Friday, February 29, 2008

Three How-To's For Life

“Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Cor.14:40) “Let all things be done with charity.” (1 Cor.16:14) “Let all things be done unto edifying.” (1 Cor. 14:26)

As he comes to the end of First Corinthians, the Apostle Paul gives us three succinct, but powerful instructions on how to do things. How to conduct our lives, if you will. They are not profound as you read them, only as you live them. Putting the three together, we could paraphrase them something like this: We should live our lives in an orderly manner, characterized by love, with the goal of edifying others. How shall I guide my house? How should I conduct business? How can I best carry out the ministry God has given me to do for Him? The formula above will work with these and any other endeavors you may be called upon to fulfill. Now that we have put them together, let’s take them apart again.

“Let all things be done decently and in order.” Our God is a God of order, and the more like Him we become, the more orderly we will be. Not in a neurotic, rigid fashion that causes us and everyone around us to be uptight; but in a thought out, practical manner that causes those within our little realm to say, “My, that went well!”

“Let all things be done with charity.” We all know what a high premium God places upon those who have a well developed—and well regulated—love life. As our older son Andrew asks, “If charity (love) never fails, why do we try anything else?” Good question. Wholesome, mature, deep, abiding love can ease tense moments, break stubborn wills, and soften hard hearts. It should be injected to some extent into every situation we find ourselves in.

“Let all things be done unto edifying.” Finally, everything we do should be working toward the edification, or building up, of someone else. If our pet project or “harmless” indulgence causes more harm than good, we should rethink it (1 Cor.8:9). Paul tells us in Romans 14:19, “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.”

There you have it, a quick checklist from Paul for effectual procedure in the Christian life. It may sound simple, but what were you looking for…complicated? The Christian life may not be easy, but it needn’t be complex. Just take God at His Word. That was how you started out on this wonderful adventure of faith, wasn’t it?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Secular and Sacred

"Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." (I Cor. 10:31)

There are those Christians who have managed to departmentalize their lives under two headings: spiritual and secular. God, however, does not mean for us to live our Christian lives with two different identities. There should be a wholeness about our lives, with Jesus Christ at the center. I think He chose the example of eating and drinking to show us that the most basic, mundane activities of life can be done with such Christian grace that He can receive glory from it.

There are probably two reasons why we hesitate to call some of our activities spiritual. First, they may actually fall under the category of sin, as revealed in the Word of God, or a personal restriction, as revealed to us by the Spirit of God. In that case, no amount of praying over it, or adding God's name to it, will give it spiritual legitimacy. But, on the other hand, it is possible to be erroneously conditioned to think that unless something is done in the church, involving other Christians, using Biblical terminology (or lyrics), or presenting immediate opportunity to share your testimony, it cannot be done to the glory of God.

The truth is, anything a Christian does, short of sin, can (and should) be done for God's glory. I read of an obscure, yet profound, monument that stands in a little English village cemetery. Its inscription says exactly what I’m trying to say:


who mended shoes in this village for forty years

to the Glory of God

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dirty Work

"Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it." (Luke 13: 7-8)

The vineyard owner in this parable had reached the end of his patience. He wanted figs; but, alas, there weren't any, and hadn't been for three years. What good is a fig tree without figs? So he had decided to cut the thing down, since, after all, it was just taking up space. But his vine-dresser (Bless him!) was not ready to give up yet. He persuaded the owner to give the tree another chance, promising to work on it himself. And make no mistake; it would not be easy work. This tree would need digging, dunging—you know, dirty work. It would involve a whole lot more than just throwing some water on from time to time. But evidently he must have felt there was fruit somewhere in that little tree, if only one had the patience to nurture it.

I wonder if there is a similar "fig tree" in your life. Someone among family or friends that you see little reason to take time with. Perhaps their attitude, life style, or both, has "turned you off," and you've just kind of washed your hands of him or her. Well, I can understand that. It would take some dirty, hard work; and it might take every drop of human kindness you can squeeze out. But what if there is fruit within that poor, withering tree? And what if God could use it to feed a hungry world? The popular saying is, "It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it." Well, this is a dirty job; but nobody has to do it.

