding victory without vindication. It’s being courageous enough to disagree—privately, kindly, and acknowledging the final decision without grudging, whether or not it was your own. In the final analysis, it is only necessary for God and her husband to be aware of the godly wife’s submission.


         “…as it is fit in the Lord.” Lastly, the verse says it is only fit that a wife should be submissive to her husband. It’s the proper thing to do, the modus operandi for the godly wife who is confident enough to leave the outcome to God. It’s the difference between a marriage and an “arrangement.” It’s shared input without a final deadlock.


         Surely, one of the worst accusations to be brought against a woman would be that she is an unfit mother. And it would seem to me at least as demeaning to carry the unfortunate distinction of being an unfit wife.


“A prudent wife commands her husband by obeying him.” — John Trapp


 



Monday, October 13, 2008

Self-Esteem or Self-Extreme


“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Philippians 2:3)


         It seems to me that as a society we have been nearly choked to death on the perceived need for self-esteem. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of the Bible will know that this whole concept is foreign to Biblical reasoning. I am not advocating the false humility that says, “I am nothing,” because this accuses God of shoddy workmanship. I am simply saying what Paul says in this verse in Philippians. To consider myself to have more intrinsic value than anyone else is to give myself more credit than I am due. My real worth comes from the fact that for some reason known only to Him, God chose to take me into His family, which instantly upped the property value on me!


         But as I said, we are repeatedly told that low self-esteem is the catalyst for depression, divorce, obesity, prostitution, suicide, murder, and innumerable other of society’s ills. Yet I have read other articles that quote statistical research, which indicates that, on the contrary, many of the people who fall into the above categories actually poll high on the self-esteem chart. As one author put it, “If you think you’re God’s gift to this world, you’re particularly offended when other people don’t treat you that way.” That’s why we see the word “strife” is this verse, as well.


         So, if you are one of those people who sometimes feel you are not as good as others, good for you! That’s exactly the estimate Paul advocates. You may be out of sync with this world; but then, when was this world ever in sync with God? Remember, Jesus said, “[T]hat which is highly esteemed among men is abomination to God” (Luke 16:15). And that includes self-esteem. Besides, if God esteems us redeemed sinners fit to spend eternity with Him in heaven, who in the world needs self-esteem?  


 



Saturday, October 11, 2008

Prescription For Peace


“Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God which passeth understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)


         The next time you find yourself troubled and anxious, instead of reaching for the Valium, try reaching for the Volume…of God’s Word, that is. Practice the remedy the Apostle Paul prescribes, by Divine inspiration, in this passage in Philippians; then try adopting the regimen laid out in verse eight for preventive maintenance.


         Notice the prescription here instructs the patient to make his or her request known to God. That’s the clincher. The peace is only promised if God is the Counselor. Talking things over with a friend or loved one may be a good thing, but not if it’s peace you’re after. They can, and may, provide sympathy, some perspective, and even good advice; but peace of mind is too much to ask of them. There is only One who dares to claim the ability to affect perfect peace to the mind that rests upon Him (Isa. 26:3). When things get so bad that any hope for peace seems out of question, as children of God, we are free to pick up a prescription for peace the kind of peace that passes all understanding. God has already called it in.


         D.L. Moody paraphrased verse six like this: “Be careful for nothing; be prayerful for everything; be thankful for anything.” So, whether your malady is a broken mind or a broken heart, go for the cure.


         “O, what peace we often forfeit; O, what needless pain we bear;


         All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”


                                                                      — Joseph Scriven (1819-1886)


 



Thursday, October 9, 2008

An Exit Strategy


“For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Philippians 1:23-24)


         Paul considered leaving this life to be far more desirable than staying here. This is only better, of course, if leaving here means one is sure of “being with Christ” (John 8:24b). As my husband often says, “Death is only gain, if one has lived for Christ” (Philippians 1:21). In any case, Paul reasons, though it might be better for him, it would not necessarily be better for those around him. In other words, we should never assume that departure plans, no matter how desirable, supersede present responsibilities.


