Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Blame Game

“And Saul said…the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen…the people spared the best sheep and of the oxen…the people took the spoil, sheep and oxen…I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” (1 Samuel 15:15,21,24)

        If you want to know what really happened, you’ll have to read elsewhere in the chapter. Samuel’s instructions to King Saul had been both plain and simple: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (v.3). Saul could not claim he misunderstood these clear-cut instructions; so instead, when he spared the king, along with the best sheep and oxen, his excuse was that “the people” were the real instigators. In reality, however, the truth is found in verse nine, where we read, it was “Saul and the people” who disobeyed. He could whine that it was fear of them that had driven him to disobedience, but the fact remained, he was the one who ended up losing the kingdom over it, though he fought tooth and nail to hang onto it. (Frankly, I, for one, would have been more inclined to cut him a little slack if it had been the women and children he had saved.)

        Trying to pass the buck when it comes to real sin or blame is so unsavory that even the devil refused to do it, in the garden. There is more hope for the worst sinner in town than for the man or woman who refuses to own up to any wrong-doing; or who, like Saul, cannot bring themselves to accept blame unless there is someone to share it with. Generally speaking, God forgives sinners on a one-to-one basis, and until we are willing to ask forgiveness as though we were the only sinner on earth, we have not truly repented.

        It is important for children to learn how to accept rightful blame, wholeheartedly, with the knowledge that forgiveness (and, with God, “forget-ness”) will be the reward. But it is important to remember that “the blame game” is not just a child’s game. I still find myself wanting to indulge this shameful trait. I have found, however, that I feel a whole lot better when I pray, “Lord, forgive me,” instead of “Lord, forgive us.” And mean it. 

Friday, August 29, 2008

Compare and Contrast

“Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good…Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:9, 21)

        Abhor is to cleave as evil is to good. They are opposites that cannot be compared (a way of looking at similar things), but can only be contrasted (a way of looking at dissimilar things). And, as it turns out, they represent the only approved (by God) modus operandi for the Christian.

        One thing I learn from this text is that there are things which are actually evil, with no redeeming characteristics, while there are other things God refers to as being good. The verses do not, however, say that everything in this world falls into one or the other category, only that the categories exist and can be differentiated between. Some things actually are relative to time, place, and custom (1 Cor. 7:25-26; 8:9; and 11:16). But we must always be aware that there are things in this world that are wrong any time, anywhere, and under any circumstances. I’ll not list any of them now; because, after all, anyone who is truly interested in pleasing God can find them in the Scriptures—plain, unhidden, and accessible.

        Another thing I learn is that once we have determined something (or someone) to be evil, we are not merely to frown upon, or even turn away from it; we are to shrink from it as one would a deadly plague. “Abhor” is a very strong word and not hard to spot. It is easy to tell the difference between those who linger on the outer edges of sin, and those who live another county away from it. And, by contrast, we should not simply prefer “that which is good,” we should clutch it to our bosoms as we would a life preserver in ocean waves. I mean, hang onto it for dear life!

        Verse 21 lets us know this is going to be a constant tug-of-war. Mark it down; one will try to overcome the other, to gain the upper hand. For this reason, anything less than abhorring evil and cleaving to good is not going to get it done. Half-way measures will not just prove to be disappointing; they will end up being disastrous. 

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ladder-Holders and Other "Helpers"

“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:12)

        People fall off ladders more often when someone is holding the ladder steady for them. This seemingly insignificant statistic comes form a study made in Great Britain. (I heard this from newscaster, Paul Harvey, so it must be true!) It is assumed that the one holding the ladder is not actually to blame; but, rather, it is simply that his presence seems to give the ladder climber a false security. Surely, he (or she) cannot possibly fall with someone standing directly below, holding the ladder steady.

        This same phenomenon can be seen in life, in general; and we Christians are by no means exempt. One may grow so complacent with others around propping him or her up that in a buoyant feeling of confidence, he or she can become less concerned about making false steps. Accountability is a good thing, but it can never take the place of personal responsibility. Pastors, family members, friends, and mentors can all be wonderful, steadying influences in our lives, but not if their well-meaning help causes us to lose our own sense of balance. In the final analysis, as the old saying goes, “Every tub’s got to sit on its own bottom!”

        This is why it is good to remind ourselves often of what the Psalmist said:“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Psl.118:8).


