Friday, May 30, 2008

The Folly of Complaining

"I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed." (Psl. 77:3b)

This is only one of the unfortunate results of complaining: it leads to the breakdown of our own spirit. It is a vicious cycle. Not only is it irritating to those around us, it ends up reinforcing its own legitimacy in our minds, feeding on itself. And we can be sure; it is one thing God has little patience with. The children of Israel were notorious complainers, and in Numbers 11 we are told that it “displeased the Lord...and his anger was kindled...” When Jude makes his indictment against “ungodly men,” who walk “after their own lusts,” among their many reprehensible offenses, he describes them as being “murmurers and complainers.”

Sad to say, this unpleasant trait is often associated (rightly or wrongly) with the feminine gender. Be that as it may, one thing is sure: it is certainly not characteristic of a lady, much less a woman of God. Complainers are hard to live with, which makes them poor marriage partners. And, sadly, children of such people tend to pick up their bad habits.

Like any bad habit, grumbling is not easily overcome. Once you begin to indulge, as I have said, it becomes hard to break the cycle. If you read the rest of the Psalm, you will find the Psalmist seeks to rid himself of its blight by communing with his own heart (v.6), considering the days of old (v.5), and remembering the works of the Lord (v.11). In other words, he is telling us to take ourselves by the nape of the neck, stop complaining, and start counting...our blessings, that is. If we could see ourselves as we are: complainers against God Almighty, the One who allows the source of our complaints, in the first place, perhaps we would not take them as lightly as we do. Complaining does not make me—or God—look good.

Here is a little verse along the same lines that I have always liked. It may not present a theological dictum, but it sure is a practical, no-nonsense solution!

Build yourself a strong box,
Fashion each part with care;
When it’s strong as your hand can make it,
Put all your troubles there;
Hide there all thought of your failures
And each bitter cup you *quaff;
Lock all your heartaches within it,
Then sit on the lid and laugh.

Bertha Adams Backus

* to drink deeply

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Who Hears When I Speak?

"They are of the world; therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us..." (1 Jno. 4:4b-5a)

Who speaks my language? And I don't just mean those who may use the same vocabulary; I mean those who use the same dictionary. All of us like to feel we can relate to our peers, but who are our peers? I mean, really? As far as I'm concerned, it has little to do with age, sex, race, intelligence, or natural abilities. Obviously, I am gratified when someone with musical talent compliments my singing (as opposed to, say, someone who is tone-deaf!); but I am even more gratified when I find I have succeeded in touching the heart and soul of a Christian who I know walks with God. When someone who knows God really hears when I speak (or sing), it is a sure sign I, too, am "of God"; and we two are on the same wave-length. This is what the apostle is saying.

I’m not saying that things we say and do should never make an impression on the world around us. On the contrary, our ability to communicate effectively cannot help but impress others, saved or lost. But notice, John says of those who have the ear of the world exclusively that it's because they speak of the world. In other words, their world-view is just that: the world's view. And, as I say, it’s a sure sign they themselves are "of the world."

I want to be so filled with God and His Word that when I speak, it's like flipping the switch that completes the circuit and turns the light on in another believer's heart and mind. And we, quite simply, connect.

Say....who hears when you speak?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Peter's Checklist

"And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and the knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity." (2 Peter 1:5-7)

The apostle Peter gives us a handy little checklist here that is of no small importance, I assure you. Lest you doubt this, I would draw your attention to verse 8, where he warns that without these items, we will be "barren and unfruitful in the knowledge of God." And if that doesn't set your antennae twitching, then read verse 9, where he points out, if we neglect any of them, we will end up being decidedly short-sighted ("cannot see afar off"). In other words, unable to see the big picture, and, therefore, so blind to the things of God we begin to doubt our own salvation ("forgotten that he was purged from his old sin").

Peter goes so far as to say that if we fail to see any evidence of these qualities in our lives, we probably ought to make sure we are truly saved ("give diligence to make your calling and election sure"); because, he reasons, you will only "do these things" (v.10), "if these things be in you" (v.8) in the first place. Now do I have your attention?

Though the list begins with faith, where our Christian life begins, we need not assume they go in actual order of importance, since the last one (charity) is what 1 Corinthians 13 refers to as "the greatest of these." But presumably, faith is the foundation on which to build all the others. After faith comes virtue, a Divine characteristic, to be sure (Mk.5:30, etc.), but one that God calls us to emulate, in some measure. Could I just define it as "goodness?" Then comes knowledge, that which we sometimes like to skip over. But ignorance, especially to Spiritual things, does not endear one to anybody, least of all, God.