         We have heard much over the last few years about the necessity of disclosing a planned “exit strategy” for the present war being waged in Iraq. I must admit, though, that although I cannot claim any military expertise, this would seem to me to be a self-defeating proposal. In answer to this demand, President Bush and commanders on the field of battle sum up their exit strategy in one word: victory. Obviously, the danger here is in focusing so much attention on an escape route that the battle itself is jeopardized. And I see this same thought pattern mirrored in other areas of life.


         For instance, many enter the bond of marriage with an eye on the most advantageous means of dissolution. Consequently, pre-nuptial vows are drawn up to ensure that a mate’s professed “undying love” doesn’t end up emptying somebody’s bank account! Others reason, why even bother with the restraints of marriage? It’s much easier to get out of a situation that only carries the restraint of “compatibility.”


         In the same way, a job or endeavor can be taken on with the only thought being, “I’ll just give this “a lick and a promise” till I find something more worthy of my efforts.” I realize we all want to use our skills to the best advantage, but the goal of future betterment keeps us from doing our best work with the task at hand, we are mere opportunists.


         Finally, I think it is possible to gaze at a future Kingdom blessing to the neglect of the present battle. Whatever one’s eschatological persuasion, the truth is, we are here as long as we are here; and we should actually be here as long as we are here. Whether defying evil till the Rapture of the saints, or claiming the Kingdom for Jesus Christ, one way or the other, the working principle is still the same: “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13). A Christian life that focuses only on leaving this world will not be much help to those who have to live in it right now. So says the Apostle.


         As far as I am concerned, I took care of my “exit strategy” well over 50 years ago, when I accepted God’s offer of salvation through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and I will let Him choose the particulars. In the meantime, I’m trying to stay focused on those here, who may still need me. And though it may be needful, as Paul says, to “abide in the flesh,” I have God’s promise that I can live and walk in the Spirit (Gal.5:25). Right now, that’s the only strategy I’m concerned with.



Saturday, October 4, 2008

Speaking the Truth in Love

“But speaking the truth in love…Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor…” (Ephesians 4:15,25)


        We are nearly destitute of truth telling. Not only do people lie to protect themselves, they lie simply for convenience. In fact, they take pride in how adept they are at weaving a believable falsehood. From politicians (especially skillful!) to preachers, men, women, children, young and old, liars are legion in number.


        But lying carries with it unavoidable and unwanted consequences. For one thing, just as it is true that the harder it is to tell the truth, the easier it is to tell a lie, even worse, the easier it is to lie, the harder it is to tell the truth. And the end result is an unsavory reputation for untrustworthiness. Remember the fable about the little boy who cried, “Wolf” too often? It ends by saying, “Liars are never believed, forsooth, even when liars tell the truth.” These kinds of people, says the prophet Hosea, have “eaten the fruit of lies” (10:13)


        It is always right to tell the truth, and there is always a right way to do it. Verse fifteen instructs us to “speak the truth in love.” This is especially the case when truth may cause pain. At such times, candor must be accompanied by consideration. After all, truth carries its own force; and harshness or sarcasm only weakens the thrust.


        Contrary to today’s cultural wisdom, truthfulness is vital in a marriage. It is said of the woman in Proverbs 31 that her husband could trust her with all his heart. In a world of deception, the veracity of a mate is a comfort unmatched. It is the linchpin in any enduring relationship.


        Parents who care about their children will always give them the advantage of “truth training.” Any child who lacks that is truly underprivileged. And, as we all know, children learn best by example.


 


        You’re never more like Satan than when you’re lying. (John 8:44)


 


         



Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Spirit of Wisdom


“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” (Ephesians 1:17)


       We are apt to think that wisdom can only be recognized by lofty rhetoric or prudent actions; but according to this verse, wisdom is best characterized by a certain spirit. The aforementioned qualities may indeed be present, but before either of these is manifested, there is a prerequisite attitude, or spirit. If I were to hazard a guess as to what that attitude might be, I would have to say “humility.” David said in Psalm 25:9, “The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.”


