Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Being Somebody Else's Showpiece

“As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you…that they may glory in your flesh.” (Galatians 6:12-13)

        These two verses raise the hair on the back of my neck every time I read them. The idea that there are people who would urge their own interpretation of spirituality on others as a means of using them as a “showpiece” for themselves smacks of down right hypocrisy to me. In this instance, Jewish believers were encouraging their Gentile brothers in Christ to be circumcised in order to show that their converts had “gone all the way for God.” As Paul says in verse fifteen, circumcision was an incidental that not only had nothing to do with whether or not you were a Christian, it had nothing to do with whether or not you were a good Christian.

        What it boils down to is this, I think: Things that make us look good as a Christian, may in the final analysis, be just for looks. It’s bad enough for you and I to base our code of conduct on artificial standards, but to find out that we’ve done it to make someone else look good, is just plain humiliating. There are plenty of good reasons for Biblical separation, and enough in the Bible to tell us just what those reasons are. To add personal preferences to these only serves to water down the legitimate ones.

        Paul disparages the whole idea of glorying in one another when he says in verse fourteen, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”

         So be good for goodness’ sake…and for God’s sake…but nobody else’s.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Liberty That Binds

“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)

        You and I, as New Testament believers, have been freed from the bondage of the Law; that’s what the book of Galatians is all about. But Paul reminds them—and us—that this liberty is not a license to “fulfill the lust of the flesh” (v.16). There are two good reasons for this: First, as the saying goes, “Your liberty to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose!” My spiritual liberty is to operate within the framework of the fruit of the Spirit (vv.22-23), never losing sight of the principle of love and the possibility of hurting another believer (Rom. 14).

        Second, liberty is a little like a nasal decongestant inhaler. It’s possible to medicate to the point of achieving the opposite result. It may seem paradoxical, but liberty can end in bondage just as surely as legalism can. And, mark it down, if our liberty leads to “works of the flesh (vv.19-21), the resulting bondage will be far worse than any we may feel the Law forced upon us. Bondage by any other name is still bondage.

        The whole purpose of liberty is to give us permission—and power—to walk in the Spirit. Not according to the dictates of any man, but according to the dictates of the Word of God and our own Spirit-tempered consciences. There is a great deal of diversity and individuality manifested within the Body of Christ, but sin and the “works of the flesh” can all be considered strictly out of bounds.

        Verse one of this chapter reads: “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with yoke of bondage.” And that goes for any kind of bondage. Even the kind that calls itself “liberty.” 

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seizing Their Spears

“And he [Benaiah] slew an Egyptian, a goodly man: and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand; but he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Eqyptian’s hand, and slew him with his own spear.” (2 Samuel 23:21)

        Benaiah was one of the thirty-seven men identified in this chapter as being “David’s mighty men.” They were known for their bravery as well as their loyalty to their king. The previous verse credits this man as having slain “two lionlike men of Moab,” and “a lion in the midst of a pit in time of war.” These were in addition to the feat described in verse twenty-one. In this verse, we are told that with nothing but a meager staff, or rod, he managed to overpower an Egyptian warrior and take away his spear, with which he then proceeded to kill the man.

        This incident suggests to me a truth that is sometimes overlooked. It is possible to seize from this world weapons they have come to believe are their own and use them to fight the good fight of faith. I am aware that 2 Corinthians 10:4 characterizes the Christian’s weapons as being “not carnal”; but to my way of thinking, a gun seized from a terrorist and used to save lives has changed from being a weapon of destruction to an instrument of peace.

        For many years now this world has wrongfully assumed that things such as education, the arts, politics, and film-making were their sphere of influence exclusively; and accordingly, they have used them to lambaste Bible principles and put forward their own secular agenda. But with the phenomenal growth of Christian education, best-selling Christian books, and politicians unafraid to voice their faith, as well as the popularity of movies, if not overtly Christian, at least endorsing Christian principles, we have taken some of the spears this world has been wielding for far too long and drawn blood ourselves.

        We should remember, and teach our children, that whatever profession God may lead us into is a place where He expects us to take the offense in contending for Bible principles, using all the lawful weapons at our disposal. This world may have its princes (1 Cor. 2:6), but God is still the “King over all the earth” (Psalm 47:2).

        Relinquish nothing but sin. 

