Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Intemperance of Jesus

"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man...Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest..." (Heb. 2:9, 17a)

Jesus did not do anything sparingly or half-way. You and I must be cautioned to practice moderation because of our sinful nature, but there was no reason for Jesus to be bound by such restriction, since everything He did was right. Sinlessness requires no temperance.

Verse 9 tells us that Jesus tasted death for "every man." I take this at face value...because I can. Some may argue that His atoning death was only accomplished for a limited few; but, to me, its efficacy does not limit its sufficiency. Just as the sun rises for both the evil and the good, and as both the just and the unjust are recipients of the refreshing rain (Matt.5:45), so, too, Jesus tasted death to the very dregs for those who would benefit from it as well as those who would not. To question this "waste" is to underestimate both God's limitless resources and His unbounded love.

Then, in verse 17, the writer of Hebrews lets us know that to God it was not good enough simply to understand or sympathize with us, He had to become us (7:26), not in some things, or even most things, but in "all things." It is not the Deity of Christ that I find unfathomable; it is His Manhood that overwhelms my mind. That He would choose to take upon Himself flesh and blood, only to have that flesh torn, beaten and put to death, and that blood completely spilled out, not just to please His Father, but to save my unworthy soul—I tell you; this is love unbounded, and, yes... intemperate.

All glory to the One who was truly "all things to all men”!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Obedience to Be Trusted

"Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say." (Philemon 21)

What a high compliment Paul gave this man. The individual who enjoys a reputation for fulfilling honorable commitments will be rewarded with the confidence of others as well as high recommendation for any kind of service. Paul was asking Philemon to overlook a legitimate grievance, as a favor to him, knowing that the man would do whatever God told him to do, no matter how foolish it might look to others, even to the extent of going beyond what Paul asked of him.

Obedience is played out in more than one way. There are those all-embracing commands in the Word of God that are easily discerned by any honest Believer. These are straight-forward, calling for little, if any, judgment to carry them out. But, on the other hand, we are also confronted in the Christian life with personal precepts that God lays before us as individuals concerning questionable things. Those areas that require intimate dealings with God and that call for obedience not always understood by others. Our own path of obedience may seem austere to some… and too loose to others. The question is whether or not our Heavenly Father’s refusal (or permission) will be enough for us, whether those around us do the same. This kind of obedience—the lonely kind—is the kind that can be trusted by both God and man.

"Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different, not from evil,
but from other good."
— C.S. Lewis

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Eye Contact or Bit and Bridle?

"I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with my eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle..." (Psl.32:8,9a)

Is God able to lead you simply by making eye contact, or must He use a "bit and bridle?" As the wonderful old song says, "God leads His dear children along," but not always by the same means. Some of us can see the "pillar of cloud" by day, but are oblivious to the "pillar of fire" by night (Exodus 13:21). This is especially true when God wants us to do (or refrain from doing) something that goes against our own will, or even our better judgment. In cases like these, when we refuse to let Him guide us with His eye, we often must be pushed and pulled like a stubborn mule.

When our children were small, their father had his own way of getting their attention—the well-remembered "ha-rumph" (clearing his throat). They all swear you could hear it a mile away; and whether in a noisy auditorium or a quiet funeral home, it never failed to get a quick head turn from each one of them. Looking back, this probably saved a lot of time and effort, especially for Dad!

Wouldn't you think our Heavenly Father deserved that same kind of attention and obedience? What a blessing it must be to His heart, and what quiet provision for our own well-being, when we allow Him to instruct and teach us "with his eye." In order for this to work, however, we'll have to keep our eyes on Him at all times, won’t we?

— In the Christian life, recognition is better than restraint.—.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Gleanings from Ecclesiastes Ten

"If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offences." (v.4)

I consider this to be wonderful advice for wives. “How so?” you may ask. Well, think with me a minute: In the home, may we assume the "ruler" to be the husband, according to Ephesians five, etc.? And would it be too politically incorrect to consider "thy place" to be the much maligned place of submission, also found in Ephesians? Using these designations, how about this for a homespun, “S.J.S.” paraphrase: "When your hubby gets huffy, don't huff back, and things will blow over a whole lot quicker!"

