Thursday, July 31, 2008

Benign Belief

“For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and holy, and observed him: and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.” (Mark 6:20)

        As it turned out, Herod’s fear of John the Baptist was only a mild case, since we know that even though he wished the man no harm, because of a foolish oath prompted by lust, he had him put to death (v.26-27). Actually, we could say that Herod’s overall response to the preaching of John was varied, to say the least. It struck fear to his heart, partly because he knew it was not hypocritical—John was “a just and holy man.” And he was fascinated enough by it to be moved to action on occasion (“…when he heard him, he did many things…”). We could say, in reality, he was glad for the opportunity to hear the prophet. But, as we know, Herod’s fascination with John stopped just short of persuading him to do the right thing in a clench.

        It is easy to find ourselves experiencing mixed emotions when we are presented with Biblical truth, whether through a human instrument or by “direct feed” from the Word of God We may have enough spiritual insight to know we are hearing from God and experience a blessing—even be moved to action at times. But when the chips are down, we may find ourselves unable to make the right decision. And often, like Herod, it is because we want to save face.

        We should be careful about toying with truth. When it comes to a plain directive, it’s not a “see if it feels right to you” kind of thing. Even in the case of a singular, individual direction on secondary things, the proper response is the same for all of us: obedience. To do otherwise is to end up the way Herod did: “exceeding sorry” (v.26).

Some people have never been truly infected with Bible principles; instead, they seem to have been vaccinated against them.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Knowing Who's Who

“To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.”  (Acts 8:10)

        Simon had the power of God. Everyone said so, from the town drunk to the town mayor. But, in point of fact, he was really an egotistical sorcerer, who had merely bewitched the people (v.9). This only goes to show just how easily some folks are taken in. Not only did he not have the power of God, for all his so-called believing and baptismal washing (v.13), he had somehow missed salvation by a country mile (v.23).

        I have heard scores of preachers over these half a century and more years of walking with God. All shapes and sizes, styles and statures. A lot of them characterized as having “the power of God.” But as I look back now, I am not so sure. I certainly would not put them in the same category with Simon, of course; yet I wonder if what was perceived to be the power of God may only have been the power of persuasion, or a gift for dramatics, or in some cases, sheer force of personality. When you stop to think about it, wouldn’t you think God would choose to manifest His power where man’s power is least displayed? Indeed, He has said as much, hasn’t He? (Read 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.)

        How, then, can one know when a man or woman is ministering (preaching, teaching, writing, singing, etc.) with what the old-timers used to call “a holy unction?” Probably the best way is to be Spirit-filled yourself. After all, as the Psalmist said, the call of depth is only audible to its own kind (Psl.42:7). The old saying, “It takes one to know one” would seem to apply here nicely. Then, too (but this would not be readily seen, of course), a truly Spirit-anointed ministry could be assumed to outlast the individual himself or herself (Heb.11:4b; Rev.14:13b).

        I guess, what I am trying to say is this: Be careful to whom you attribute the power of God…for your sake and theirs. It is too holy a designation to be given lightly. And when you do encounter it (or, please God, experience it), lift your heart in thanksgiving to the all-powerful God, Who would dare to share some of His power with mortal man (Matt.9:8).


      “Don’t follow any leader until you see the anointing on his forehead” ~ A.W. Tozer

Monday, July 28, 2008

Drink Ye All of It

“And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it.” (Matthew 26:27)


         I noticed something one day when I was reading this story of our Lord’s final meal with His disciples, when He initiated what has come to be called “The Lord’s Supper.” In verse 26, when the Savior served the bread to His friends, in anticipation of his broken body, He did not say, “Eat ye all of it,” as He later said of the fruit of the vine in the cup. I think there is significance to this. The “cup” is used as a metaphor for both good and bad in Scripture. For instance, in Psalms, we find David’s wonderful “full and overflowing cup” of blessings (23:5; 116:13); but we also read of a cup of judgment for the wicked in Psalm 75:8.

