Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Star Quality

“And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)

         If we’re honest, we would all have to admit we have harbored thoughts of what it might be like to be a real “star.” In whatever field of endeavor we may have sensed a spark of potential, the idea that our performance might somehow be considered stellar, cannot help but create (if only momentarily) thoughts of “what if.”

         It’s probably true that Heaven is not impressed with the same things that impress you and me. In fact, Luke 16:15 says as much. God is as recognition conscious as we; He just doesn’t regard the same things as being worthy of recognition. Fortunately, this verse in Daniel gives us insight into a couple of things God thinks will give us, as His children, star quality.

         Not surprisingly, wisdom, a recurring theme in Scripture, is named. But here again, we mustn’t let the world write our dictionary. When they talk about wisdom, they mean “life skills,” which may help you in this life, but are impotent when it comes to getting you safely into the next. Only the eternal precepts of the Creator reach this high plateau; and if the God in whom dwells all wisdom (Col.2:3) is the Lord of your life, then you are well on your way to shining “as the brightness of the firmament.”

         Not only that, but when you are one who gives priority to turning others toward the path of righteousness, God gives you star billing, as well. Whether pointing the lost to the Savior or influencing fellow believers to live a holy life, it all amounts to the same thing: a stellar performance.

         Oh, I almost forgot to mention that stars shine the brightest when the sky is dark. You know, “The darker the night, the brighter the light.” So you know that dream you had about being a star? Well, it’s not so far-fetched, after all. And you don’t have worry about being just a splash in the pan, either. Daniel says you’re going to shine forever and ever.

         Wow! What a billing!  

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Where Do You Go For Answers?

“Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that ye go to enquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron?” (2 Kings 1:3)

      The angel of the Lord sent Elijah to make sure the king of Samaria got the message, which, in effect, was this: When you can’t (or won’t) go to God for answers, you’re stuck with phony substitutes. I’ve seen Christians running here and there for answers to important, life-changing questions; and I think to myself, “Why did you bother asking God to save you? Just for fire insurance? It’s like saying to God, “You take care of eternity, and I’ll handle the here and now.” And, as a matter of fact, I am one who is inclined to question the validity of a person’s salvation sincerity, if he or she refuses to allow God to be the Lord of his or her life, especially when it comes to decision making.

         I once heard a professing Christian say, “I have a problem with things like that; I’m a Pisces.” (For you who are as uninformed as I on such things, Pisces is the 12th sign of the Zodiac.) I’m sorry, but I was unable to restrain myself from saying, “Oh, and do you consult fortune tellers and ouija boards, as well?” Is that where it ends when you begin to seek for direction in life outside the Book of Life?

         No doubt, people like this are looking for instant answers, easy ones that can mean anything we want them to mean. But there is a distinct advantage to going early and often to the Word of God, beyond the obvious one of getting the right answer. When we read extensively by any author, we begin to anticipate his or her thinking pattern. And in the case of the Bible, it’s God we’re tracking here. After awhile, Biblical principles can become such a part of our thinking that, many times, when we go to its pages, it’s not just to find the right perspective, but to confirm our own. It’s a reciprocal thing.

         Best of all, the delicate, supernatural phenomenon that takes place as we immerse ourselves in the pages of Holy Writ, not only provides the right answers, but also—and this is the supernatural part—it provides the inclination and power to act upon them.

         So, where do you go for answers?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hiding or Just Holding

“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Psalm 119:11)

         There is not a question in my mind that the Book I pick up daily and hold in my hand is the perfect Word of God. I believe this not because of any histories of textual criticism I have read through the years, but because I have lived those same years in its pages and heard the Voice of God speak. In this aspect of my Christian life, like all other aspects, I have gone “from faith to faith” (Rom.1:17).

         But there is something I think bears mentioning here: It’s one thing to hold the Word of God your hand, but another thing to hide it in your heart. As obvious as this truth may seem, I have known some who held that the first reality would subsequently lead to the second. This kind of thinking can quickly degenerate into a schismatic superiority, which refuses to recognize that wrong doctrine and wrong living can be, and often are, taught and practiced, while using the right Bible. As Paul tells us, it is possible to hold the truth unrighteously (Rom.1:18b). “If so-and-so, and so-and-so, had only been in a church that used such-and such-Bible, their marriage would not have broken down.” No, the fact is, Peter denied the Son of God, when he was within seeing distance of Him; and you and I can disregard the principles of the Word of God, while holding it firmly in our hot little hands.

         Notice, the text did not say, “Thy word have I held in my hand, that I might not sin against thee.” Access to the truth does not guarantee acquisition of it, and even less does it indicate adherence to it. And this is nothing to trifle with, since the Bible teaches the principle of greater light resulting in greater responsibility (Luke 12:48).

         If you hold God’s Word in your hand today, hold it soberly and cautiously, not defiantly and confrontationally; for, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, it’s a “two-edged sword”; and it cuts both ways.


                         A Bible in the heart is worth two in the hand.





