Saturday, March 29, 2008

"Lord, Shut My Mouth!"

"Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding." (Proverbs 17:28)

To paraphrase Solomon: "It's better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt." Still, you must admit, the King James phrase, "[H]e that shutteth his lips…" has a nice ring to it. Many times I’ve regretted not having spoken a word of exhortation or encouragement; but the times I have lain awake, berating myself for something said in the heat of the moment, or just simply because of my need to be heard, far outweigh these. The previous verse says, "He that hath knowledge spareth his words." You would think the person who knows the most would have the most to say. But, as you well know, the one least qualified to give an opinion, is usually the first to offer one.

What makes it so painfully hard for us to leave things unsaid? Is it a need to feel important? As you read the Gospels, you realize that Jesus was a Man of few words, especially when you consider all He could have said. There were times He chose to use a gesture, or merely a look, and yet these silent instances spoke volumes. You and I, unfortunately, often employ a sharp tongue, when a meaningful silence would have sufficed. Or we ply others with elaborate explanations, when a direct answer would have been far more helpful.

Here's one more incentive for word-sparing: Maybe, if we talked less, we could think more. And on that note, I close.

It only takes one bullet to kill a man…if you aim straight!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Will I Give Up My Looking Glass?

"And he made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the lookingglasses of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation." (Exodus 38:8)

Would I be willing to give up my "lookingglass" for the glory of God? These women of Israel freely offered their mirrors to be fashioned into a piece of furniture that would be serviceable as well as add beauty to God's tabernacle. Of course, I'm speaking figuratively today, thinking well beyond vanity or beauty.

With a mirror, you and I are able to make a singular judgment about ourselves, based on what we see. Without one, however, we are forced to rely on someone else to make the evaluation. Unfortunately, it will be as biased as our own, because there is truth in the saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

What if you could have a magic mirror that would change your countenance by simply gazing into it? Paul tells us in II Corinthians 3:18, there is such a glass. If we are willing to allow the glory of God to be our looking glass, he says, we can be changed "into the same image from glory to glory." That’s a thought to grab your imagination—as well as your heart.

If you and I want to see ourselves as we really are, honesty demands that we look into the infallible mirror of God's Word, and acknowledge what we see there. Then, the secret is to not look away, as James says, lest we forget (1:23-24), but, rather, to continue gazing so that the glory of God may become more burnished into our character day by day.

We will never see ourselves as we really are until we are willing to give up our own looking glasses.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rejecting the Light

"Then said Jesus unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light…" (John 12:35, 36)

We should never take light for granted, especially spiritual light. There are some very sobering words in these verses and the next four. For instance: "…lest darkness come upon you"; "These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them."; "Therefore they could not believe". This is deadly important when your soul is at stake. Man's opportunity for salvation only comes as the "light of the glorious gospel of Christ" shines in his heart. The words of Jesus, "While ye have light, believe in the light," indicates there may come a time when you will be without it.

Looking beyond this, however, God lights our pathway through the Christian life, and the same warning applies. No one likes to walk in the dark. For one thing, it's dangerous, because, as Jesus says in verse 35, when you are walking in the dark, you never can never be sure where you are going. I've seen Christians like that. They stumble through life, fumbling around for God's will, and falling over every obstacle Satan puts in their way.

On the other hand, there is a blessed assurance—a spring in the step, if you will—when one is walking a well-lit path. Not only is the next step visible, but often the light spreads a few steps ahead. Not enough to render faith unnecessary, but enough to make panic unreasonable.

God has promised that His Word will be "a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path," but if we choose to veer out of the light, we should not be surprised when we suddenly find ourselves in the dark.

Light rejected brings greater darkness.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Two Crucifixions

"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." (Galatians 6:14)

Do you see, as I do, two crucifixions here? Evidently, the world being crucified to me, and me being crucified to the world, are not necessarily the same things. Think with me a minute.

The key words in the first phrase are "to me." This is a very personal arrangement. Obviously, the world is not dead, but, if it is dead to me, it doesn't hold the attraction for me that it does for others. I may participate in many of its activities. I may wear clothes that others around me wear. And I may even agree with conclusions that some unbelievers come to. But when any of these things go cross-grain to the revealed Word of God, they lose all favor in my sight and are no longer viable in my life. For all practical purposes, they are dead (or they should be).

Now, here it gets a little tricky, so pay attention. How appealing am I to the world? I don't want to be misunderstood here. Deliberate unattractiveness and condescending piety are not signs of spirituality. If anything, they smack of spiritual pride. What I am referring to is an unsaved world around us being aware that, though we may be like them in many ways, there is a point where the similarity ends and uniqueness begins. When that happens, and we cannot be forced into their mold, in their estimation, we are no longer of consequence to them. In this case, for all practical purposes, we become dead to them.