        In this case, I cannot help thinking that when Jesus offered the cup to the disciples, explaining it was a picture of His own Blood that would be shed for the remission of our sins, He was thinking of His own cup, spoken of later on in the same chapter. This cup—the cup of God’s wrath—He would request three times for His Father to take from Him, only to add, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” He knew that once He began to drink from that awful cup, He would have to drink “all of it.” Sin, judgment, death, hell—all of it. As the song says:


                         He took the cup in dark Gethsemane,

                          And drained it to the dregs on Calvary;

                         Oh, who can know the depths of agony,

                         To which the Savior went for you and me?

       There is always one cup or another in our hands, sometimes good, but sometimes bad. Whichever it is, however, we should remember the instructions of our Lord: “Drink ye all of it.” If it is sweet, savor it to the very last drop; but if it is bitter, drink it to the very dregs. Because, Child of God, when you reach the bottom, you will find the face of God.







Foolish Women

“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.”  (Matthew 25:1-2)

     There are lots of them, you know—foolish women, I mean. The Bible speaks of them in at least four different places. In each case, their foolishness cost them dearly, robbing them of something very valuable, perhaps never to be regained. And similarly, each loss was unnecessary. What could be more foolish than that?

— Job’s Wife —

      We read in Job chapter two of this good man’s foolish wife (his own description), who urged him to defy God’s working in his life, even to the point of cursing Him. Some have spoken on her behalf, suggesting she did this in order to hasten his death and end the suffering. But I am not a proponent of euthanasia, however well-meaning its motivation; and, evidently, neither was Job. As he saw it, to willingly accept good from the hand of God, only to turn on Him when evil times befall one, is to exhibit the lowest form of ingratitude and shallowness. In this woman’s case, her foolish advice cost her the respect of her husband. No small loss, indeed. 

— Women in Proverbs —

     There are two mentions of foolish women in the book of Proverbs. In the first instance (Prov.9: 13-18), we find a woman foolish enough to think that illicit lovemaking is “sweet” and “pleasant.” Solomon characterizes her as being simple and unknowing. Or, as you and I might say, she was just plain stupid! And it is not surprising that the kind of men attracted to her are just like her (v.16). Obviously, such a foolish woman will not only lose her virtue, but also her self-respect.

     The second foolish woman in Proverbs is found in the first verse of chapter fourteen. This is the wife who is a home-breaker instead of a homemaker. This can be accomplished in more than one way; and the old saying notwithstanding (“There are two sides to every story”), there are some foolish women who seem to be able to manage it all by themselves. This woman’s loss is obvious: her home.

— The Virgins —

     This brings us to our story of the wise and foolish virgins, as cited here in Matthew. All ten were given the chance to meet the coming bridegroom. All carried lamps in case the arrival was after dark, which would make added light necessary for the path. But evidently, five of these women were willing to gamble on the assumption that the bridegroom would come before dark, since they did not bother to bring oil for their lamps. What good is an oil lamp without oil, right?

     And you know the story. Sure enough, the bridegroom did not appear until after dark; and sure enough, the five foolish virgins were not ready for him. While they were scrambling to buy the oil they should already have had, they missed the bridegroom and the wedding. The whole “shootin’ match!”

     Call this a parable illustrating those unprepared for the Second Coming, if you like; but one way or the other, the thing that was lost here was an opportunity. In this case, an opportunity they were never able to regain, which is true of most opportunities worth anything.

     Well, would you not admit these four unflattering pictures of foolish women were given for our instruction? And would you not also say that those who fail to learn from them are doubly foolish? 

Glory, Glory, Glory!

“Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me…” (Jeremiah 9:23-24a)

     Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself, some things that are a big hit down here are old news in Heaven. A revered philosopher, a super-athlete, or a multi-millionaire may gain praise and ovation in this life, but he’ll be doing good if he can draw even polite applause from the saints in Glory. We earth dwellers (Christians included) are so easily impressed, after all. Singers who can’t sing, celebrities whose lives are less than celebratory, politicians without core values, and pulpiteers passing off as preachers—these and others are held up as examples and gloried in.

     God is not saying (nor am I) that the attributes mentioned in verse 23 are questionable in themselves. On the contrary, wisdom, might, and riches can be found among Bible saints (Solomon, Joshua, and Abraham, respectively). None of them will get you to Heaven or ensure a living relationship with God, however; and for this reason, on balance, they’re not much to brag about.