The next two can be real sticking points. Temperance is being able to responsibly handle the pleasures of life; while patience is the ability to handle the pressures of life—with grace and, what I like to call, "Spiritual poise." Godliness, next on the list, may mean different things to different people, but, it at least would include some of God's own attributes. For instance, love, mercy, grace, and faithfulness, etc.

The last two will go together nicely, as well. Brotherly kindness goes well beyond basic kindness to the sort that treats someone as you would your own flesh and blood. And, finally, as we've said, comes charity, the one characteristic God has said separates the true possessors of the grace of God from the mere "professors" (Jno.13:35).

So, there you have it: Peter's important little checklist. And, says the apostle, these should not just be in us; they should "abound" in us (v.8). If we are children of God, the Holy Spirit has already worked them into us; all that is left now is for us to work them out (Philip.2:12-13). And here is one more powerful nudge for those among us who may still remain lax or indifferent to their relevance:

"[F]or if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (2 Pet.1:10)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Word of Exhortation...If You Can Stand It!

"And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation ." (Heb.13:22a)

Exhortation is instructing or advising with an urgency that goes beyond mere suggestion. It is usually connected with preaching because of the fervency of its delivery. In fact, they used to refer to such preachers as "exhorters." But in the numerous times it is found in the Bible, it is often a one-on-one situation. Our verse says to "suffer the word of exhortation," in this case, an old English term for "let" or "permit," as in, "Suffer the little children to come unto me."

Sometimes, however, I suspect the more common meaning of the word "suffer" would seem to be more appropriate to some of us! We may feel that any type of urgency that accompanies a fellow believer’s advice is just too "pushy." And, for this reason, I fear we may lose out on what could be some good, Biblical, and well-intentioned help.

You will find a form of the word “exhortation” three other times in the book of Hebrews; and they all represent things that people do not always want to be reminded of. For instance, in Hebrews 3:13, the writer tells us to "exhort one another daily,” lest we become “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." How many of us enjoy being told that we're sinning, especially with great urgency? But God knows—and so should we—the consequences of calloused sin are too serious to slough off because of irritating reminders.

On the other hand, this is why it is so important that when we exhort one another in such instances we make sure we are talking about sin and not just something that offends us personally. It's hard enough to suffer exhortation for what is truly sin; but it's even harder when the accusation is only questionable.

Then we read in Hebrews 10:25 that we can feel free to exhort one another in the matter of church attendance. Just as New Testament Christians met together on the Lord's Day to break bread, fellowship, and hear the preaching of the Word, you and I, as heirs to their legacy, should do the same. God has always meant for His people to congregate, whether in a large gathering, or in groups of only two or three; and the verse suggests that the importance of fellowship with other saints becomes even greater as His Coming draws nearer.

Finally, in Hebrews 12:5-6, we are told that instead of "I told you so's," our primary response to fellow believers experiencing the chastening of the Lord should be to remind them that it is one sure proof God is their Father. Our role as Biblical exhorters is one of restoration, not recrimination. Our goal should be that these individuals be brought back into fellowship with God…before they "faint."

Thank God for true Spirit-filled and Spirit-led exhorters, whether in the pulpit or in private. People who care enough to share eternal truths with fervency and zeal. They are one of God's best gifts to us. So with the writer of Hebrews, I say to us all, "Brothers and sisters, ‘Suffer the word of exhortation!’”

Better a word of exhortation than a life of ruination.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Spiritual Tug-of-War

"Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you." (James 4:7-8a)

To me, there is such imagery in these verses. I picture them in my mind as a fierce tug-of-war, with both God and the devil pulling for my attention, hoping to elicit a response. But by submitting to God, does resistance to Satan automatically "kick-in?" Or, conversely, if I resist the devil, can I then consider myself submitted to God? I don't want to be guilty of complicating something fairly straight-forward, but a few added thoughts might prove to be helpful.

Submission to God acknowledges His will for my life and accepts whatever He chooses to bring within that sphere. And, certainly, resisting the devil would fall within that category. But it is possible (actually probable) to be in the center of God's will, fulfilling His purpose, and yet find myself under constant attack from Satan. In that case, more extreme action will need to be taken. The operative word here is “resistance,” and the verse promises it will be successful ("...he will flee from you").