If this seems a little severe, remember we're talking about a crucifixion here. It’s one thing to glory in the Cross of Calvary and the sacrificial death of the Savior. It is quite another to glory in the implications of that Cross in our day to day lives.

It would be tempting to give a one-dimensional reading to Scriptures such as these, but if we expect to grow, we have to face them—and ourselves.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Door

"This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord: where I will meet you, to speak there unto thee." (Exodus 29:42)

I've been reading about all that was involved in the prelude to Israel's approach to God by way of the Tabernacle. All the interior and exterior hangings and furnishings, as well as the priest's garments, the rituals and sacrifices. And yet the Bible tells us, for all this preparation, "John Q. Israelite" could still only come as far as the door. After that, he had to be represented by the high priest. My mind went immediately to Hebrews and the contrast between their approach to God...and ours.

The writer of Hebrews declares that you and I, as New Testament believers, can come directly to the throne of grace (Heb.4:16). And it is not without significance that he uses the adverb "boldly." After reading Exodus, our immediate right of entry to God truly seems audacious. Why were they stopped at the door and limited from access to the Holy of Holies, while you and I can lift our hearts to God at a moment's notice to worship and petition Him? Chapter ten of Hebrews tells us the reason. It is because the final Sacrifice has been offered, and a "new and living way" has been made through the veil of "his flesh." Now, you and I don’t have to stand at the door and wait; we have "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of his flesh" (Heb.10:19-20).

Child of God, Come right up; walk right in; the Door’s always open!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Plus or Minus People

"…for they…added nothing to me." (Gal.2:6)

This evaluation Paul made of certain less than desirable men who had come into the church at Galatia, is one that could be said for a lot of other people. Like those "somewhats" in Paul's day they are "minus" people. Their lives add absolutely nothing to those around them. On the contrary, others are often poorer for having had communication with them. Not necessarily materially (although that may enter into it, at times); but, more importantly, to the extent that their influence is one of discouragement, provocation, or disillusionment, they steal from those they come in contact with those elements that would make them happy, victorious Christians. And, more often than not, they end up dividing believers, to continue the metaphor.

On the other hand, thank God, there are those who enrich people around them so much that they bring out hidden qualities in them which actually add to their walk with God. These priceless individuals are able to appreciate latent talents, virtues, or gifts some of us somehow never see in ourselves, and they are willing to take the time and effort to kindle a desire within us to develop them. I have been blessed in my life with such friends, acquaintances, family members (even authors) who challenged me by their own lives and/or their words to be the best that I can be. I am more now than I would ever have been, had I not had their input and influence. They were definite pluses in my life.

The challenge here is not so much to seek out and walk with (literally or mentally) those people who will add to us (though that is vitally important), but, rather, to be one of these "plus" people. This is the cry of my heart: May those who come under the sound of my voice or the influence of my life, for even the briefest of times, find themselves a little more capable than they thought they were, a little more content with the will of God, and a little more determined to please Him. I just want to be a plus person.


You entered my life in a casual way,
And saw at glance what I needed;
There were others who passed me or met me each day,
But never a one of them heeded.
Perhaps you were thinking of other folks more,
I know there were many such chances before,
But the others—well, they didn’t see it.

You said just the thing that I wished you would say,
And you made me believe that you meant it;
I held up my head in the old gallant way,
And resolved you should never repent it.
There are times when encouragement means such a lot,
And a word is enough to convey it;
There were others who could have, as easy as not—
But, just the same, they didn’t say it.

There may have been someone who could have done more
To help me along, though I doubt it;
What I needed was cheering, and always before
They had let me plod onward without it.
You helped to refashion the dream of my heart,
And made me turn eagerly to it;
There were others who might have (I question that part)—
But, after all, they didn’t do it!

— Grace Stricker Dawson

Friday, March 14, 2008

Grace and Truth: Together in Him

"For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (John 1:17)

Without jumping into the (ongoing) theological debate over the boundaries of law and grace, I want to contrast, instead, the two concepts of grace and truth. It would seem these two fall within the limited scope of my ability to make some little comment on; perhaps, since I am a recipient of the former, and a continual seeker of the latter.

You have heard countless messages on grace, because, although the basis of our salvation is the substitutionary death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the instrument that places it within our grasp is the grace of God. However, grace not only describes a situation when favor is shown where no expressed right is present; it also is used to describe a demeanor or means of presentation that is both favorable and pleasing.