     Well, what can we glory in, then? Jeremiah, anticipating our question, as it were, has told us that the only thing worth glorying in is a vibrant, knowledgeable relationship with God. Here now is something to legitimately admire in others and acknowledge with satisfaction in ourselves. We may not know all things but we can know and understand what is most important: God. If the wisdom I have is “from above” (James 3:17); and my true might is “in the scriptures” (Acts 18:24); and I am rich with the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph.3:8), then I have a whole lot to glory in.

      And, by the way, so do you. 

If It Be Thou

“And Peter answered him [Jesus] and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. - Matthew 14:28

      Jesus was continually being pressed to prove himself to friend and enemy alike. Beginning with the devil (“If Thou be the Son of God…”), until finally, as He was languishing on the Cross (“If thou be the King of Israel…), over and over, He faced doubt concerning His true identity. The only Man in all of history who knew completely who He was (Jno.13:3), and who was exactly who He claimed to be, was subjected to relentless skepticism. It would have been maddening for you or me, since most of us are never completely sure who we are half the time, and the other half pretending to be who we are not.

     When it comes to Jesus Christ, however, there is no “if.”

     Plato said, “Know thyself,” which sounds good theoretically and philosophically, but people can spend a lifetime going in circles trying to find out who they are. The truth is, although our core values should remain constant, we may find ourselves working them out in many different roles throughout our lives. Same head, different hats.

      In the end, it isn’t nearly as important for me to know who I am as it is for me to know who He is. He is who He is, no matter who I am. All I need to know is this: Being a Christian means that Christ lives within me (Gal.2:20), and “in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col.2:9); therefore I am able to say of myself, I am “complete in him” (Col.2:10). No “if’s” here, either!


Those Good Ole' Paths

“For thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they say, We will not walk therein.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

     I’m all for progress. New, innovative ways of doing things—new looks even. Christians like David Livingstone, who are willing to blaze new trails, often turn out to be true pioneers of the Faith. The Bible warns us against sentimentalizing the past to the point that anything new, simply by virtue of its “newness,” is never able to measure up in our estimation (Eccl.7:10). Still, it is important to remember that new is only profitable if it’s better, or at least, as good. If it’s inferior, it does not represent progress.

     It is obvious this verse is not speaking of salvation, which is limited to only one path or way (Jno. 14:6). Here we are considering “paths” and “ways.” To my way of thinking, it is personal conduct and interpersonal dealings—our code of ethics, if you will—that is being considered here. You see, we must remember that some new paths are really dead-ends; and if true happiness and “rest for [our] souls” is the desired end, there should be a sign on some paths reading, “You can’t get there from here!”

   Here, then, are some “good ‘ole paths” you and I would be wise to stick to:

*    INTEGRITY: truthfulness, honesty, fairness, making the hard decisions

*    FIDELITY: remaining true to God, family, and our Bible-based standards

*    PURITY: respecting the body God has given us, as the temple of the Holy Spirit

*    SANCTITY: making sure every part of our lives is set apart for God and His glory

     This may only be a beginning, but it’s enough to keep me busy! Of course, you and I are free to make the same choice Israel did: “We will not walk therein.” But, if so, we’ll meet with similar consequences.

      So, walk the old paths, friend of mine. Say…let’s walk them together.

This is Your Life

“But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”  (Acts 5:19-20)

      Diets for weight loss have lost some of their popularity as we have come to understand that eating properly has to become a way of life, not just a quick fix before a class reunion or 20th wedding anniversary. Otherwise, we are simply enduring transitory deprivation until we reach a certain weight, when we can then resume our real lives.

      I think some people have the mistaken idea that when God saves us, the promised eternal life will begin in eternity, not continue through it. On the contrary, if an individual’s so-called Christianity is limited to occasional church attendance with no recognition of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in his or her life, that person may not have eternal life at all. He or she may have only gone on a “religious diet.”

      When the angel instructed those prison escapees to speak to the people “all the words of this life,” they knew he was talking about something not just a matter of life after death, but life before death. This is not a hobby we’re talking about here. It’s a real, honest-to-God (in the true sense of the word) life. The life Jesus was talking about in John 10:10—abundant, resurrection life. The kind that sometimes leaves you out of breath, under-appreciated, but always overjoyed! As martyred missionary, Jim Eliot, said, “Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” He did; and we are still talking about what he accomplished in 29 short years.