Monday, August 25, 2008

No Smith Found

“Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears: But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share [sickle], and his coulter [plow tool], and his axe and his mattock [hoe].”  (1 Samuel 13:19-20)

       We should not have to go to the world to sharpen our tools. God has given each of us some talent(s) with which to serve Him, and it is up to us to keep it or them sharp, ready to be wielded at the direction of the Spirit of God. But unfortunately, in many cases, we are forced to sharpen these talents on instruments used to prepare the enemy for battle.

        In Israel’s case, their inadequacy had been premeditated. The Philistines, in order to keep track of their weaponry, had made sure that all their (Israel’s) implements had to be serviced by them. They accomplished this by seeing to it that there were no smiths (one who works in iron or other metals) among them. In this way, the Israelites were always dependent and never able to gain the advantage.

        In the same way, I am sure this ungodly world system is better served by making sure the best education, products, and services are forged on their anvils and sharpened on their whetstones. In this way, you and I—and our children—are regularly forced into the atmosphere of their humanistic, ungodly influence.

        Obviously, the answer for the Israelites would have been to have their own smiths. And it is just as obvious that we Christians should be producing educators, scientists, athletes, soldiers, entertainers, entrepreneurs, etc., to not only service us, but who are capable of turning the tables and infiltrating the camp of the enemy. Talents—at least, legitimate ones—do not come in sacred and secular categories. It is we who turn them into one or the other. As believers, we are all full-time, 24/7 workers for God. Some by ministering exclusively to the saints in local church bodies, others by engaging a lost world day after day with the claims of Jesus Christ, and in every arena of life.


WANTED: One smith—capable, reliable, and commissioned by the King! 

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Consider This

“Only fear the LORD, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider what great things he hath done for you.” (1 Samuel 12:24)

        This verse utilizes simplicity to speak profundity, always a winning combination, to my way of thinking. It has always been a “true north” on the compass of life for me. Shall I tell you why?

        “Only fear the Lord…” If we feared no one but God, what worry and frustration we would save ourselves. Peer pressure can lead to peer paralysis, and many of us are unaware of this phenomenon in our own lives, because it is never challenged. I never knew just how strong my fear of water really was until I started taking swimming lessons. Until we attempt to act in spite of our fears, we never realize what a hold they have on us; and it is when we dare to follow God instead of our social or spiritual peers that we realize what a power they wield in our lives. Only when we substitute the fear of God for the fear of man do we experience liberation.

        “…serve him in truth with all your heart…” These are the two great guidelines for serving God effectively. First, our service must be rooted in the truth of God’s Word, and carried out according to the principles laid out within its pages. It may be better to do “the right thing in the wrong way,” instead of the other way around…but not by much, and certainly not for long. As we mature Spiritually, so should our service to God. Second, half-hearted service reaps half-hearted results. Serving God with all our heart is more important than serving Him with all our might, because energy may flicker, but enthusiasm can burn all the way to Heaven!

        “…for consider what great things he hath done for you.”  Finally, we are reminded of the Christian’s great motivation: All we are, and all we have, are gifts from God. The very air we breathe comes from the nostrils of the Creator. He holds our lives in His hands, and, as Paul says, “He that spared not his own Son…how shall he not with him also freely give us all things” (Rom.8:32). If He’s given His best, will He spare the rest? When we truly consider this, it is easy to understand why we should “only fear God,” and why we should “serve him in truth with all [our] hearts.” Above all things and all others, “consider him” (Heb. 12:3).

Friday, August 22, 2008

Vessels of Mercy

“And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” (Romans 9:23-24

        That’s what we are: vessels of mercy. Receptacles, if you will, of the mercy of God, neither self-generated nor self-perpetuated, but received by faith. In fact, as the verse indicates, God made preparation for our inclusion in His eternal plan long before we made our entrance into the world He created. God, in order to give us a glimpse of His glory, made provision through the intervention of Calvary, so that you and I might share in the glories of Heaven.

        What a difference between this and the Bible’s description of the condition of the man or woman without Christ in this world:

 “What if God, willing to shew his wrath and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” (Rom.9:22).

        God’s dealings with us are a picture of His mercy and glory; while, after “much longsuffering,” it is wrath and destruction that characterize His attitude toward unbelievers. They are “vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction”; we are “vessels of mercy…prepared unto glory.” They “make his power known”; we “make known the riches of His glory.”