But somebody should do it, don't you think?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

On Being an Example

"Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted....Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition.…" (I Cor. 10:6,11)

"I'd like to be an example to others." We've all either said or at least thought this. Well, as a matter of fact, we all are. The question is: What kind? The children of Israel, as described in verses five through eleven of this chapter, were not the kind of examples one would want to emulate. Their murmuring, fornication, idolatry, and lusting were a shame that has lasted over 2000 years. This is not to say that as a nation they had no redeeming qualities, of course. I am simply pointing out how sad it is that Paul feels the need to warn the Christians at Corinth lest they repeat their offenses and experience the judgment of God, as well.

On the other hand, others in the Word of God (Paul himself, for one) are given as examples worthy to follow. Paul tells Timothy it is possible for even a young person to be an example in word, conversation (way of life), charity, spirit, faith, and purity (1 Tim.4:12). And Peter reminds us that it was Christ who left us an example of how we are to suffer injustices (1Pet.2:21). There are others in the Word of God, of course, as well as a host of men and women down through Church history who have challenged us by their lives.

My point is that we need to be aware that, in the future, someone is going to use each of us as an example of something. The question is, will our name be evoked as a challenge to love and serve God faithfully; or will it serve as a warning of the consequences of sin, or the sorrow of a wasted life? What we do today will determine how we are remembered.

Each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass,
A book of rules;
And each must make—
Ere life is flown—
A stumbling block,
Or a stepping stone.

—R. L. Sharpe

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mastering Temperance

"And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things."
(I Cor. 9:25a)

Modern translations change the word "temperate" to self-control. This is unfortunate for many reasons, not the least of which is that "temperate" is richer in its shadings and more robust. (Don't coddle me with self-control, when I need a strong dose of temperance!) Besides, the context (v. 24-27) will provide any thoughtful person with the clear meaning of the word, if you have any doubt.

Practically speaking, when we say that someone has a temper, we mean their anger can quickly become out of control; and when you have a temperature, you are "all heated up." Metals are tempered by exposing them to extreme temperatures. We know from verse 27 that Paul is speaking of the body, telling us that without temperance to control physical and emotional over-indulgence, we can become ineffective with others and, therefore, unprofitable to God. We live in a society that glorifies and romanticizes intemperance. Extremism is the mark of a real man or a real woman. “Grab all the gusto you can get; you only go around once," as they say. But the world is always wrong in its judgments, so we can discount their opinions, out of hand.

Still, abandonment can be very tempting at times. Not to worry; you and I are not completely exempt from its thrills. God says we're free to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind (Luke 10:27). How’s that for excess? We need never temper our love and devotion to Him with any restraint.

When you crave the thrill of intemperance and long to go over the top, go ahead. Dance before God as David did. Lavish your love on the Savior like the woman with her alabaster box. Throw caution to the wind, as the disciples who left all to follow Jesus. Experience the glorious abandonment of complete surrender to the will of God for your life.

"Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” -- Jim Elliot

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Forgiveness and Sovereignty

"But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good..."
(Gen. 50:20)

After the death of Jacob, Joseph's brothers assumed that now, when it could not hurt his father, Joseph would take well-deserved vengeance on them for the way they had treated him. To their credit, they did acknowledge their sin against him, offering to be his servants. But with Joseph, there was never any thought of revenge, since He was able to see the hand of God behind the wrong he had suffered.

People cannot forgive because they cannot acknowledge the sovereignty of God in their lives. Someone may have wronged us, purposely even, as Joseph's brothers did, but they did not outwit God to do it. And since everything that happens to a child of God is working for his or her good (Rom. 8:28), we can well afford to be generous with our forgiveness, as Joseph was.

If we somehow cannot get a handle on this, there will always be a streak of bitterness in us that will defeat us and defile others (Heb.12:15b). Worse still, when we come to God the Father, He will deal with us similarly (Matt.6:14&15).

There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.
-- S. W. Shaw

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Simple to Evil; Wise to Good

"…I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil." (Rom. 16:19b)

Today, more than at any other time in history, we travel an information highway, and without a great deal of effort, we can become versed on a wide range of subjects, good and bad. Both are addressed in this verse in Romans, and to neglect either one is to leave us lop-sided spiritually.

There are many things in life that God would have us know little or nothing about. I hear it said (especially in classroom settings) concerning questionable, or even indecent, literature, films, etc., "It's just being true to life." As though that made it acceptable. "Whose life?" I want to say. One cannot know everything about life, so why would I want be conversant in aberrant behavior? Paul said he hoped these Christians at Rome would be considered simple, unaware, naïve, if you will, when it came to evil. As far as God is concerned, the term "worldly-wise" is an oxymoron. People with a working knowledge of wickedness could never be considered wise.