   Live life so fully that there will be a big empty place after you’re gone.


There Are More Important Things

“And he [Jesus] said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. - Mark 2:27-28

      Some things are more important than other things. This is not to say that the other things are of no importance, only that they are of lesser importance than the more important things. For instance, your reputation is important, but your character is more important. Reputation can be contrived; character must be developed and constantly nurtured. Reputation can change with the variable whims of societal standards, but character remains constant whether in Jerusalem or Babylon (Dan.1).

      The story found in Mark 2:23-28 gives us an example of how wrong-headed we can be in the priorities of our lives—especially our Christian lives. On this occasion, Jesus and His disciples were walking through a cornfield on the sabbath day. I don’t know how long they had been walking, but it was long enough for the disciples to develop a hunger (That happens a lot with preachers!) Instinctively, they reached for an ear of corn, pulled away the husk, and began to chow down.

     The Pharisees, who happened to be following along, as they often did, pounced on this immediately, saying to Jesus, “Your disciples are breaking sabbath law. Why?” This was a definite distortion of the law, but our Lord simply pointed out an occasion when their revered King David and his men had broken Sabbath law by eating the tabernacle shewbread meant only for the priests (1 Sam. 21). (We read in other of the Gospels that He gave more examples.) His point in verse 28 was, “Look, I’m the one who instituted the sabbath in the first place; I have the right to set it aside or even suspend it, if I so choose.” In other words, He is more important than…well, than anything.

      You and I as believers are in danger, I think, of failing to see the forest because we are scrutinizing one or another tree. We lose sight of real priorities when we are focused on acquired preferences. Here are a few examples:

      (1) The organization is not more important than the organism. The great body of believers that make up the Church, the Bride of Christ, is more important than my denomination or my local church, as important as these are. I embrace historic Baptist doctrine and am committed to the local body of believers that make up my local church, Temple Baptist Church of Lodi, California. But there is a great host of fellow believers who do not attend my church or even call themselves Baptists, and we, along with them, make up that hated band that Jesus promised the gates of hell would not prevail against (Matt.16:18).

      (2) The Oracles are more important than the order. By this I mean, the style of worship and the order of service are not as important as Bible directives and principles. Within the boundaries of decency and order (1Cor.14:40), and observing the limitations of women (1Cor.14:34), as I see it, local believers are free to conduct their worship services however the collective body sees fit. The order of service (or lack thereof), style of music, etc., are neither dictated nor implied. This is not to say I have no preference on either. I do. But I understand it to be just that: preference.

      (3) The pastor is more important than the program. I am amazed at people who sacrifice the opportunity for their family to sit under the preaching of a true man of God expounding the Word of God, so that their young people can be part of an “exciting” youth program. To me, it’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Your children will need a godly pastor long after they have graduated from Sunday School. Ideally, of course, one should not have to choose between the two, but if we do, we should remember one of old Dr. Bob Jones, Sr.’s sayings: “Never sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate.”

      (4) The Lord is more important than liturgy. I am thinking specifically here of the two ordinances of the Church: Baptism and the Lord’s Table. As I Baptist, I believe strongly that baptism should only be for repentant believers and should utilize the mode of immersion. There are others in the Body who prefer sprinkling and, and some practice infant, or “paedo,” baptism. I cannot subscribe to either, in good conscience; but I acknowledge their right to practice these and still be my brothers and sisters in Christ, as long as they ascribe to cardinal doctrines such as salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, His bodily resurrection, and the inerrancy of the Bible.

      I have come to believe after these many years, and after studying the Word of God and people, that the most successful Christians are the ones with a well-developed, Biblical-based sense of prioritization. In other words, those who are able to zero in on the more important things and put everything else on the back burner. Not forgetting them, of course, for they too are important…in their rightful place.

      Jesus Christ is Lord of the sabbath…and everything else. There is nothing more important than that.



Sunday, July 27, 2008

Looking For Reward in All the Wrong Places

“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:1)

      I used to hear people who had been complimented or thanked for their Christian service, exclaim, “Oh, don’t thank me or the Lord won’t reward me!” This was the verse they used to justify their self-deprecation, as though any earthly recognition nullified all spiritual reward. But, personally, I think the message of the text is much more probing than mutual recognition. It’s a question of motive,  it would seem to me. Whether it is giving (v.1), praying (v.16), or any other Christian activity, the operative words of this admonition are: “…before men, to be seen of them.”   