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Whether in Death or Life

“And Ittai answered the king, and said, As the LORD liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be.” (2 Samuel 15:21)

        The commitment of this man, Ittai, to King David is a beautiful picture of what should be our own to those with whom we have made a covenant. First and foremost should be the realization that when we committed our souls to God, we committed our lives as well. God takes His own commitments seriously, even to the point of promising, “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). All the more reason for you and I to follow His example and His path.

        Then, too, does this verse not remind you of the one in the book of Ruth that is so often referred to at weddings, the familiar “whither thou goest” text? The commitment of Ruth to her mother-in-law, Naomi, mirrors the binding covenant between a husband and wife. A covenant that assumes responsible leadership and unqualified following, and one that often affects geography as well as affection!

        I have made these two covenants—both of them because of love. One was to the God of my being, and the other to the sweetheart of my life. And wherever they are, is where I will be…whether in death or life.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Spiritual Poise

 “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed…” (Psalm 57:7a)

        “Lately I’ve noticed such a lack of balance in the lives of saints (including myself at times.” This observation came by email from a young friend of mine. She continued, “It seems that so many are up in the clouds one day, and barely able to crawl the next.” After venting her frustration, she asked, “Any words for me on this?” So, here are my words on the matter, for her and us.

        She is right, of course. There is an extremism of life, Christian as well as secular, that seems to mark today’s lifestyle as at no other time, from what I have read and observed. (I may be wrong, of course.)  I do know you will find lots of books in Christian bookstores about “victory” (in some cases it sounds more like hilarity), and there are shelves of material to help the despondent among us; but books on an everyday, one-step-ahead-of-the-other, walk of faith kind of living, do not often make the best seller list. But should we assume that the “lukewarmness” that sickens God (Rev. 3) is comparable to the steadiness evidenced in Psalm 112:7; Isaiah 26:3; and Acts 20:24? I don’t think so. Cold or hot is not necessarily the same as up or down.

        What we are talking about here is contentment, isn’t it? What I like to call “Spiritual poise.” That quality of life that is not dependent upon outward stimuli, even the spiritual kind, in order to keep moving in the Christian life. Some paraplegics are able to walk by means of an electric impulse that stimulates the dead nerves in their spine in a somewhat rhythmic fashion. This may be a blessing for a paraplegic, but the kind of artificial gait it pictures in the Christian life is sad. And uncalled for, I may add. We carry our Source of consolation, joy, and spiritual energy within us. It should not have to be generated by any outside influence.

        I often think that our lows are so low because we insist upon our highs being so high. Our Sunday services are too easily gauged by their enthusiasm of spirit rather than the presence of the Spirit of God. They aren’t the same, you know. In addition, as much as extremists either bemoan or else flaunt their extremism, it would seem to me they have the benefit of receiving either much pity on the one hand or much admiration on the other. And it is left for the “pluggers-away” to either pick up the pieces or sweep up the confetti.

        Everyone among us has good and bad days. And I understand there are certain temperaments that are more prone to this than are others. I am simply contending that the see-saw does not have to go so high that when you come back down you bump your you know what!

        Webster defines “fixed” thus: “attached or placed so as to be firm and not readily moveable.” That’s all I (and David am espousing. We have already been placed, positionally; now we only need to keep ourselves attached, practically. It was said of the Christians of Antioch that “with purpose of heart they would cleave to the Lord” (Acts 11:23).

        Can you and I say, as David did when fleeing from King Saul, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed”? If so, we are well on our way to a steadfast, and, yes, beautiful…Spiritual Poise.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Finding Your Place

 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.”  (1 Corinthians 12:1)

        Paul had little tolerance for ignorance, in the true sense of the word, especially when the remedy for it was ignored. He uses a form of the phrase, “I would not have you to be ignorant” at least five times in his writings. In this chapter, he gives us several definitive points about spiritual gifts that leave us with little room for ignorance.

1.  All of us have been given at least one spiritual gift with which to build up the Body of Christ (v.7).

2. There are different kinds of “gifts,” or abilities; “administrations,” or authority; and “operations,” or activities; but all are under the supervision of the Holy Spirit (vv.4-11).