       Wisdom and revelation are given for one thing: “the knowledge of Him.” Every subject you study, every skill you perfect, is a means to an end—that you might be able to think some of God’s thoughts. The God of Creation, the God of all physical laws, the God of the only pure philosophy, and most of all, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ—the God of redemption, is the beginning and end of wisdom. And to think; if we come to Him with the spirit of wisdom (humility), He will share some of His wisdom with us!


         “And what is this valley called?”


            “We call it now simply Wisdom’s Valley: but the oldest maps


              mark it as the Valley of Humiliation.”


                                            — C.S. Lewis: The Pilgrim’s Regress (bk.7, ch.8)


 



Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Being Somebody Else's Showpiece


“As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you…that they may glory in your flesh.” (Galatians 6:12-13)


        These two verses raise the hair on the back of my neck every time I read them. The idea that there are people who would urge their own interpretation of spirituality on others as a means of using them as a “showpiece” for themselves smacks of down right hypocrisy to me. In this instance, Jewish believers were encouraging their Gentile brothers in Christ to be circumcised in order to show that their converts had “gone all the way for God.” As Paul says in verse fifteen, circumcision was an incidental that not only had nothing to do with whether or not you were a Christian, it had nothing to do with whether or not you were a good Christian.


        What it boils down to is this, I think: Things that make us look good as a Christian, may in the final analysis, be just for looks. It’s bad enough for you and I to base our code of conduct on artificial standards, but to find out that we’ve done it to make someone else look good, is just plain humiliating. There are plenty of good reasons for Biblical separation, and enough in the Bible to tell us just what those reasons are. To add personal preferences to these only serves to water down the legitimate ones.


        Paul disparages the whole idea of glorying in one another when he says in verse fourteen, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”


         So be good for goodness’ sake…and for God’s sake…but nobody else’s.


 



Monday, September 29, 2008

Liberty That Binds


“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)


        You and I, as New Testament believers, have been freed from the bondage of the Law; that’s what the book of Galatians is all about. But Paul reminds them—and us—that this liberty is not a license to “fulfill the lust of the flesh” (v.16). There are two good reasons for this: First, as the saying goes, “Your liberty to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose!” My spiritual liberty is to operate within the framework of the fruit of the Spirit (vv.22-23), never losing sight of the principle of love and the possibility of hurting another believer (Rom. 14).


        Second, liberty is a little like a nasal decongestant inhaler. It’s possible to medicate to the point of achieving the opposite result. It may seem paradoxical, but liberty can end in bondage just as surely as legalism can. And, mark it down, if our liberty leads to “works of the flesh (vv.19-21), the resulting bondage will be far worse than any we may feel the Law forced upon us. Bondage by any other name is still bondage.


        The whole purpose of liberty is to give us permission—and power—to walk in the Spirit. Not according to the dictates of any man, but according to the dictates of the Word of God and our own Spirit-tempered consciences. There is a great deal of diversity and individuality manifested within the Body of Christ, but sin and the “works of the flesh” can all be considered strictly out of bounds.


        Verse one of this chapter reads: “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with yoke of bondage.” And that goes for any kind of bondage. Even the kind that calls itself “liberty.” 



Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seizing Their Spears


“And he [Benaiah] slew an Egyptian, a goodly man: and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand; but he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Eqyptian’s hand, and slew him with his own spear.” (2 Samuel 23:21)


        Benaiah was one of the thirty-seven men identified in this chapter as being “David’s mighty men.” They were known for their bravery as well as their loyalty to their king. The previous verse credits this man as having slain “two lionlike men of Moab,” and “a lion in the midst of a pit in time of war.” These were in addition to the feat described in verse twenty-one. In this verse, we are told that with nothing but a meager staff, or rod, he managed to overpower an Egyptian warrior and take away his spear, with which he then proceeded to kill the man.


        This incident suggests to me a truth that is sometimes overlooked. It is possible to seize from this world weapons they have come to believe are their own and use them to fight the good fight of faith. I am aware that 2 Corinthians 10:4 characterizes the Christian’s weapons as being “not carnal”; but to my way of thinking, a gun seized from a terrorist and used to save lives has changed from being a weapon of destruction to an instrument of peace.