    When recognition of our service to God by peers is of more consequence to us than any future reward our Heavenly Father may have for us, our problem is two-fold: an overabundance of ego, and a lack of real, biblical faith. We soon learn as children that praise can give us warm feelings of acceptance—even superiority. Ideally, this childhood need for praise gradually matures into simple pleasure that is nice, but not necessary. Such a Christian, the apostle says, is content to have “rejoicing in himself alone” (Gal.6:4).

    And in the question of faith, to anticipate the smile of a God one cannot see would require a great deal of it. But is that not the very definition of faith? Not only believing that God “is,” but that He also is “a “rewarder?” 

   None of us is exempt from these cravings for recognition from time to time; nor should it be withheld when it is rightfully called for. But we should never forget, the praise of this world is fickle, at best, and vain, in many instances. Even the praise of our Christian brothers and sisters is not always rightfully placed or impartial.

  Therefore, our goal should be to find contentment (and, yes, those warm feelings of acceptance) in the fact that our Heavenly Father “which seeth in secret shall reward [us] openly.” He is the One keeping the books and tallying the score…so forget the grandstands! 

                        What would you do for God, if someone else got the credit? — Unknown                     

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Trio of Consolation

"As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." (Isaiah 66:13)

In the ideal situation, it is the mother in the home who provides comfort to its occupants, in much the same way the Holy Spirit brings comfort to the heart of a believer (Jno.14:26). Unless this inclination has been stifled somehow in childhood, or by a disdain for the feminine role, in general, I think all women possess a need to console and nurture. Whether she has children of her own or not, a woman's "mother-heart" is drawn to a crying child or a hurting soul. And her first impulse will be to gather them into her arms, next to her heart.

The emotion most like this, and which a father may possess, is pity. We read in Psalm 103:13, "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." This is as it should be, for it is the father who will make the hard decisions and prod the children to try a little harder and go a little farther. Because of this, he will always run the risk of being too rigorous in his training, at times; and it is then that an ability to show pity will be greatly appreciated!

But if our heavenly Father shows us pity, and the Holy Spirit is our source of comfort, what does God, the Son, bring this Trio of Consolation? Why empathy, of course. The ability to experience as own the feelings of another. Hebrews 7:26 tells us that Jesus did not simply reach out from where He was to comfort and show us pity; He actually came where we were. He "became us." So now,we can be assured that the great heart that wept at the grave of a friend (Jno.11:35), and over a doomed city (Luke 19:41), is also "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Heb.4:15).

In the three Personalities of my God, I have the comfort of a mother, the pity of a father, and the empathy of a brother. Supernatural solace for inconsolable grief--what a thing! No wonder the songwriter wrote:

Come ye disconsolate, where-e'er ye languish,
Come to the mercy seat; fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts; here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heav'n cannot heal.

--Thomas Moore

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Obedience: A Matter of Courage

“Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law.” (Josh. 1:7)

Mark it down; it takes good, old-fashioned, bone-hard courage to do what is right. Popular culture may claim that it is courageous to do your own thing; but, on the contrary, your own thing is the easiest thing to do. It’s a default mechanism. There is much in life that is individual and unique to each of us, but the unchanging laws of God do not fall into this category. As time goes by, God’s laws may be less and less in step with society, but that only shows the awkwardness and imbalance of society.

I realize, of course, there are those who thrive on going against the grain, not because they are dedicated to following God’s law but simply dead set on ramming through their own preferences. This isn’t courage, either, since confrontation comes far easier for them than accommodation. With such people, allowing differences on secondary issues will take every bit of courage and grace they can muster.

God, through Moses, gave the nation of Israel a great host of laws with which to govern their lives. In the New Testament, many of these are not laid down, as such, for the Church (though many are). Instead, the rules of conduct given by Jesus and the New Testament writers, though they may not be as extensive, are even more exacting. For instance, according to Matthew 5:27-28, we break the seventh commandment (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”) when we harbor lust within our hearts.