3. God Himself dispenses the gifts, and one is no more important than another (vv.14-24).

        In addition to these, we are able, I think, to draw some logical conclusions from these verses in order to make them workable in our lives. For one thing, it is up to God to show me what my gift is; and when He does, I should then be on the look out for where I might best use it. It would be easy to see what others are doing and just wedge my square gift, as it were, into their round ministry. But the fact that others are doing it (and especially if many are doing it) would seem to be an indication that perhaps God would rather use me to do something else. After all, if everyone did the same thing, only one thing would get done, right?

       Natural ability is always a good place to look first, and this may very well indicate what your spiritual gift is. However, you cannot simply assume this. Personally, I have come to believe that my natural musical ability is only one aspect of an overall one that entails many aspects of communication. In each case, they are all a means to an end: building up the Body of Christ for the work of the Kingdom. One gift manifested in several operations, and at times, in a place of administration.

       Proverbs 18:16 says that “a man’s gift maketh a room for him.” In other words, if you want to find your place in life, find out what your spiritual gift is, then use it. As Bob Jones, Sr. used to say:

                  “Success is finding God’s will for your life and doing it.”


Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Kindness of God

“And the king said, is there not yet any of the house of Saul, that I may shew the kindness of God unto him? And Ziba said unto the king, Jonathan hath yet a son, which is lame on his feet.” (2 Samuel 9:3)

        This beautiful chapter has served as a basis for many sermons on the Grace of God. The mighty King David, fresh from battle victories, had time now to reflect upon God’s goodness to him and the promise he had made to Jonathan to show kindness to his family forever (1 Sam.20:14-15). So David, a man of his word, inquires whether there are any left of the household of Saul that he might show the promised kindness to, not for Saul’s sake, but for Jonathan’s (v.1). As it turned out, there was one left—a man named Mephibosheth, who, verse three says, was “lame on his feet.” Reading on through the chapter, you will see that not only was all the man’s land restored and others commissioned to take care of it and him for the rest of his life, but in a great show of kindness, David decreed that Mephibosheth would eat at the king’s table for as long as he lived. You see now why it is so often cited as a picture of God’s great mercy and grace to you and me—we who were “crippled by the Fall.”

        For me, the words in the passage that stand out are these: “…that I may shew the kindness of God unto him.” The kindness that David showed to Mephibosheth was not his own, but God’s. You see, there is a limit to our kindness, and it can be prejudicially doled out. But we read in Joel 2:13 and Jonah 4:2 that our God is “of great kindness.” There is no lack here, and neither is there any partiality. All may become its recipient, through Jesus Christ (Eph.2:7). So when our kindness peters out, we can tap into His.

        I followed a car once with a bumper sticker that said, “My Religion is Kindness.” Well, my “religion” is to worship the God who is Kindness. He has seen fit to bestow this great kindness to me; and I, like Mephibosheth, will dine at his His table for all eternity. In the words of the old spiritual:

         I’m gonna sit at His welcome table;

         I’m gonna sit at His welcome table one of these days—


         I’m gonna sit at His welcome table,

         Sit at His welcome table one of these days.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Diet of Tears

            “My tears have been my meat day and night…” (Psalm 42:3)

        If you looked in my Bible on the page where this text is found, you would find that I have written this succinct bit of warning: “Stop feeding on your emotions!” I understand the heartrending context of these words; yet even David chides himself in the last verse of this chapter by saying, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?”

        It is easy to become a servant to our emotions; and although women may be more prone to this weakness than man, it is, by no means, gender based. This is dangerous, since, as I have said before, our emotions are the shallowest part of our nature. Granted, they are an important means of expression to love, sorrow, and sympathy, even joy—especially when words are inadequate. But they can take on a life their own apart from all logic, reason…and truth. 

        They, like everything else in the Christian’s life, should first of all glorify God. If any earthly love dulls in any way our love for God, it is idolatry; and if His great love for us is not the motivating factor in our Christian service, our sympathy is misplaced. If our broken heart over a wayward child is more important than an aggrieved Heavenly Father’s, we are jealous of our grief. And if our spiritual joy is only displayed at church, we should ask ourselves if that is what it is: mere display.

       Emotions—especially tears—are a wonderful gift from God. They are release valves for the pent up pressures of life. But the wise man or woman treats them like precious china or silver, brought out for special occasions. They will then mean more to us…and to others.

       God has said, “I have seen thy tears.” Should that not be enough for any of us? 