Truth, for all its many would-be claimants, is personified in Jesus Christ (Jno. 14:6). This is not to say that truths cannot be obtained from others, but even these have their origin in Divine principle. Otherwise, they are only pseudo-truths. Truth, like its Source, is absolute and eternal. It cannot be sacrificed for anyone or anything.

But, having said this, I maintain that absolute truth and amiable grace are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are complimentary. Truth will be more effective in your life, and in the lives of those you hope to influence, if it is accompanied by grace. Make no mistake; truth will remain truth, no matter how it is presented; but unless you show the grace that God showed you, any attempt to communicate it will be viewed with skepticism. (There is a difference between contending for the Faith and being just plain contentious!) On the other hand, you can show all the grace in the world to those you come in contact with, but if you compromise the truth in order to do it, you are a hypocrite of the worst sort, because you have clothed a falsehood with spiritual garb.

Not only did these two elements come by Jesus Christ, verse 14 says He was "full of grace and truth." So should we be. We should present the truth, uncompromisingly; and we should present it with all the grace we are capable of.

Grace without truth is inefficient; truth without grace is ineffective.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The King of the Children of Pride

"He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride." (Job 41:34)

God takes an entire chapter of 34 verses to talk about a creature that defies imagination or explanation, like something from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. God calls him "leviathan." Biblical Creation apologist, Henry Morris, identifies it as the aquatic version of the great beast behemoth, described in chapter 40. Far beyond a crocodile and obviously extinct. But verse 34 makes it clear this creature also symbolizes Satan, who is the personification—the king—of pride (Isa.14:12-15; Ezek.28:11-19). The Bible has much to say about pride, and none of it good. Its association with this dreadful beast paints a devastating word picture of just how God sees it.

The Apostle John, in his first Epistle, tells us this world's system revolves around three obsessions: the lust of the flesh; the lust of the eye; and the pride of life. If something feels good, looks good, or makes you look good, then it is good. Or so the world reasons. The pride of life manifests itself in many different ways. There are those who are proud of how well they are able to live, financially; others pride themselves in their outwardly moral lives; still others derive great self-satisfaction from the social circles they move in; and, yes, there are even those who fancy themselves as being humble. This, no doubt, is the worst pride of all.

Sadly, we are nearly always the last to discern pride in our own lives. For some reason, it's much more obvious in others. This is one of the many dangers of legalism; it's a breeding ground for pride. These are an ignominious bunch, these “children of pride,” with a truly monstrous king. You and I should be ever conscious of the danger of falling in with them.

A Puritan cure for pride: “Remember; your father was Adam, your grandfather dust, and your great-grandfather nothing.” –William Jenkyn

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Breath of God

"By the breath of God frost is given…" (Job 37:10a)

Just think; you and I thought it was atmospheric moisture that crystallizes on the ground. Now we know it is of far grander origin. We awaken one morning in the fall to find the first frost and think that winter has put his foot in the door. But actually, it is God who has leaned over the battlements of Heaven, and with simply a sigh, covered the earth with this glistening spectacle. He created the world before He created man, almost as though He wanted someone to see what He had done, and to marvel.

Speaking of Adam, you remember it was only after God had breathed into his nostrils the breath of life that "man became a living soul." Each breath that you breathe is borrowed from God. That's why the Psalmist says, "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord." And in John 20, it was the risen Savior who breathed on His disciples, and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." The old-time preachers used to talk about someone preaching with the breath of Heaven upon him. This is the kind of ministering that breathes life into a congregation or individual, just as surely as Elisha breathed life back into the Shunammite woman's son (II Kings 4:34).

Spring will soon be here, and God will be putting on yet another display. This time, one of color and fragrance. Don't miss it. Don't be in such a hurry to get where you're going that you miss where you are. Take a deep breath even now and thank God for His breath of life within you. And may you experience the sweet Breath of Heaven on whatever service He may ask of you.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine,
Till all this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
—Edwin Hatch

Looking For Answers

“And Job spake and said, Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.” (Job 3:2-3)

What would reduce a man who feared God and hated evil to such bitterness of soul? The answer is easy: suffering. But why would God allow such a good man to suffer? This is not as easy to answer. In fact, I would suggest that there is no answer. Oh, I know; Satan had charged God with “buying” Job’s faithfulness with good treatment, and God had taken the challenge (1:9-12). But are we to assume that this is the scenario when any godly Christian suffers pain or hardship? One thing is for sure; whatever was going on in heaven, Job was oblivious to it. All he knew was that he was living as best he could for God, and suddenly life had become unbearable.