This is an ongoing process, however. As situations and decisions arise, we will be given the option of submitting to the will of God; likewise, we will be continually faced with having to resist the devil. ("And when the devil had ended all his temptation, he departed from him for a season" [Luke 4:13] ). Some Christians never seem to master this balancing act. For instance, there are those who show great resolve when tempted by Satan; but who, unfortunately, seem to apply that same resistance whenever God asks something of them. And, if we are not careful, we may end up reversing these two strategies: resisting God and submitting to the devil.

Finally, look now at the wonderful promise in verse eight. God pledges that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. And there is a verse in Zechariah that seems to mirror this: "Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you" (1:3b). In other words, every step I take toward God, He matches me, step for step. And, by the way, He’s got a bigger stride!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

My Salvation, My Strength, and My Song

"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation." (Isa.12:2)

I am aware these words of Isaiah speak about (and to) the nation Israel and their future; but we have inherited so many of their blessings by default that passages like these, which give us a picture of God's special care for His own, thrill my heart every bit as much as any Sarah, Miriam, or Hannah. Everything I read in this verse that He was to them, I can be sure, from other passages, He is to me.

—My Salvation—
In this I find the promise of eternal life that will last as long as He does. "[H]e is become my salvation," the verse says, and by this I am assured that in every crisis of this life, He will reach down His arm of salvation as He did for the drowning Simon Peter. And if He does not return before I die, that same salvation will reach beyond the grave to draw me to Himself.

—My Strength—
God is my strength; therefore, I am able to go on, hold on, and pray on, long after I have exhausted my own. As the old song says:

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving has only begun.

—My Song—
I may sing of other things from time to time, but when these songs become meaningless and hard to sing, my song of Him only becomes easier. After all these years, the words lie even closer to the surface, and the melody flows from an exceedingly deep and full cup.

The result of all this is found in the middle of the verse: "I will trust, and not be afraid." This is a fearful world that we live in, and trust is at a premium. But as long as the God Who is my salvation, my strength, and my song, remains, I need never fear, "though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea" (Psl.46:2).

Salvation for the soul, strength for the day, and a song in the night—it works for me!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Housewife's Promise

"Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold." (Psl.68:13)

If you open my Bible to this verse in Psalms, you will find these words next to the text: "The Housewife's Promise." If you are a housewife (or, rather, a "home engineer"), you may feel as though you have lain among pots and pans for most of your life! Whether they're cooking pots or cleaning pots, they play a major part in our lives as wives and mothers. Unfortunately, they never seem to conjure up pictures of glamour and gentility in the mind. Yet, if they are a part of God's will for your life, we can be sure they carry a dignity all their own. I think it was Andrew Murray who said, "The lowliness of a work never lowers the person. The person elevates the work and imparts his own worth to the most meager of services."

The beauty we find in the rest of the verse belies any thought one may have that housewifery is anything less than the noblest of occupations. David compares those of us who labor tirelessly among these humble utensils of service to an ornate dove with silver wings and golden feathers. Is this not elegance enough for the most genteel among us?

As a wife and/or mother, whatever our other accomplishments in life may be, domestic success brings a pride that no amount of pooh-poohing can diminish (feminists notwithstanding). There is great reward connected with these pots and pans and brooms and dust cloths. Not in themselves, perhaps, but for the ministry to those most dear to us that they represent. That’s why we read in the previous verse that while kings and armies were fighting and fleeing, “she that tarried at home divided the spoil." And what a rich “spoil” it is!

Monday, May 12, 2008

No Faith = No Stability

"If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established." (Isa. 7:9a)

We do so love to analyze. When we are faced with insecurities or worries in our lives, we immediately want to look into our past or examine the circumstances surrounding us to find the source of our instability. I'm not saying it is never helpful to counsel with someone or consider what may have brought us to this point, but I do think we run the very real risk of clouding, rather than solving, the problem. If we are not careful, we may find ourselves deriving more pleasure from the analysis than from the answer. Am I ringing any bells here?

I know; unbelief seems like such a boring, easy diagnosis. But, more often than not, it is the very culprit. It is hard to shake a person with genuine faith in God. I'm not talking about the "smiling sweetly/cliché spouting" kind; I'm talking about the "blood and guts/going under for the third time" kind! Notice the verse does not say "cannot believe," but, rather, "will not believe." Faith may be a gift of God (Rom.12:3); but, like any gift, it can be refused.