         What mercy, what grace, and what love! These verses bring out the little bit of poet in me:


                                         A Vessel of Mercy


                           I had no claim to stand with the righteous,

                           Nothing good in myself could I bring;

                           But His death made me worthy of Glory

                           To the Christ of the Cross I now cling.


                           When I see the great King in His beauty,

                           And I ponder the price that He paid,

                           Then I, a vessel of mercy,

                           Will become a vessel of praise!


                                    A vessel of mercy,

                                    A trophy of grace;

                                    A vessel of mercy,

                                    In Heaven a place;

                                    Prepared unto glory,

                                    I’ll look on His face;

                                    A vessel of mercy…and grace.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Weightier Matters

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matthew 23:23)

         Pharisees are sticklers for details, but slipshod with principles. This is unfortunate, since, as Jesus said, neither of them should be left undone. Paying the tithe is a commendable and Biblical practice; but good judgment in questionable things is a weightier matter. Perfect attendance at church is an admirable habit, but showing mercy in the face of personal offense is a weightier matter. Giving praise to God in testimony or song may be inspiring to others; but exhibiting faith in the face severe or prolonged adversity is a weightier matter.

         This verse warns us that some of the trappings of the Christian life can become so absorbing that we begin to elevate them to a place of undeserved importance. It is easy, since they often do not call for a great deal of Spiritual maturity, and are nearly always things that make us look good. Worst of all, as Jesus said, they leave us little time (or inclination) to cultivate depth of soul or the spiritual graces of a true disciple.

        None of us should be satisfied being a “spiritual lightweight.” It would behoove each of us to ask ourselves from time to time: “Am I spending my life on “mint” or Judgment? “anise” or Mercy? “cummin” or Faith? the incidentals or the “weightier matters?”


Monday, August 18, 2008

Authority: Designated or Real

                     “…for as the man is, so is his strength…”  (Judges 8:21)

       The nine words above may be a brief excerpt, but they say a great deal. They come from the story of Gideon, and were said of his son, who lacked the courage to perform a just task that his father had asked him to carry out. It was something he had been the authority to do, but something he lacked the ethical integrity to fulfill. The evaluation of this lapse tells us that it is not what a man or woman has, or what position he or she may hold, that determines his or her real strength. Rather, it is what they are—their character—that is their true measure.

        All of us, both men and women, hold, or will hold, some kind of designated authority in this life. But without personal integrity, it is, for all practical purposes, meaningless. The sons of Eli we read about in the first four chapters of 1 Samuel had positions: they were priests. Unfortunately, they lacked the character and integrity to carry out these important duties in a godly fashion. You and I may wear the title, “wife and/or mother,” with all the designated authority that this brings. But it is up to us to retain the moral authority that gives real meaning to these lofty positions.

        If we are not careful, we can become like Jacob, who feared that his father, Isaac, might get close enough to him to find out that he was not who he said he was. (This is why many refrain from allowing anyone to get close to them.) Jacob’s overriding fear was that he might “seem” to be a deceiver (Gen.27:12), not that he might actually be one. In the same way, you and I can worry more about appearing to be a good Christian, wife, or mother than about actually being one. Maybe if we spent less time trying to look good, we would be more apt to be good.

       “Reputation is what people think you are; character is what God know you are.” ~ Bob Jones, Sr.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Opportunity in Disguise

“And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds.”  (Acts 26:31)

        Three men in authority admitted that Paul the Apostle had committed no capital offense: Lysias (Acts 23:29); Festus (Acts 25:25); and Agrippa (Acts 26:31). Yet for all that, this innocent man was ultimately put to death—beheaded, so we are told. It was a great travesty of justice, and therefore, humanly speaking, could never be justified. Still, with all the inequity we read about in the closing chapters of the book of Acts, we also read of the great opportunities these injustices provided Paul to recount his conversion, preach the Gospel, and glorify Jesus Christ. Ironically, the Jews, so determined to “shut him up,” actually provided the means of giving him an even greater audience.

        Somewhere along the line, we Christians have reached a point, it would seem to me, where we assume (even assert) that we must be treated fairly, at all costs. Yet our Lord said in John that the servant is not greater than his Master; and from the time He was allocated a rough manger for a cradle, till His unlawful death on a rough cross, Jesus Christ was unfairly treated by people who should have known better.