As you know, none of his friends had any good answers, though this certainly did not prevent their offering them. Eliphaz even laid claim to divine inspiration from a so-called “spirit,” when he insisted that Job’s troubles were the result of some sin or sins (Job 4). Still, there was no overt or secret sin they could actually charge him with; and, in the end, God didn’t care for their answers, either (42:7). This kind of reasoning still flourishes in our churches. The first response to calamity in our own or others’ lives is often, “What did I do wrong? How have I offended God?” God does chasten His children, of course, but it would be presumptuous of us to assume we know what form the chastening will take.

Nor, I would point out, did God answer Job’s questions. On the contrary, when He did finally speak to him in chapters 38-41, He didn’t mention Job’s troubles at all. Instead, he reminded him that He was the God of Creation, who from the beginning had worked in ways unfathomable to man. Job was asking “Why?” when he should have been asking “Who?” God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind, and asks, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding” (38:4). It is we who are the “Johnny-come-latelies” here. Great preacher of by-gone days, Dr. John R. Rice, used to shake his head indulgently, and say to a crowd, “Some of you were born so late, you’ll never know anything!” Well, when it comes to comprehending the workings of God, that’s true. Occasionally, God chooses to reveal the purpose of a particular trial or tribulation, but He is certainly under no obligation to do so. He is required to answer no man or woman (Matt.20:15).

Are we left then to assume that God, all-powerful and all-knowing, is indifferent to the agonies of men? We fallen creatures got ourselves in this mess; we can jolly well work it out the best way we can. But, this will not do either, because He has said He loves us and gave His Son to redeem us from our sins (Rom.5:8). No, whatever the purpose may be for our heartache, the motivation behind it is love.

One thing we do know: Pain and suffering are sure-fire ways for God to get our attention. Thy may elicit a curse or a prayer, but, either way, our first thought is, “I’m out of my depth here.” In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis writes: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

If anyone deserved an answer to the question, “Why is there evil in the world, and why do the righteous suffer,” it was Job. In the end, God gave Job twice as much as he had before (42:10), but He never told him why He took it in the first place. If this good man was left with unanswered questions, why should we feel we are owed them? I often say that to me “Why?” is the least helpful of all questions, and this is especially true when we ponder God’s dealings with mankind, in general, and His own children, in particular. Why is not important if the “Who” is God.

Romans 8:28 assures us that God always has our best interest at heart, and everything that comes into our lives, no matter how painful it may be, is working for our good. This should be justification enough for any of us. To look anywhere else for an answer is to question God’s love and integrity.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Too Much of a Good Thing

"Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone." (Exodus 18:18)

"If you want something done, ask a busy person." This maxim may work well for the asker, but what about the poor, overworked "ask-ee?" We are all quick to condemn the sin of laziness (and rightfully so), but how many of us recognize the same possibility of sin in busy-ness? Why is unquestionably good activity always assumed to be unquestionably appropriate all the time? I would not presume to question another's choice of service or motivation, especially in light of Jesus' words to Peter in John 21:21-22; but I think it might be good for each of us to acknowledge that we, too, might not be above falling into the same trap Moses did.

In all probability, most of us are working at break-neck pace because we love the Lord. But, on the other hand, there are other possibilities. One could be striving to make up for a true or only perceived inadequacy in another area of his or her life. Or perhaps there is a driving need to appear to be indispensable to an individual or organization. Either of these motivations can generate the same kind of behavior, while, at the same time, provide a feeling of control that some are not comfortable without.

It's possible to set a pace for ourselves that not only wears us out, but affects those around us in an adverse way, as well. ("Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee…”) But, Moses' father-in-law assured him, if he would agree to slow down and share the load, both he and all the people could "go to their place in peace" (v.23).

You will look in vain for an example of our Lord conducting His Father's business with any of the frenzy you and I are so susceptible to. But then, maybe our business is more important than His business.

There may be over-doing even in well-doing.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

God's "Pets"

"For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ....that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolations." (2 Cor. 1:5,7)

We all like to be petted. To be singled out for a little special treatment from time to time. My sisters and brother are all older than I, and they still "baby" me to some extent. I love it. It has been a special comfort to me, since we no longer have our father or mother. The most stoic and self-sufficient among us would be lying if they said they never felt the need for comfort.

These precious verses tell us that God gives special attention to those of us who are going through suffering, in whatever form it may take. He says in verse 5 that when sufferings abound, consolation abounds in direct proportion. Just as you and I console a sick child of ours, so our Heavenly Father, through the Spirit of God and the Scriptures, takes us into His arms (it would seem to me) and reassures us of His abiding Presence and undying love.

If you are one of God’s children languishing in sorrow or pain today, realize it is you that the Father hovers over with jealous care, sensitive to every cry of your heart, audible or inaudible. Bask in that love and know that in a sweet, mystical way, you are His “pet.”