        For many years now this world has wrongfully assumed that things such as education, the arts, politics, and film-making were their sphere of influence exclusively; and accordingly, they have used them to lambaste Bible principles and put forward their own secular agenda. But with the phenomenal growth of Christian education, best-selling Christian books, and politicians unafraid to voice their faith, as well as the popularity of movies, if not overtly Christian, at least endorsing Christian principles, we have taken some of the spears this world has been wielding for far too long and drawn blood ourselves.


        We should remember, and teach our children, that whatever profession God may lead us into is a place where He expects us to take the offense in contending for Bible principles, using all the lawful weapons at our disposal. This world may have its princes (1 Cor. 2:6), but God is still the “King over all the earth” (Psalm 47:2).


        Relinquish nothing but sin. 



Saturday, September 20, 2008

Whether in Death or Life


“And Ittai answered the king, and said, As the LORD liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be.” (2 Samuel 15:21)


        The commitment of this man, Ittai, to King David is a beautiful picture of what should be our own to those with whom we have made a covenant. First and foremost should be the realization that when we committed our souls to God, we committed our lives as well. God takes His own commitments seriously, even to the point of promising, “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). All the more reason for you and I to follow His example and His path.


        Then, too, does this verse not remind you of the one in the book of Ruth that is so often referred to at weddings, the familiar “whither thou goest” text? The commitment of Ruth to her mother-in-law, Naomi, mirrors the binding covenant between a husband and wife. A covenant that assumes responsible leadership and unqualified following, and one that often affects geography as well as affection!


        I have made these two covenants—both of them because of love. One was to the God of my being, and the other to the sweetheart of my life. And wherever they are, is where I will be…whether in death or life.



Thursday, September 18, 2008

Spiritual Poise


 “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed…” (Psalm 57:7a)


        “Lately I’ve noticed such a lack of balance in the lives of saints (including myself at times.” This observation came by email from a young friend of mine. She continued, “It seems that so many are up in the clouds one day, and barely able to crawl the next.” After venting her frustration, she asked, “Any words for me on this?” So, here are my words on the matter, for her and us.


        She is right, of course. There is an extremism of life, Christian as well as secular, that seems to mark today’s lifestyle as at no other time, from what I have read and observed. (I may be wrong, of course.)  I do know you will find lots of books in Christian bookstores about “victory” (in some cases it sounds more like hilarity), and there are shelves of material to help the despondent among us; but books on an everyday, one-step-ahead-of-the-other, walk of faith kind of living, do not often make the best seller list. But should we assume that the “lukewarmness” that sickens God (Rev. 3) is comparable to the steadiness evidenced in Psalm 112:7; Isaiah 26:3; and Acts 20:24? I don’t think so. Cold or hot is not necessarily the same as up or down.


        What we are talking about here is contentment, isn’t it? What I like to call “Spiritual poise.” That quality of life that is not dependent upon outward stimuli, even the spiritual kind, in order to keep moving in the Christian life. Some paraplegics are able to walk by means of an electric impulse that stimulates the dead nerves in their spine in a somewhat rhythmic fashion. This may be a blessing for a paraplegic, but the kind of artificial gait it pictures in the Christian life is sad. And uncalled for, I may add. We carry our Source of consolation, joy, and spiritual energy within us. It should not have to be generated by any outside influence.


        I often think that our lows are so low because we insist upon our highs being so high. Our Sunday services are too easily gauged by their enthusiasm of spirit rather than the presence of the Spirit of God. They aren’t the same, you know. In addition, as much as extremists either bemoan or else flaunt their extremism, it would seem to me they have the benefit of receiving either much pity on the one hand or much admiration on the other. And it is left for the “pluggers-away” to either pick up the pieces or sweep up the confetti.


        Everyone among us has good and bad days. And I understand there are certain temperaments that are more prone to this than are others. I am simply contending that the see-saw does not have to go so high that when you come back down you bump your you know what!


        Webster defines “fixed” thus: “attached or placed so as to be firm and not readily moveable.” That’s all I (and David am espousing. We have already been placed, positionally; now we only need to keep ourselves attached, practically. It was said of the Christians of Antioch that “with purpose of heart they would cleave to the Lord” (Acts 11:23).