        It follows then that those who bear His name should not consider this same rejection entirely unlikely in their own lives. We need not seek it, anymore than He did, but this perverse would system will, of necessity, find things in a Spirit-filled believer’s life that make them uncomfortable. And when these occasions of unjust treatment come to us, we can cry, “Foul”; or we can use them, as Paul did, as a platform from which to display the grace of God and interject the claims of Jesus Christ.

        When I am tempted to feel (and show) the frustration of impotence in the face of obviously unfair treatment, I have begun reminding myself of this all important truth: God is either in control, or He isn’t; and if He is, I don’t need to be.



Friday, August 15, 2008

The Importance of One

“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19)

        I never cease to be amazed at how a seemingly insignificant act can have disproportionate consequences in the lives of other people. An unkind criticism can engender bitterness and resentment that may take years to overcome; while a word of praise and encouragement can boost lagging confidence and bring fulfillment to a worthy endeavor. We all tend to take for granted the possibility for impact we have on those around us, our thought being, perhaps, “After all, I’m only one person.”

        As far as Adam was concerned, his disobedience was something between him and God. The broken fellowship was theirs alone; and the consequences would be his alone to suffer. But, of course, as we all know now, the far-reaching consequences of his defiance were staggering, and its adverse effect on you and I personally was devastating. We are sinners, not just because we indulge in the practice, but also because we are innately inclined to do so. It is part of our very nature, thanks to Adam…and his disobedience. So, too, our small, “insignificant” acts of disobedience have inordinate potential for great harm to those around us—now and in the future.

        Oh, but now look at the blessed results of another Man’s obedience! The verse says that because of it, “shall many be made righteous.” (And I’m one of those many, praise the Lord!) I realize our obedience cannot accomplish anything as spectacular as this, but it can—and will—influence for good. For one thing (and this is not a small thing), our children will learn obedience far quicker and better, if it is not only taught, but exemplified, as well.

        Never mind that you are only one. This verse teaches us that in some cases, that’s all it takes.


                  I am only one, but I am one;

                  I cannot do everything, but I can do something;

                  What I can do, I ought to do;

                  And what I ought to do, by the grace of God,

                           I will do.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Knowing and Being Known

“Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed to him.” (1 Samuel 3:7)

        “When did you come to know the Lord,” I asked a young man several years ago, at a Bible conference. He replied by facetiously telling me that when he was a 2-year old toddler, he repented of his sins and called on the name of the Lord. His stab at a humorous argument against the doctrine of freewill only showed his refusal to acknowledge one plain teaching of the Bible, simply because he was not able in his own mind to reconcile it with another, equally as plain. I should have answered, “I didn’t ask when the Lord came to know you; I asked when you came to know Him.”

        Young Samuel, who was an answer to his mother, Hannah’s, prayers, and was dedicated to God before he was even born, was certainly known by God. Yet we are told in this verse in the first book of Samuel, he “did not yet know the Lord.” He may have had godly parents, and he may have been living in the house of God, but when he first heard the voice of God, he did not recognize it (vv.4-5). The significant word here may be the little adverb “yet.” Samuel did not know God at this time in his life, but he was going to.

        I learn from this that children, no matter how godly their Christian parents may be, and no matter how biblical their upbringing may have been, are still called upon to recognize their alienation from God because of sin, and acknowledge Him and their Lord and Savior. And the fact that parents have every right (and duty) to pray for, and even claim, the salvation of their children (Acts 16:31) does nothing to diminish this principle. The two ideas may seem contradictory to you and me, but in the revelation of God through His Word, they were spoken in the same breath.

        For the first nine years of my life (and even before—Eph.1:4), God knew me; and in the years since then, I have also known Him. God knew exactly what he was getting into when He chose me. I, on the other hand, had no conception of the great Treasure I was acquiring as a young child. Nor do I yet fully comprehend it. I only know that when I hear His voice, my grateful heart cries out, “Speak; for thy servant heareth.” 

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Double Trouble

“They speak vanity every one with his neighbor: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.” (Psalm 12:2)


         Some doubles are good. For instance, Elisha’s double portion of Elijah’s spirit; or in a less spiritual vein, a double dip of ice cream, or my husband’s favorite, a double malt! In these cases, more is better. There are some things, however, that are less favorable, and even disastrous, when they manifest themselves in dual form.