But while we as Christians hear much about the negative half of the verse, I think we sometimes allow the positive to slide. I have no doubt this leaves us handicapped in our quest for goodness. A good way to curb our mental capacity for evil is to dedicate more of our intellectual abilities to the search for “that which is good." If we spend all our time isolating ourselves from evil (which is commendable), but neglect opportunities of being exposed to Biblical wisdom, and the good things of life He has given us to enjoy, we leave a vacuum that curiosity will rush to fill some other way, and not usually a good way (Matt. 12:45).

There are so many beautiful stories in literature, a wealth of interesting information about God's creation, and volumes of Biblical philosophy so well expressed that none of us can claim inaccessibility. Immerse yourself in the Bible; go to a museum; read a classic. Become wise to good things—lovely things—and there will be less room left in your thoughts for evil things.

Here’s a worthy goal: Become “spiritually-wise and worldly-simple.” That’s what I call perfect balance!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Of Him--Through Him--To Him

"For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen." (Rom. 11:36)

This is one of those verses that has everything. There is nothing left to say at the end except "Amen." When you think about it, the message of the Bible is this: In the great scheme of things, and in the final analysis, and when push comes to shove…We can do nothing; He can do everything. We cannot save ourselves; but He can. We cannot live the Christian life; but He can live it through us. We have no right to approach God; but He has every right, and He does it daily on our behalf.

I know these are not new truths (what truths are?), but they are truths that can become old to us, if we're not careful. Then we are in danger of beginning to feel that our successes really are our successes. Oh, yes, it's our minds, our hands, and our abilities; but we only have these things because God, in His Sovereign grace, gave them to us. The breath that He breathed into the nostrils of Adam inflates our lungs as well (Gen. 2:7). Therefore, Paul rightly reasons, the glory—all the glory—belongs to Him now and forever.

Shall I simplify it for us?

Everything we are and have is—of Him;

Everything we do must be—through Him;

Therefore, all the glory should go—to Him.

Got it?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Postponing the Blessings

“And he [Jacob] said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.” (Gen. 42:38)

Jacob’s decision not to allow his sons to take their brother Benjamin back down to Egypt with them was based on at least two false premises: 1) His loss of Joseph and Simeon was not working against him (v. 36); 2) Joseph was not dead, as he supposed. For that reason, his refusal to listen to any other viable argument was simply postponing the inevitable. Common sense said that when they ran out of food again, the boys were going to have to return to Egypt. And because the ruler of Egypt (Joseph, incognito) had promised to see them again only if Benjamin was with them, Jacob’s refusal could only be temporary. And it is frustrating to us with hindsight to realize that not only was his refusal postponing the inevitable; it was postponing great blessing. The sooner he sent the boys and Benjamin on their way, the sooner he would find out that his beloved Joseph was alive and well!”

But don’t we do the same thing ourselves sometimes? It’s easy to feel the things happening to us are all working against us, when all the time they are gentle shoves toward the will of God. So often, we too can accumulate a passel of false premises from past hurts (like Jacob), poor advice, unfounded rumors, or even warped theology. We forget that although we are not forced to live “under the circumstances,” we should never be foolish enough to ignore them. God closes doors as well as opens them (Acts 16:6), and choices that seem unavoidable—as well as unpromising—can, in reality, be the gateway to the future. Ask Ruth!

The sooner we accept the will of God, the sooner we will see for ourselves that our Heavenly Joseph is alive and well…ready and waiting to take care of us.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Who Do You Think You Are?

"Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" ( Rom. 9:20)

“Who do you think you are?” That's what God is saying. It's easy to forget sometimes that God is God, and we're not. There would not even be a "we" were it not for Him. When we murmur and complain about our lot in life, our appearance, or our inherent weaknesses, we question the wisdom of God Almighty, in the way He formed us. Even worse, we question His love. Those things we consider strikes against us are really advantages for seeing and experiencing the presence and power of God. They are what make us who we are. Common sense would tell you not to second guess your Creator.

"Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth..." (Rom. 14:4)

Again, “Who do you think you are? This time, not by questioning the way God deals with us, but questioning, and attempting to meddle in, the lives of others. Too often we feel that we know God's will for someone else and are obligated to share it with them! It's one thing to offer general, Scriptural advice, when solicited; it is quite another thing, however, to mark out a path for someone else, claiming Divine authority. Worse still would be to question the sincerity of someone who is following what he or she deems to be the will of God for his or her life. Unless unquestionable sin is involved, we have no authority to judge "another man's servant."

Here then are two good rules to follow:

1) Never question God's working in your own life.

2) Never question God's working in the life of another.

And the next time you're tempted to do either, remember God's question to you: "WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?"

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Scourge of the Tongue

"Thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue…" (Job 5:21)

Anyone who would agree with the old adage, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me," must be both deaf and blind! Who among us can boast of never being hurt by something heard or read? In his list of seven troubles that sometimes befall us, Eliphaz, one of Job's friends, names the “scourge of the tongue" along with famine, death, war, the sword, destruction, and beasts. This is only one of many references in the Word of God to the power and propensity of the tongue for evil, culminating in James 3, where it is labeled, among other things, as being “an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (v.8).

I suppose if I wrote on this subject daily, it would not be too much. I enjoy a good conversationalist, and clever speech can be very entertaining. But if we're not careful, a clever tongue can become a "cleaver tongue." We can cut away at our husband's ego, our children's self-confidence, and a friend's long-suffering, until we are no longer a pleasure to be around. A scourge is an instrument of pain that leaves scars after it is wielded, and it should not have to be used in the same sentence with the word “tongue.”

Today, let your tongue be used, not as a scourge, but as a solace to those around you. Take a lesson from the "virtuous woman" in Proverbs 31.

"[I]n her tongue is the law of kindness." (Prov. 31:26b)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Kindred Spirit

"The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." (Rom.8:16)

In today's popular vernacular, a "kindred spirit" is someone who is like us in character and temperament. The actual meaning of "kindred," of course, is someone related to us by blood. Either way, you and I, as believers, have a true kindred spirit—the Holy Spirit of God. We often say (and rightly so) that our eternal salvation is based on the Word of God and not our feelings and emotions. But that same Word tells us that if we are truly a child of God, the Spirit of God will bear witness to that fact within us. In other words, we will have an affinity for the same things. I have been conscious of this from the day I was saved to this very hour. I may not have always seen eye-to-eye with my "Kindred Spirit," I'm sorry to say; but I've never doubted that He and I are kin!

In addition, like two people who have lived together for a long time, He often finishes my sentences for me when I'm talking to God. In fact, verse 26 says that when I become tongue-tied in the presence of God, He steps in and articulates my longings and desires. When I am speechless, He speaks up, and when He does, I can be sure that what He says will be "according to the will of God" (v. 27).

And (joy of joys!) verse 11 of Romans 8 promises that if I die before the Lord returns for His own, that same Spirit will "quicken [my] mortal body" and raise it from the dead. Until that day, the two of us will fellowship together (Philip. 2:1), as two friends always do when they are truly kindred spirits.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Ears to Hear

"And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath." (Mark 4:24,25)

It seems to me that God is more interested in how well we hear than how well we see. For instance, "If any man hear my voice”; "swift to hear"; "Faith cometh by hearing”; etc. In verse 23 of this chapter, Jesus said, "If any man have ears to hear, let him hear." In other words, just because we have ears doesn't mean we actually hear. Not only that, not everyone hears the same way, ("Take heed therefore how ye hear…" Luke 8:18). As one old writer has said, “There is no "neutrality of hearing," because "nothing is registered on a clean slate." Our own character will filter, distort, or amplify anything we hear, and we will react accordingly.

Verse 24 tells us that the measure of our ability to hear is the measure of what we will receive from God. Verse 25, however, has always been somewhat of a problem for me. I understand how you can give to someone who already has something; but what do you take from someone who has nothing to give? How about this: Hearers of the Word are continually receiving what God has provided for their spiritual growth; non-hearers, however, are not only deprived of this possible nourishment, but any spiritual gain they made in the past, is soon depleted. In other words, they're losing ground, and that is serious. When we no longer have ears to hear the voice of God, we are left with only a cacophony of this world's useless noise.

Everyone appreciates a good listener; but no one appreciates him or her more than God.