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Someone To Care For

“ The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:34)

         Singleness for a woman is an awesome responsibility. Not just the physical responsibility of having to take care of herself, and in the case of widowhood or divorce, perhaps children. I am talking about the assumption in the Word of God that a woman who does not have a husband to care for and to please will give herself more fully to the things of the Lord. Verse 35 goes on to describe such a woman as being able to “attend upon the Lord without distraction.” And if you are married, you know that a husband can be very distracting. (He can also drive you to distraction!) The woman who finds herself in this less than ideal situation (singleness), must not look upon it as “freedom from,” but, rather, “freedom to.” Because she is not at this time rendering service to a man, she is completely free to lavish her love and devotion upon Jesus Christ. Otherwise, as far as God is concerned, she is wasting her singleness.

       Now, shall we flip the coin over? On the other hand, this verse assumes by implication that the married woman’s service to God will revolve around her husband and his needs. Any other church or “spiritual” activity will have to fall in somewhere behind. Does it seem to you that I am portraying women as caretakers, no matter what their marital status? I meant to. You see, I am unable to read the Bible without seeing this characterization. And although I realize this is completely out of sync with today’s woman (even some Christian women), I am determined to give you “Thus saith the Lord,” to the best of my ability and let the chips fall where they may.

       It has given me great pleasure to take care of my husband for 47 years, and, God willing, I am not finished yet. But should God choose to take him home to Heaven first, there will still be a Man for me to love, honor, and obey—the Man, Christ Jesus. And, by His grace, I will serve Him—without distraction—for as long as I live.




Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wisdom in Shoe Leather

“And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the Lord was with him.” (1 Samuel 18:14)

        It is easy to think of wisdom only in terms of words, but this verse reminds us that it should also be a matter of behavior. It is possible to come in contact wisdom and even incorporate it into our vocabulary, without allowing it to become translated into our lives. I’m not sure why this is. As it turns out, we are not much different from Israel, who, Paul tells us in Romans two, equated knowing the Law with keeping it.

        In the well over half a century that I have been saved, I honestly think I have heard or read some of the greatest Bible preaching and teaching that any Christian could be exposed to. What a waste it would be if this marvelous treasure never bore any fruit in my own day-to-day life. Wisdom and knowledge should not only enlighten us, it should enliven us! In David’s case, his wise behavior was so evident and effective that it made King Saul, already jealous, actually “afraid of him” (v.15).

        There is an old poem that begins, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day…” After all, the most profound wisdom is no more than pleasing prose, if it is not utilized. I may write a truly thought provoking article about the unruly tongue, from James three; but I preach a much better sermon when I refrain from contradicting and correcting my husband in public. Believe me; when it comes to wisdom, it’s a whole easier to talk it than walk it!





Tuesday, September 2, 2008

You've Got It All

“Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours.” (1 Corinthians 3:21)

        What is it about us that makes us want to “glory in men?” Are we like Israel who wanted a man they could see, rather than God, who they couldn’t see, to rule over them? It certainly indicates a great inadequacy that must be bolstered by adoration of, or allegiance to, someone we perceive to be greater than we.

        The verse speaks of a man who glories in men. Since both parties are men, it begs the question, “Why should one be elevated above the other?” This does not set aside respect, for the Bible teaches that pastors, elders, and the aged (among others) are all to be afforded due respect; but this verse would reprimand us for going beyond respect to extending glory, which is the exclusive right of God alone.

        Not only does this kind of thinking rob God of His glory, it robs you and I of the ability to realize the advantage we possess as children of God. Paul warns us not to get too carried away with anyone made of the same flesh as we. Why? Because, we have everything they have. Oh, I know, all men are not created equal; but all Christians are recreated spiritually equal. Some may be more familiar with the Bible than you, but that does not guarantee they have more biblical insight than you. Others may pray longer, but no one has any more right to the throne of grace. And there may be those who have known the Lord longer, but none of them can rightfully say they love Him, or are loved by Him, more than you.

        Thank God for all the great men and women of faith, past and present, who inspire us in the things of God; but make sure it is He, and not they, who receives all the glory. Glorify Him, first and foremost, for who He is, and all He has done; then, give Him the glory for who you are, and what you have, because of Him.

        “All things are yours.” Rejoice; you’ve got it all!