~A Double Mind~


         James 1:8 warns us that a double-minded man is “unstable in all his ways.” The man or woman who cannot make up his or her mind, who is first one way than another, gives the impression of being emotionally unstable, or to say the least, unsettled. This is why Peter exhorts us to “gird up the loins of our minds” (1Pet.1:13). Often, making snap decisions without benefit of meaningful contemplation, is the root of double-mindedness.


~A Double Tongue~


         One of the qualifications for a deacon, according to 1 Timothy 3:8, is that they must not be “doubletongued.” Or as the American Indians used to say about men who promised them something and then reneged on it, “White man speak with fork-ed tongue.” Of course, we all know prevaricating (and that’s what it is) is not exclusive to any ethnic group. People who speak out of both sides of their mouths come in every size, shape, and color. But it is reprehensible in anyone, especially a Christian.


~A Double Heart~


         Now we come to our text, and this is the most dangerous and destructive duality of all. A double heart will always be unfaithful to God and everyone else. My husband once dealt with a lost man whose wife was a member of our church. Gradually, it came out that his real excuse for not becoming a Christian was that he was having an affair with another woman. According to him, he could not bring himself to give up either woman, since he loved them both. In reality, though, he didn’t love either of them; he loved himself, and he loved his sin. Nor will God accept dual allegiance. If He does not have all of our heart, He has none of it. Lord of all, or not Lord at all.


         Mark it down: In the case of double-tongued, double-minded, and double-hearted, it isn’t “double or nothing”; it’s double is nothing.”

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Words of the Lord

“The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” (Psalm 12:6-7)

        You will find the phrases, “the word of God” and “the word of the Lord several hundred times in the Bible, but you will also read “the words of the Lord” and “the words of God” over 130 times. The former ones would give us only an abstract and intangible entity; but with the addition of the latter two, we have something to hold on to—literally. God intended that His words not only be “settled in heaven,” His main objective, it would seem, was to make them accessible to generations of people. But where then are they, these “pure words”? After all, verse 7 promises that the Lord will preserve them “from this generation for ever.”

       When we speak of biblical preservation, I fear we only muddy the waters when we state the obvious, insisting that the human (fallible) element must be considered with any translation of the Bible. After all, this human (fallible) element comes into play just as truly in the doctrine of inspiration, as well. I understand, of course, that preservation is not at all the same as inspiration, but I also understand that they both call for the intervention of God, at one point or another. The words that God spoke through “holy men of old” (Heb.1:21) only benefit me if they are accessible to me. If my only source of authenticity was lost with the so-called “original autographs,” God’s preservation ability leaves a great deal to be desired, an unnerving thought for more than one reason (2 Tim.4:18). “Oh, don’t worry,” some will say, “God’s Word is out there somewhere in all the different translations from various Hebrew and Greek texts.” You will forgive me, I’m sure, if I don’t get too excited about that, since they often disagree with one another.

       I realized long ago that there was only one Book that had for me the ring of authenticity, and I allow that Book to correct everything and everyone else—including me. You’re right, it does involve faith; but then, you must admit, that isn’t an altogether unheard of virtue in the Christian life.

 “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.” (Jer.15:16)

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Set of the Sail

“And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law; but Ruth clave unto her.” (Ruth 1:14)

        Both of these Moabite girls (Orpah and Ruth) loved their mother-in-law, Naomi. Instead of returning to their own families after the death of their husbands, they had chosen instead to accompany her back to her home in Bethlehem-Judah. Naomi discouraged such a move, however, explaining that there was no future there for them.

        At one point, both girls, overcome with emotion, burst into tears at the prospect of having to leave Naomi. Finally, Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but it was a good-bye kiss. She had decided not to go, after all. She would not leave her people or her gods. Ruth, on the other hand, offered no kiss. Instead, she remained with her mother-in-law. One kissed and one clave. Both girls loved, but only one remained; both were moved emotionally; but only one had the resolve to act upon it.

        The winds of adversity and loss came to both girls, but it was their individual reaction to those winds that determined their destinations, and, as it turned out, their destinies.


                                             The Winds of Fate

                           One ship drives east and another drives west

                           With the selfsame winds that blow.

                           ‘Tis the set of the sails

                           And not the gales

                           That tells the way to go.


                           Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate,

                           As we voyage along through life:

                           ‘Tis the set of the soul

                           That decides its goal,

                           And not the calm or the strife.