There is a precious verse later on in Isaiah that says, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee" (26:3). Peace of mind—stability, if you will—is linked inseparably with trust in God. We will always be spiritually and emotionally “unbalanced” as long as we choose to believe the devil instead of God. (Yes, I said “choose.”) Doubt and fretfulness slander the integrity of His name, and impeach His impeccable character. No wonder the writer of Hebrews warns us, "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief" (3:12).

So, instead of looking back or around us for the root of our instability, maybe we should look deeper—for that “evil heart of unbelief.”

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Together Every Step of the Way

"Went not mine heart with thee...?" (2 Kings 5:26)

Several years ago, I found a little ceramic at our local Hallmark store that brought a smile to my face and a lump to my throat, not only because of the figures themselves, but because of the inscription on the bottom. It is two little mice on a grassy knoll—a mother and her baby. (I have a modest collection of other such "mice.") The mother, with a perky little daisy on her head, is behind, holding the hands of her diaper-clad baby, who is trying very hard to take his first steps. He has one foot tentatively held in the air, all the while holding onto his mother's hands above him. It is a touching scene. But, as I said, it was the inscription on the bottom that spoke so eloquently to my heart: TOGETHER EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.

Unless she is lacking in natural affection, every woman who has carried a child under her heart, nestled him or her in her arms, and held his or her hands when those first few steps were taken, knows that when the hands let go, the heart follows on. And just as the mother in 1 Kings 3:26, whose "bowels yearned upon" the child she feared was soon to die, a mother suffers vicariously with the children of her womb all the days of her life. When they are wounded, she bleeds. (And I would be remiss if I failed to include children of adoption in this analogy, as well.)

All of this requires a deft and delicate balancing act on her part. She must never allow her concern to slip into a hovering mode, a decided source of irritation to any child worth their salt! It is the silken threads of prayer that must now be the "tie that binds." And what a weapon this is that God has given us! Words that cannot be spoken to them can be breathed to Him. In His presence, the miles that separate us from our children fall away; and, once again, we are holding the hands that once clung to ours.

Our four children have themselves experienced the joys of parenting, but, somehow, this does not change my own perspective. As they take every new step in life, I may not be holding their hands as I once was; but, nevertheless, we will always be…together every step of the way.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Some Things Never Change...Thank God!

"Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us." (Heb. 6:17-18)

What are these "two immutable [unchanging] things," then? God has taken an oath before those of us who are "heirs of promise," those of us who are beneficiaries of his will. And He swore to this oath by two things that cannot change; two things that God promises He not only will not, but cannot lie about. Of course, we know God can't lie about anything, but He was so adamant that we understand the gravity of this that He inspired the writer of Hebrews to tell us that, even if He wanted to change His mind, He simply could not. But, I repeat, what are these two immutable things?

The first immutable thing, I think, is found in verse 13 of the same chapter, where we read: "For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself." God may alter his administration, but He cannot change his attributes. He is still just, even when He is the Justifier (Rom.3:26); and He is still the personification of Love, even when He dispenses His wrath (Jno.3:16 & 36). In Malachi 3:6, He tells us, "I am the LORD, I change not."

The second is enunciated plainly for us in verse 17: his counsel. Isaiah 40:8 promises, "[T]he word of our God shall stand for ever." The Word of God cannot change. This is good to know in a day when it seems as though it changes every ten or twenty years! But that is not the case, God tells us. And, just as "the word of the Lord" came to individuals in the Bible, it will come to us, if we are sincerely seeking. In my own case, there is only one Bible through which the word of the Lord comes to me personally: the old KJV 1611. For me, it is—just as it is—the promised, immutable, counsel of God.

In a courtroom, a witness takes an oath to tell the truth; but, if an attorney can prove that he or she is not a credible witness, the oath is meaningless. You and I have no need to worry that the God of Heaven, who has made innumerable promises to us, and has taken a "double oath" in doing so, will ever be discredited. And I, like the writer of Hebrews, find this to be an exceedingly "strong consolation." In fact, all the consolation I need.