"If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength..." (v.10)

There's nothing worse than trying to cut with a dull knife. You always end up having to work twice as hard with less satisfying results. The Spirit of God in our lives will give us that sharp edge which will make all the difference in our service to God, and our effectiveness with others. That's why it's imperative that our relationship with Him be jealously guarded (Eph.4:30). Otherwise, you and I are going to end up having to work twice as hard with less satisfying results.

"...[M]oney answereth all things." (v.19)

Or, as the old saying goes, "Money talks." This cynical statement may be the theme of today's society, but here are a few things money won't tell you:

It won't tell you that loving it is the root of all evil; nor will it tell you that it was the price Judas paid to betray the Son of God. Money won't tell you that it was used to pay off the soldiers to lie, and say that Jesus' body was stolen; and it won't tell you that it can buy everything but a friend, happiness, and eternal life. Oh, yes, money can talk, but it won't tell you the most important things.

"[F]or a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter." (v.20)

Here’s another old saying. When someone wants to relate something for which he or she is hesitant to divulge the source, this individual may simply say, "A little bird told me." Well, here are some things a few birds told me, and I don’t mind at all sharing my source: A dove told me that Jesus was the beloved Son of God (Matt.3:16-17); an eagle told me that if I would wait on the Lord, I can mount up with wings like his own (Isa.40:31); a swallow told me that the altar of God is the best place to take my children (Psl.84:3); and a sparrow told me that although my Heavenly Father cares enough for all of them to attend each one of their funerals, He still values me much more (Matt.10:29-31).

Now that we've finished our gleaning, we can bundle up our treasure and go home, content to have needed nourishment for the journey. And rest assured, my friend, there's more where that came from!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Soul Stretching

"But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

If you're like me, you tend to think of exercise as something that requires vigorous calisthenics and aerobics, working out with machines and weights, or even just walking. We often forget, however, that exercise is not only made up of the time spent in these planned activities, it can also be incorporated into everyday tasks. By doing little things like parking our car farther away at Wal-Mart, taking the stairs instead of the escalator, running the sweeper, or working in the yard, we can burn calories and build muscle as a by-product of day to day activities.

The same is true of exercising ourselves "unto godliness." It's tempting to think that the scheduled time we spend with God in the morning (or whenever) is the only opportunity we have to give our souls a good daily work-out. But things like saying "No" to sin, meditating on the Word of God, witnessing to our faith, encouraging a drooping soul, and engaging in on-the-go prayer and fellowship with the Lord, are all examples of "spiritual sit-ups" that serve to tighten our spiritual muscles, and make us more fit for the Master's use.

Godly exercise should be of higher priority to us than physical; that is, unless how physically fit we look to others is more important to us than God's evaluation of us. Bodily exercise is undoubtedly profitable in this life; but, says the Scripture, godly exercise is profitable in this life, and the life that is to come. It will be good if we can fit both into our day, but if we must pick between the two, let's not be short-sighted enough to lace-up our Nike's without putting on the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:13-17).

What have you done today to stretch your soul?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

You Are What You've Been Becoming

"For that which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been..."(Ecclesiastes 3:15)

This verse in Ecclesiastes reminds me of something I've heard my husband say many times: “You are what you've been becoming." What you are today as a woman, and where you are in your Christian life, did not happen over night. There were many things that went into making you into the person you are. Some of them you had no control over, but the majority of them came from conscious choices you made. You may have thought some of them were insignificant at the time, but, as you look back today, I’m sure you can see just how significant they were.

Whatever your regrets (or non-regrets) today, it would be of little use to obsess over them. In fact, to do so, would only serve to exacerbate the problem. Instead, we should realize that just as choices and actions of our youth produced much of the circumstances of our lives today, what you do now will decide who and what we will be in middle age and beyond. We should be making judgments, not just for today, but for the future as well. One does not automatically become wise at forty-five or magically turn sweet at seventy-five. We all know middle-aged women who are still making the dumb mistakes they made when they were young; and who of us would want to end up like some of the bitter, cranky, old ladies we've known.