        Can you and I say, as David did when fleeing from King Saul, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed”? If so, we are well on our way to a steadfast, and, yes, beautiful…Spiritual Poise.



Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Finding Your Place


 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.”  (1 Corinthians 12:1)


        Paul had little tolerance for ignorance, in the true sense of the word, especially when the remedy for it was ignored. He uses a form of the phrase, “I would not have you to be ignorant” at least five times in his writings. In this chapter, he gives us several definitive points about spiritual gifts that leave us with little room for ignorance.


1.  All of us have been given at least one spiritual gift with which to build up the Body of Christ (v.7).


2. There are different kinds of “gifts,” or abilities; “administrations,” or authority; and “operations,” or activities; but all are under the supervision of the Holy Spirit (vv.4-11).


3. God Himself dispenses the gifts, and one is no more important than another (vv.14-24).


        In addition to these, we are able, I think, to draw some logical conclusions from these verses in order to make them workable in our lives. For one thing, it is up to God to show me what my gift is; and when He does, I should then be on the look out for where I might best use it. It would be easy to see what others are doing and just wedge my square gift, as it were, into their round ministry. But the fact that others are doing it (and especially if many are doing it) would seem to be an indication that perhaps God would rather use me to do something else. After all, if everyone did the same thing, only one thing would get done, right?


       Natural ability is always a good place to look first, and this may very well indicate what your spiritual gift is. However, you cannot simply assume this. Personally, I have come to believe that my natural musical ability is only one aspect of an overall one that entails many aspects of communication. In each case, they are all a means to an end: building up the Body of Christ for the work of the Kingdom. One gift manifested in several operations, and at times, in a place of administration.


       Proverbs 18:16 says that “a man’s gift maketh a room for him.” In other words, if you want to find your place in life, find out what your spiritual gift is, then use it. As Bob Jones, Sr. used to say:


                  “Success is finding God’s will for your life and doing it.”


 



Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Kindness of God


“And the king said, is there not yet any of the house of Saul, that I may shew the kindness of God unto him? And Ziba said unto the king, Jonathan hath yet a son, which is lame on his feet.” (2 Samuel 9:3)


        This beautiful chapter has served as a basis for many sermons on the Grace of God. The mighty King David, fresh from battle victories, had time now to reflect upon God’s goodness to him and the promise he had made to Jonathan to show kindness to his family forever (1 Sam.20:14-15). So David, a man of his word, inquires whether there are any left of the household of Saul that he might show the promised kindness to, not for Saul’s sake, but for Jonathan’s (v.1). As it turned out, there was one left—a man named Mephibosheth, who, verse three says, was “lame on his feet.” Reading on through the chapter, you will see that not only was all the man’s land restored and others commissioned to take care of it and him for the rest of his life, but in a great show of kindness, David decreed that Mephibosheth would eat at the king’s table for as long as he lived. You see now why it is so often cited as a picture of God’s great mercy and grace to you and me—we who were “crippled by the Fall.”


        For me, the words in the passage that stand out are these: “…that I may shew the kindness of God unto him.” The kindness that David showed to Mephibosheth was not his own, but God’s. You see, there is a limit to our kindness, and it can be prejudicially doled out. But we read in Joel 2:13 and Jonah 4:2 that our God is “of great kindness.” There is no lack here, and neither is there any partiality. All may become its recipient, through Jesus Christ (Eph.2:7). So when our kindness peters out, we can tap into His.


        I followed a car once with a bumper sticker that said, “My Religion is Kindness.” Well, my “religion” is to worship the God who is Kindness. He has seen fit to bestow this great kindness to me; and I, like Mephibosheth, will dine at his His table for all eternity. In the words of the old spiritual:


         I’m gonna sit at His welcome table;


         I’m gonna sit at His welcome table one of these days—


                  Hallelujah!


         I’m gonna sit at His welcome table,


         Sit at His welcome table one of these days.



Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Diet of Tears


            “My tears have been my meat day and night…” (Psalm 42:3)


        If you looked in my Bible on the page where this text is found, you would find that I have written this succinct bit of warning: “Stop feeding on your emotions!” I understand the heartrending context of these words; yet even David chides himself in the last verse of this chapter by saying, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?”


        It is easy to become a servant to our emotions; and although women may be more prone to this weakness than man, it is, by no means, gender based. This is dangerous, since, as I have said before, our emotions are the shallowest part of our nature. Granted, they are an important means of expression to love, sorrow, and sympathy, even joy—especially when words are inadequate. But they can take on a life their own apart from all logic, reason…and truth. 


        They, like everything else in the Christian’s life, should first of all glorify God. If any earthly love dulls in any way our love for God, it is idolatry; and if His great love for us is not the motivating factor in our Christian service, our sympathy is misplaced. If our broken heart over a wayward child is more important than an aggrieved Heavenly Father’s, we are jealous of our grief. And if our spiritual joy is only displayed at church, we should ask ourselves if that is what it is: mere display.


       Emotions—especially tears—are a wonderful gift from God. They are release valves for the pent up pressures of life. But the wise man or woman treats them like precious china or silver, brought out for special occasions. They will then mean more to us…and to others.


       God has said, “I have seen thy tears.” Should that not be enough for any of us? 



Sunday, September 7, 2008

Someone To Care For


“ The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:34)


         Singleness for a woman is an awesome responsibility. Not just the physical responsibility of having to take care of herself, and in the case of widowhood or divorce, perhaps children. I am talking about the assumption in the Word of God that a woman who does not have a husband to care for and to please will give herself more fully to the things of the Lord. Verse 35 goes on to describe such a woman as being able to “attend upon the Lord without distraction.” And if you are married, you know that a husband can be very distracting. (He can also drive you to distraction!) The woman who finds herself in this less than ideal situation (singleness), must not look upon it as “freedom from,” but, rather, “freedom to.” Because she is not at this time rendering service to a man, she is completely free to lavish her love and devotion upon Jesus Christ. Otherwise, as far as God is concerned, she is wasting her singleness.


       Now, shall we flip the coin over? On the other hand, this verse assumes by implication that the married woman’s service to God will revolve around her husband and his needs. Any other church or “spiritual” activity will have to fall in somewhere behind. Does it seem to you that I am portraying women as caretakers, no matter what their marital status? I meant to. You see, I am unable to read the Bible without seeing this characterization. And although I realize this is completely out of sync with today’s woman (even some Christian women), I am determined to give you “Thus saith the Lord,” to the best of my ability and let the chips fall where they may.


       It has given me great pleasure to take care of my husband for 47 years, and, God willing, I am not finished yet. But should God choose to take him home to Heaven first, there will still be a Man for me to love, honor, and obey—the Man, Christ Jesus. And, by His grace, I will serve Him—without distraction—for as long as I live.


 


 


 



Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wisdom in Shoe Leather


“And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the Lord was with him.” (1 Samuel 18:14)


        It is easy to think of wisdom only in terms of words, but this verse reminds us that it should also be a matter of behavior. It is possible to come in contact wisdom and even incorporate it into our vocabulary, without allowing it to become translated into our lives. I’m not sure why this is. As it turns out, we are not much different from Israel, who, Paul tells us in Romans two, equated knowing the Law with keeping it.


        In the well over half a century that I have been saved, I honestly think I have heard or read some of the greatest Bible preaching and teaching that any Christian could be exposed to. What a waste it would be if this marvelous treasure never bore any fruit in my own day-to-day life. Wisdom and knowledge should not only enlighten us, it should enliven us! In David’s case, his wise behavior was so evident and effective that it made King Saul, already jealous, actually “afraid of him” (v.15).


        There is an old poem that begins, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day…” After all, the most profound wisdom is no more than pleasing prose, if it is not utilized. I may write a truly thought provoking article about the unruly tongue, from James three; but I preach a much better sermon when I refrain from contradicting and correcting my husband in public. Believe me; when it comes to wisdom, it’s a whole easier to talk it than walk it!