                                                                           ~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

It's Only Reasonable

“And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season, I will call for thee.” (Acts 24:25)

        In this chapter of the book of Acts, we have the great Apostle, Paul, standing before Felix, the Roman governor, who had sent for him specifically to hear him speak of “the faith in Christ” (v.24). Paul, in his characteristic style (17:2), did not use intimidating rhetoric, filled with dark sayings and grandiose pronouncements; but, rather, he simply reasoned with the man. Yet because he spoke of “righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come,” in relation to the resurrected Christ (v.21), the Bible says, “Felix trembled.” I learn a great truth from this: Cool, Biblical reasoning, under the penetrating power of the Holy Spirit of God, will bring strong conviction, more so than eloquent platitudes or fiery barbs, no matter how much Scripture may be thrown in for affect.

        You may argue, “Yes, but Felix sent Paul away, and we never read of his coming to Christ for salvation. True, but that does not mean he didn’t later. We only know he didn’t on that day. And one thing is for sure; if he ever did, you and I would be less apt to doubt his sincerity, knowing he was not making a quick response to emotional pressure.

        The Gospel of Jesus Christ, and His offer of the forgiveness of sins, is the most reasonable argument anyone could be confronted with. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa.1:18).  And, just as truly, the challenge to give one’s life in service to God is the most reasonable expectation that could put to a recipient of that forgiveness. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom.12:1).

        Never be ashamed, and always be prepared, to present the claims of Christ to any man or woman. They represent the most reasonable argument you will ever make in life. And you never know when you’re going to run into a reasonable man or woman. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

When To Cease

“And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.”  (Acts 21:4)

        This verse, like the all too common lament, “All we can do now is pray,” leads me to suggest that in far too many situations in life, our last resort should have been our first. The “he” referred to here is Paul the Apostle, who had determined to got to Jerusalem, over the pleadings of Christians in Caesarea and the warning of the prophet, Agabus. It was the latter who told Paul, if he went to Jerusalem, he would be bound over to the Gentiles for incarceration. Paul, however, chided these dear saints for trying to break his heart, assuring them that not only was he ready to be bound, he was ready to die, if need be, “for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Even now, argument still ensues over the right or wrong of his decision.

        Here is my point, though; I fear we waste a lot of time and energy trying to persuade people not to do things they are determined to do, or conversely, to do things against their will. As wives, after we have voiced our opinion and given our arguments, we should leave it at that, unless sin in involved. To feel we must cajole or connive in order to change the minds of our “misguided” husbands, is proud at least and dangerous at worst. The same holds true for our grown children and anyone else in our sphere of influence. Our arguments may be sound, but repetition will not add anything to their credence; and often, as long as we are talking, God cannot be heard. We run the real risk of missing a chance to see the Lord work on our behalf, in answer to prayer, when we insist upon taking upon ourselves the duties of the Holy Spirit. And maybe—just maybe—we could be wrong.

        I wonder, my friend, if it’s time for you to cease and say, “The will of the Lord be done.”

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Pinch of Salt

“Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltiness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.”  (Mark 9:50)

        There are some foods that can hardly be choked down without salt. As Job says, the white of an egg, for instance (Job 6:6). I am well aware that too much salt can be harmful to your health; but if it’s the real thing—not a substitute—even a pinch can make all the difference in the world. Mark says salt should be a part of us (“in yourselves”). Obviously, he is not speaking of literal salt, but using it as a metaphor for a desirable attribute, in much the same way we speak of an admirable man or woman as being “the salt of the earth.”

        It is Paul who fleshes the concept out for us when he says in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” Some have reasoned that this means our words should carry a “bite” to them; but it seems to me that we add salt to make foods more palatable—not harder to swallow, but easier. Without salt, food is bland, sometimes even tasteless. This is true of our speech, as well. There is just something missing.

        The Bible does not actually define “salty speech” for us, but we are given some hints. The verse in Mark lets us know that when we have salt in ourselves, we are easier to get along with (“..have peace one with another...”). Colossians says that well-seasoned speech will manifest grace to others, and even goes so far as to say that the man or woman who possesses it will know how to answer every man. Whoa! Quite a claim for something as common as salt, and that usually requires so little. It’s not always the profundity, or even the proficiency of our words that make them pungent; it’s their pertinence. Those words “fitly spoken” at the right time that are like “apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Prov.25:11). Timing is everything.

        They say you can tell good cooks by how well they season their food; and you can tell an effective Christian by the way he or she seasons his or her words. And a pinch of salt will do quite nicely. 