I will say it again: It takes courage to obey the laws of God. And though others may be involved, obedience is not a group activity. If we require a crowd around us to bolster our resolve, we will never know if it is truly obedience or merely convenience.

Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point. — C.S. Lewis

Monday, July 14, 2008

Those Filthy Rags

"But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." (Isa. 64:6)

If our righteousness is like filthy rags to God, what in the world must our sins look like to Him? Much worse than what they look like to us, I’d wager. I have come to the conclusion that there may be less actual sins than some have claimed, but those things which actually are sinful are taken far too lightly. Some of us are like legislators who, instead of enforcing existing laws, find it easier to make new ones. I marvel sometimes at the blatant sin seen in the life of some believers. Not that they commit them (after all, the sinful nature is still alive and well), but the fact that they excuse them. Perhaps I should have enclosed the word "believers" in quotation marks.

It may be of interest us as women that Strong's Concordance identifies the word "filthy" found in this verse as coming from a Hebrew word meaning "menstruation," which should give us some idea of just how repulsive these rags really are. This should also lay to rest any notion that salvation can be obtained by any so-called righteous works, in any economy—New or Old Testament. We should remind ourselves, from time to time, that it was our sins (within our power), as well as our sinful nature (outside our power) that cost God the life of His Son. We may have received our sinful nature from our father, Adam; but with our salvation, we acquired a new nature: God's. And we now have the option of choosing or rejecting sin (Rom.6:16). We will never be sinless, till we are rid of this sinful flesh; but when we do sin, we should know this; it’s because we chose to.

When the prophet Isaiah saw God in all His glory, his first words were, "Woe is me! for I am undone." People with only a dim conception of God will always possess a distorted view of sin, as well. When we see Him as He truly is, and ourselves as we truly are, then we will recognize our sin, and call it for what it is.

Sin is the dare of God's justice, the rape of His mercy, the jeer of His patience, the slight of His power, and the contempt of His love.
— John Bunyan

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Right Proportion

"For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer. (Isa.54:7-8)

I have been blessed by being present at the births of both my great-grandchildren. I remember as my granddaughter was laboring to bring our precious Ethan Andrew into the outside world from his ultimate comfort zone, noticing a big clock on the wall directly in front of Glory. No doubt, it provided a way to time the pains, but I couldn't help thinking (and remarking to my daughter-in-law) that I still thought the clock was a poor idea. I don't know about other women, but to me the daunting uncertainty of how much longer the pain would continue was every bit as distressing as the pain itself. I suppose that's why I kept assuring Glory that it would soon be over and the result would make it all worthwhile. And my young granddaughter (bless her heart) flashed one of her incandescent smiles and murmured through the pain, "I'm trying to be happy!"

There's a wonderful lesson for us in these verses in Isaiah. You and I, my dear Christian friend, should stop "watching the clock" when it comes to our trials and hard times; because, in retrospect, just like childbirth, the labor room of our afflictions will seem to have been a "small moment" compared to the "great mercies" and "everlasting kindness" of the God who will soon gather us to His bosom. Paul reminds us of this same truth when he says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."

God knows exactly how to proportion the events of our lives in order to produce the best results for us in the long run. That’s what it’s all about, you know…the long run. And although generally speaking He prefers an even balance in most things, when it comes to His own personal dealings with you and me, His mercy and kindness will tip the scales in our favor, every time.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Setting Them Afloat

"As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; my spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever." (Isa.59:21)

I once counseled a mother whose grown children were fiercely bickering among themselves, causing her much anguish, and putting a strain on her and her husband's relationship. Her question to me was, "What do I say to them?" to which I replied, "As little as possible." One of the hardest things in life is to relinquish responsibility for people and situations that have been under our jurisdiction for many years. We sometimes think to ourselves, when our children are young, “I'll be so glad when I don't have to make all the decisions and bear the ultimate accountability.” Then, oddly enough, when that time comes, we are hesitant to let go. It's hard to truly set them afloat.