You are determining today what you will be tomorrow. Take a quick look back over your shoulder; ask God to show you where you really are today; then begin working on becoming the woman you want to be when you stand before Him.

"When it comes time to die, make sure that all you have to do is die."
— Jim Elliot

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Those Happy Law-Keepers

"The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart:" (Psl. 19:8a)
"[H]e that keepeth the law, happy is he." (Prov. 29:18)

I am fully aware that the Law cannot make us holy (Rom. 3:20, 28). My claim is merely that of David and Solomon: People who keep God's laws are happy people. I realize, too, that the idea of living within a framework of rules and guidelines would seem, on the surface, to deflate the balloon of happiness; but bear with me. You should know, also, that I am loathe to interchange the word "happy" here with "blessed," as is often done; since I think we are in danger of losing a blessing if we do. Let's just allow the old Book to say what it says.

We have all seen children who are, for all practical purposes, given free rein, and we have also seen examples of adults whose childhood reflected this. Are these happy children? More importantly, are these happy adults? The obvious answer to both questions is, "No." Even a child knows that no limit mean no one cares. Do you think God Almighty cares less for His children then we do our own? Just as a child may say, "My dad said 'No,’” so, too, I have had to say at times, "My Father (not my pastor!) said, 'No.'" Ideally, the child who has learned obedience at a young age will hear the word "No" less and less as he or she matures. And the child of God who learns early and well to obey the Father will hear the word "No" less frequently, as they, too, grow in grace. However, none of us will ever reach a plateau where the word is only an echo.

I think the main reason the statutes of the Lord rejoice my own heart is that I know they are right. God's clear commands do not lurk in some fuzzy, gray area. As Paul said, there are some things of which every man must be "fully persuaded in his own mind"; but, “The statutes of the Lord are right.” Period When I know that what I'm doing is right, I am deliciously happy! Happy now, and even happier later, when I stand before the Lord.

Do you see now what I meant about the word “happy"? It is just the perfect word!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

In Praise of Large Steps

"Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip" (Psl 18:36)

At one time, my husband and I, along with our two younger children, lived in a two-story house in Michigan with a big front porch and a swing to go with it. I enjoyed that house very much except for one thing: the basement stairs. Oh, the stairway itself was nice and wide, with a good, substantial handrail, but the stairs themselves were so short that you almost had to turn your foot sideways to keep from slipping off them. More than once, I had to catch myself with that sturdy banister. For my money, I would rather have had a narrower stairway with larger steps.

We read in Matthew 7, "[N]arrow is the way, which leadeth unto life," and, sometimes it can seem narrower than at other times…especially when you're young. After you've lived for awhile, however, you learn there is nothing as confining as sin. During those times of perceived narrowness, it's nice to know there can still be sure-footing, because the steps under us are large and substantial. And, if need be, David says, God will even enlarge them for us.

This verse is of even greater comfort to me as I get older. Not because I fret more about the narrow way. (I haven't gotten this old without learning something, after all!) But, the thing is, the older one gets the easier it is to slip and fall. (Remember David?) Maybe it's because we're too tempted to look back over our shoulders at the way things used to be. This is not such a bad thing...as long as we remember there's a road ahead that deserves our greater attention. The past is a clock that can only tell us what time it was, and to keep looking back is to lose sight of what is, and even more important, what can be.
So, with this truth in mind, I venture out into tomorrow with the blessed assurance that as I lift each foot, there will always be a nice, large step to plant it on. And, by God's grace, I won't slip.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Quick Buck

"[H]e that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent." (Proverbs 28:20b)

It's only a matter of time before people who are always out to make a fast buck are presented with ways that are not legitimate. It may or may not be against the law, but it will always be against God's “royal law,” found in James 2:8: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." There are those who have given up perfectly good jobs in order to spend all their time in "on-line trading," and though some may have gotten rich, others have become examples of verse twenty-two, which tells us that such a person "considereth not that poverty shall come upon him." It's easy to be talked into a fast scheme for making money, but verse 19 warns, "He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread: but he that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough."