Sunday, August 3, 2008

He's Still in the Salvaging Business

“And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.” (Judges 16:30)

        No one would argue against the fact that overall, Samson’s was a wasted life. Somehow, despite his disciplined upbringing, he never got a handle on self-discipline. Nor were loyalty and devotion to God ever part of his core principles. His physical strength was marvelous, but his character strength was miserable.

        Samson’s story should serve as fair warning to those of us who might be tempted to think that natural abilities (or even spiritual gifts) can make up for a lack of character and devotion to God. To such an individual, living and ministering in his or her own strength minus the power of God can become an easy substitute. But as Samson found out, not only is the Spirit of God our source of true power, He is our “in-house” protector against sin, as well.

        I have heard preachers say of Samson, “He was worth more to God in his death then he was alive.” I can well understand why this might be a valid observation. But I chose instead to jot this little note down next to these verses in Judges: “It is possible—though often at great cost—to make up for a wasted life at its end.” You see, besides a dire warning, I see a blessed, if faint, hope in this story.

        For those who look back on a life frittered away on non-essentials, or worse, one distinguished by sin and rebellion, if in its closing days, there is true repentance, an unexpected usefulness may miraculously be realized. As I say, it will be at great cost, for those early opportunities with their fresh possibilities, can never be regained. But God has told us He is able to restore “the years that the locust hath eaten” (Joel 2:25); and in mercy He may choose to honor Himself through what is left of a wasted life. He did it for Samson, and He is still in the salvaging business. Bless His holy name!

If you are wise, let Samson’s life to be a warning to you. If you have been foolish, let his death give you hope. 

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Good Wife

“And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die because we have seen God. But his wife said unto him, if the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering, neither would he have shewed unto us all these things…” (Judges 13:22-23)

        Manoah was blessed of God to have this woman for his wife, for Proverbs 19:14 says, “A prudent wife is from the Lord.” This woman, referred to as simply the wife of Manoah and the mother of Samson, is a study in unruffled common sense, a jewel of an attribute in any woman, and especially a wife.

        This couple had experienced a visitation from an angel of God with news of a coming addition to their family. His words, and especially the accompanying show of fire, had momentarily “spooked” Manoah. He was just sure they were both going to be killed. It was his wife, however, who calmly reassured him, not by offering meaningless platitudes (“Everything will be fine, dear”), but by giving a plausible reason for optimism: “If God was going to kill us, He wouldn’t have bothered to show us what He was going to do for us in the future.” This was something Manoah surely would have thought of himself any other time; but in the (literal) heat of the moment, he had lost perspective. Nor are we to assume from the context and the rest of their story that his wife ever used this temporary lapse on his part as a chance to gain leverage in their relationship.

        I appreciate the fact that this woman used her wisdom and powers of reasoning to be an encourager and not a voice of doom. Just as God never gives discernment as a tool for criticism, we should never equate wisdom as His rationale for pessimism. It is true that bad things do happen to good people, but they never happen to the child of God without His permission, or outside the framework of Romans 8:28. If everything is working together for our good, should not our first, and not our last, reaction be optimism?

   The good wife props her husband up on one side…then leans on the other!

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Curse of Shallowness

“Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth." (Matthew 13:5) 

        Beware of shallowness, in yourself and others. There is so much today that is sham and superficial, it is refreshing to find people who are willing to think, face themselves, and gain insight. The media is all about feeling rather than thinking; and even philosophers—the so-called thinkers—mistake muddy for deep, a great deal of the time.

        God says of the people represented by the stony, shallow earth that they are quick to spring to the occasion, but lack the stability of root to continue in the heat of the day. In verses 20 and 21 of the chapter, we find out that “tribulation or persecution” is what finally does them in. Unless one is rooted in the Word of God and eternal things, catastrophe in the world, and especially in our own lives, will have no sense or meaning. We must understand, and teach our children that things happen for a reason; choices have consequences; self-centeredness leads to self-pity; and the most important issue of life is one’s relationship to (and with) God and His Son.

        My daughter once told me about a young woman who often testified that God had always been so good to give her all the things she asked of Him. I made the observation that it was sad God could not trust her with a “No.” I truly believe there are those who reach a spiritual plateau and remain there for the rest of their lives. Not because of sin, but because of shallowness. They lack sincerity, because they lack depth of soul.

 “If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desolate posts in the great battle.” ~ C.S. Lewis