Perhaps I could illustrate it this way: A life jacket is a wonderful device for keeping you buoyant, but you can't wear one all the time, just in case you fall in water somewhere! No, in that case, one would need to have already learned how to swim, or, at least, to float. Then, a buoy in the water—steady and true—will be sufficient as a marker to lead one back in the direction of safe harbor…if he or she is so inclined

When the time comes for our children be set afloat, hard as it may seem, we will need to do less talking to them about God, and more talking to God about them. I know this is a easier said than done, but if we're willing to trust God, and allow the Holy Spirit free rein, we can save ourselves a great deal of pain and frustration. If we cannot bring ourselves to claim this verse in Isaiah 59 as a promise, we can surely claim it as a principle. And in the meantime, remember this:

Our grown children need us to be buoys, not life-jackets, on the sea of life.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Risk Everything on God

"And she said, According unto your words, so be it. And she sent them away,, and they departed; and she bound the scarlet line in the window." (Josh.2:21)

James 2:26 tells us that "faith without works is dead"; and in the case of Rahab, the harlot, if her faith had not included works, she would have been dead, along with her family. In fact, the previous verse says, point blank, this lady of the night from Jericho, notwithstanding her dubious occupation, was "justified by works." Yet we find her included with the other exemplars of faith in Hebrews eleven. (She and Abraham share this seemingly paradoxical description.) Add to the mix Paul's plain words in Galatians 2:16, "For by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified," and you have the makings for a first-rate contradiction. But only if you are willing to throw all common sense out the window.

You've heard the saying, I'm sure, "Faith alone saves, but faith that saves is not alone." Well, this little play on words, to my way of thinking, hits the nail on the head. Fidelity does not constitute a marriage; but a marriage without it is just so much paper work. Works follow faith as surely as night follows day. Their manifestation may be obvious or almost unperceivable; but they will be there.

It was Amy Carmichael who said, "Risk everything on God." And that's exactly what Rahab did. There were probably other women in Jericho who made their living the same way she did, but she was the only one who was alive after the destruction of her city. It was not giving up prostitution that saved her life (though I'm sure she did); it was taking the two spies at their word (faith) and tying the scarlet line in her window (works). The spies could not see the faith in her heart (only God saw that), but they could see the scarlet cord in her window.

Many years ago, as a young child, I, too, took God at this Word, and He hung a scarlet cord (the blood of His Son) in the window of my soul. Now I have no fear of destruction in the judgment to come; and any "good works" seen in my life spring from that. Those who know me cannot see the faith that lives in my soul, but they can see its effects in my life, and I trust that will give them comfort when I have gone to Heaven. There, God will not look for those works, however, but for the "scarlet cord" placed in my soul those many years ago. And on that day, even more so than this day, I will be ever so glad I risked everything on Him.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Higher Thoughts

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa.55:8-9)

I firmly believe there are times when God impresses His will on our hearts and minds, especially when there is need for immediate action. But, generally speaking, the Will of God is found in the Word of God; and to conduct our lives otherwise is to court disaster. Here is a good rule of thumb in such matters: Our understanding of the Bible should never be based on our experiences; but, rather, our experiences must be evaluated in light of the Scriptures. For as these verses in Isaiah tell us, God and I just do not think alike.

"Ah, but wait a minute," I can hear you Bible students saying. "As children of God, we now have 'the mind of Christ.' Paul says so in 1 Corinthians 2:16." Let's consider that a minute. Because Christ lives within me, does that insure that every thought I have is His? No, because the war that goes on between good and evil in my "members" (Rom.7:21-23), is a war of ideas, played out in my "mind"; and I cannot afford to linger long on that battlefield, when truth is at stake. So, if I want to know what God thinks about something, I'll have to find out what He said about it. (As one of my English professors was fond of saying, "How do I know what I think, till I see what I say?") And the only way I can do that is to read the Book of His thoughts. We know His thoughts—the thoughts that are higher than ours—are found in His Word. After all, it is His Word, not His thoughts, that He has promised in verse eleven will not "return unto [him] void.”

Oh, yes; we do indeed have the mind of Christ, not always in our heads, but always in our hands, within the pages of the Word of God, forever "settled in heaven" (Psl.119:89). And I agree with Peter; this is a much “more sure” place” (2Pet.1:19-21).

So, think higher thoughts than your own today, as you make decisions, raise your children, and interact with those around you. Open the pages of the "God-breathed" Book" (Psl.33:6) and take a big, deep breath!