"A man is as good as his word"; and, in the case of God, one is as good as the other!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Righteousness: Pass It On

"I have been young, and now am old; yet have I never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread...and his seed is blessed." (Psl. 37:25-26b)

Righteousness is the gift that keeps on giving; especially to your children, says the text. For those who are able, it's good to lay aside money for your children's future education, etc. Of even greater benefit, however, will be the righteousness you are able to "deposit" as a nest egg for your children to draw upon in later years.

At a time in his life when our older son, Andrew, was embarking on a new and formidable venture for God, he sent a message to his father, thanking him for his example of living faith down through the years. His own personal leap of faith was given added "bounce" by the testimony of God's fidelity to his own dad.

Pity the poor son or daughter bereft of parents with character, integrity, and godliness. Such a child is truly a beggar, and no amount of money will ever enrich this pedigree. On the other hand, "Many a rich child sits on the lap of a poor mother." Our daughter Leah's song comes to mind, of course.

(Psl. 16:6)

I may not have riches as some others may
But I have a mother who knows how to pray.
And maybe there are some things I missed in my youth,
But I have a father who stands for the truth.

And, if in the future, my parents pass on
To dwell in that city we've come to call Home.
They may not leave me the goods of this world,
But I will inherit their God and His Word.

I have a goodly heritage; I'm blessed with things you don't see.
I have a goodly heritage; and that is worth far more to me.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Glass of Milk or a Filet Mignon?

"For every one that useth milk is unskillul 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. (Heb. 5:13-14)

Have you ever wondered what the Bible means by the "milk" and "meat" of the Word? Or who God would categorize as being a spiritual "babe," as opposed to someone who wears the distinction of "full age"? One might be tempted to see the latter epitomized by someone who can explain the intricacies of the Old Testament Tabernacle furnishings and practices, or perhaps expound upon the imagery of the book of Revelation; but according to this verse, Spiritual grown-ups are those able to discern between good and evil. And frankly, there doesn’t seem to be all that many running around, who fall into this category.

Strangely enough, the discipline that will bring one to this favorable plateau in his or her Christian life is not how much Bible is read, or how much prayer is offered, but, instead, how well disciplined are the senses. That's an eye-opener, isn't it? As important as our daily contact with God through prayer and Bible reading is, we can allow intemperate senses to hinder their effectiveness in our lives. My husband often says that a simple, definite "No!" has done as much or more to give him victory over sin than all the Bible verses He could—and in many cases, did—quote.

We cannot deny our senses, nor would God have us to, for they are a gift from Him. But, left to themselves, they can fool us, at best, or destroy us, at worst. They simply cannot be counted on to tell us what is good and evil, unless they have been "exercised unto godliness" (1 Tim.4:7). And, don't forget; the sharpest tool in the chest when it comes to discerning good and evil is a sword (Heb.4:12).

If you are still making decisions based on how things look, or how you feel, you're still a Spiritual baby, no matter how long you've been saved or how much Bible you can quote.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Walking in the Light

“And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered the tabernacle…and at even there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning. So it was alway: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night." (Num.9:15-16)

The Children of Israel had light to travel by, day or night. Verse 15 tells us that on the day when the Tabernacle was completed, a cloud appeared, hovering over it, providing those weary travelers to the Promised Land with a celestial GPS service, of sorts. When the cloud moved, they moved; and, as long as the cloud remained, so did they. But at night they would not have been unable to see the cloud, of course; and it was then that there appeared, "as it were," the appearance of fire until the morning. It may or may not have been actual fire, but whatever it was, it provided light when all around them was darkness. As long as they had the Tabernacle—the Presence of God—they had light, day or night.

There is an assurance, I think, in those four words: "So it was alway." As long as the Tabernacle was with them, the cloud and the fire would be also. And you and I, as children of God in the 21st Century, have the same long as the Presence of God is real to us. I say this because had they chosen to close their eyes, or refused to look up, the Israelites would not have been able to see the light, even though it was always there. I’m talking about what the old preachers used to call "God-consciousness." Something, or someone, can be close by, without our being conscious of it. For the believer, God is there...period. Not only as the great “I AM,” Ruler of the universe, but within us, in the Person of the Holy Spirit. But if we choose to ignore His Presence, we will be as bereft of light as a blind man in the noonday sun.

God has provided everything we need to get through this life: prayer, provision, protection, a path; but, most of all, His own abiding Presence to light the way forward. With Him, we can always be assured of being able to walk a clear, well-lit or night.