You may wonder what all this has to do with you, but I bring this up, because I see in this verse something that involves more than money. It reflects, I think, a life principle of some people. "Ten Steps to Godliness"; "How to Know the Bible in Two Weeks"; "Shortcuts to Spirituality"; the list goes on and on. This kind of method and mindset is completely foreign to the Word of God—and reality. And anyone who would subscribe to it shows just how spiritually immature he or she is. In a world of high-speed, world-wide Internet connection, instant physical gratification, and life in the fast lane, it would seem good to remind ourselves that the most important quality to cultivate if one wishes to know God and His Word is the rare virtue of patience. "For ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise" (Heb.10:36)

Everything in my life that is good, worthwhile, and precious to me, did not come quickly. My abiding relationship with Jesus Christ; the intimate bond my husband and I share; any knowledge I have acquired (Bible or otherwise); any respect I have earned from others—all these, and much more, have taken time and patience. But trust me; they have been well worth the wait!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Beware of Cynicism

"For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord" (I Thess. 3:8)

No one could ever have accused the Apostle Paul of being a weak, easily impeded man. After all, he suffered beatings, stoning, hunger, shipwreck, and misunderstanding by the brethren; and he withstood Jewish hierarchy and leaders in the early Church. Yet we see in this verse a tiny glimpse of the "chink in his armor," so to speak. In this chapter in First Thessalonians he shares with those believers what a comfort their faith was to him amid all the affliction and distress he was suffering. He then candidly admits in verse 8 that, should their faith wane, it would be like a mortal blow to him. We can be sure, of course, that God would have sustained him through even this; but I think we see here that along with a great analytical mind, Paul possessed a great heart of love that was vulnerable to his brethren.

Years ago, when I was a young pastor's wife, there were those in our church who rose up in anger against my husband and me. To me, their grievance was not justified, and it seemed so very unfair that I was crushed. An older Christian woman, who had worked in churches longer than I, said to me, rather cynically, "Oh, you'll get used to that," to which I vehemently replied, "No, I won't!" And, by God's grace, I haven’t. I have managed, for the most part, to expect the best from God's children.

When I hear that someone has fallen into sin, I want to be the last, not the first, to believe it. I never want to say, "I’m not surprised at that." And although no one else may be conscious of it, when someone near to me pierces the heart of God, I want my own heart to bleed. “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church” (Col.1:24).

Am I in the succession?

Monday, April 7, 2008

JOY: Not Just a Lot of Soap Suds

"But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.”
(Psalm 5:11)

C.S. Lewis referred to joy as “the serious business of Heaven." And, I assure you, I, too, take it very seriously! Not the forced, inane humor we often see portrayed in the media, or the artificial, chemically induced euphoria that passes for having a good time. No, what I'm talking about is that internal ambiance of well-being that defies both the law of gravity and the law of inertia: staying up when it ought to be sinking; and not dependent on any artificial push!

I once likened real joy to a pilot light inside us. It may only "flame up" from time to time, but it always gives off a steady, warm glow. The lost, who live with impending doom (whether they acknowledge it or not) will always have to find a substitute for joy. And sadly, carnal, half-hearted Christians usually leave the Holy Spirit on the "back-burner" of their lives and then wonder why they end up cold and joyless. Amy Carmichael said, "I often think how sad we shall be at the end, if we have failed in joy." Here are a few thoughts on this important subject, lest you or I fail in joy.

1. There is a definitive and definable source of joy. Isaiah 35:10 tells us that "the ransomed of the Lord...will obtain joy..."; and in Psalm 16:11 David tells God, "[I]n thy presence is fullness of joy.” Galatians 5 names joy as part of the cluster in the fruit of the Spirit; and this is visualized for us in Luke 1 where John, yet unborn, leaps for joy in Elizabeth's womb after she is filled with the Holy Ghost. Need I name for you, then, the Source of Joy?

2. Although at times joy may be "unspeakable" (I Pet. 1:8), it cannot be hidden indefinitely. The story in Luke one again proves this, for, not only did John leap for joy, it says of Elizabeth that she "spake with a loud voice." Real, deep-seated joy cannot always be held down or kept quiet.

3. Heavenly joy is constant, even under fire. Paul praised the churches of Macedonia, in 2 Corinthians 8:2, noting both their "great trial of affliction," and at the same time, their "abundance of…joy." He gives it a paradoxical twist is chapter 6 of the same book: ("As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing…").

4. Lastly, here are some "joy-robbers" the Bible warns us about:

· Sin (Psalm 51)
· Neglect of the Word (Jeremiah 15:16)
· Failure to worship (Luke 24:52)
· Lack of abiding in Him (John 15:11)
· Disregard of Christian Fellowship (2 Tim. 1:4; 1 John 1:3,4;
2 John 12

I should point out there are also people around us who, I must say, fit into the "joy-robber" category. They'll move heaven and earth, seemingly, to keep us from experiencing the abundant life God has planned for us. Avoid them like the plague! Since the joy of the Lord is your strength (Neh.8:10), they will soon sap you of all your spiritual vigor.

Now, take these truths and incorporate them into your life; and then, as I often say,

“Don't forget to enJOY the Lord!”

Friday, April 4, 2008

The (Non)Golden Rule

“Say not, I will do to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work.” (Proverbs 24:29)

This verse is the so-called “Golden Rule”…in reverse. Whereas our Lord commanded in Matthew 7:12, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even unto them” (in other words, treat others as you yourself would want to be treated), the wise man tells us there are those whose philosophy seems to be, “I’ll treat you the way you treat me” (in other words, “I can give as good as I get”). These kinds of people pride themselves in never being blind-sided or taken advantage of, never coming out on the short end of the stick.

The bad thing about this, however, is that we end up allowing other people to decide our conduct for us, since we always respond in kind. This makes a very predictable, unimaginative (not to mention, un-Biblical) lifestyle. Once someone especially adept at the art of irritation finds this weakness in our character, always sure of getting a rise out of us, we become fair game.

But what if—just, what if—when goaded, mocked, or even wronged, we responded with a soft answer (Prov.15:1), or turned the other cheek (Matt.5:39), or didn’t answer back (Tit.2:9)? Wouldn’t that be original? Wouldn’t that prove that no one but God dictates our responses?

As I see it, I have one of three choices when it comes to my dealings with others: 1) I can do unto others as they do unto me; 2) I can do unto others as I would have them do unto me; or 3) I can do unto others as God has done unto me.

Our Christianity is best seen, not in the way we act, but in the way we re-act.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Philosophical Thieves

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." (Colossians 2:8)

The word "spoil," in old English, meant to rob or plunder. A conquering army would go through the town, taking for themselves whatever they wanted, thus spoiling the land. Paul is saying that the philosophy of this world can do the same thing, if we allow it—spoil, or rob, us. This spoiling often disguises itself as the rediscovery of ancient truths (“tradition of men”); but the watchword from the apostle is “Beware.”

We worry that our young people in state universities will absorb the teachings of philosophers like Plato, Rousseau, or Nietzsche. But they are far more apt to embrace the philosophy of the media and their own peers—New Age distillation of old age fallacies. And, as I said, this is especially sinister, because it doesn't come across as philosophy at all, but, rather, things like "social-consciousness," “self-awareness,” cosmic consciousness,” or "twelve steps to success."

What will this world's philosophy rob you of? Here's a short list that comes to mind immediately:

--- your ability to reason without emotion
--- your incentive for excellence without recognition
--- your grasp of the value of honesty over expediency

Of course, the most tragic aspect of the plundering done by "vain philosophy" is its chipping away at one's faith in the Word of God. I don't like to be robbed, but I especially resent it when someone tries to rob me of something very dear to me. My mind, my heart, my integrity, my good name, my absolute faith in the authority of God and His Word—these are all precious beyond measure to me. And I refuse to relinquish them for any amount of eloquent, ear-tickling speech, based on faulty reasoning and New Age mumbo-jumbo.