Friday, October 24, 2008

Understanding: A Matter of the Heart

“Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words.” (Daniel 10:12; cp. Prov.8:5 & Isa.6:10)

         The Bible is the only book I know that requires heart preparation to be understood—I mean, really understood. There are many books that require head preparation, and that includes books about the Bible. This is true, because these are not God’s words, but the author’s, utilizing his or her own vocabulary. That’s only one of many reasons why one should broaden his or her word recognition ability. There are many wonderful books written by what are respectfully called, the “Old Divines,” and we shouldn’t miss them simply because we are unfamiliar with their vocabularies. That’s why I keep a dictionary nearby lest I fail to grasp some weighty, insightful thought the author was capable of expressing.

         But, to return to my original premise, in verse twelve, Daniel doesn’t hesitate to admit that there was no way he was going to be able to understand the things God wanted to tell him, if he did not first prepare his heart. He was a learned man, but he was also a wise one (not the same thing). He knew that when it comes to the words of Almighty God, a quick mind is not nearly enough. Only open, clean, and receptive hearts will serve as wicks to light the candle of understanding.

         One of the great marvels of the Bible, to me, is that it is plain enough for those of us with limited education, yet profound enough to challenge the minds of the most brilliant among us. If we have prepared our hearts to understand, it meets us where we are at any given time…and captures us.




Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Free Course Or An Obstacle Course

“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1)

         The Word of God may be like a fire and a hammer (Jer.23:29) and a sharp two-edged sword (Heb.4:12); but this verse says it still may have to run an obstacle course to accomplish its purpose. This is a sad state of affairs. Paul was concerned enough about it that he entreated the Church at Thessalonica to pray that when he preached the Word of God it would have “free course,” an unhindered shot, as it were.

         Initially, you and I might be tempted to list things like poor diction or vocabulary, a faulty sound system, or having to speak through an interpreter as being the most logical message hinderers. But, somehow, I think this misses the point here. All of these things can be overcome if the Spiritual criteria is met.

         For instance, in the Old Testament story of Lot, in Genesis nineteen, we see this man trying to relay to his family a heavenly message that would mean the difference between life and death to them; but, unfortunately he only succeeded in making a fool of himself in their eyes (19:14). His inconsistent life blocked the message, and any urgency was blunted by hypocrisy. Their answer must have been, “You must be kidding!” The message was true, but his life betrayed his—and, by extension, its—sincerity.

         We should not pride ourselves in our boldness to speak for God, if we only give minor attention to our own personal testimony. If our lives belie the message, we have constructed an obstacle course for the Word of God. And it’s too important…too precious. We must make sure it has free course from our lips to the hearts of those whose lives we touch.


                              It is all in vain to preach the truth,

                             To the eager ears of a trusting youth,

                             If whenever the lad is standing by,

                             He sees you cheat, and he hears you lie.

                                                                                               — Edgar A Guest

Monday, October 20, 2008

In Everything (Yes, Everything!) Give Thanks

“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

         This is a tall order, by any standard, yet it is one of only a few things in the Word of God said to be definitely the will of God for your and my life, without exception (like abstinence from fornication, in 1Thess.4:3, for instance). In most cases, unless one is an absolute ingrate, thankfulness would not be so terribly hard. But it is the prepositional phrase “in everything” that becomes the sticking point. It is rather like Jesus’ admonition in the Sermon on the Mount to love your enemies. He went on to explain that loving and doing well for those who love you is nothing especially praiseworthy. Who can’t do that? It is loving someone who is your sworn enemy that separates the men from the boys, or the women from the girls. So, too, when things happen to us that seem to be contrary to what is right and fair, it is then that our thanksgiving has real meat to it.

         I remember when our daughter faced the prospect of losing custody of her three little boys due to the obsession of unscrupulous individuals, at the time. I believed within my heart and soul, this could not be the will of God. But at the same time, I knew I was not omniscient, as God was; and if I wanted to retain my sweet fellowship with Him, I must be prepared to take what His loving heart allowed. And, yes, even be willing to thank Him for it. Our heavenly Father is all-loving, as well as all-knowing, and so, even before she was vindicated, I decided I could trust Him, and in everything give thanks.

God may be sovereign in the affairs of men; but only we can decide if we like it.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The (Truly) Submissive Wife

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18)

         Submission, especially in the case of wives, is an often-misunderstood concept. It can easily be excused away, or else used as an excuse for intimidation. Like many other doctrines in the Bible that are both practical as well as profound, it can become a bone of contention, not only in a marriage, but in a church. Perhaps we can gain a bit of insight from this concise but totally adequate verse.

         “Wives, submit yourselves…” Notice the verse does not say, “Husbands, bring your wives into subjection.” Many husbands, to their frustration, have learned that can be counter-productive! There are wives, on the other hand, who have learned it can be categorically dangerous. In any case, it always leads to bitterness and frustration. There are ways for a Christian husband to create an atmosphere conducive to submission, but I leave that for godly pastors, elders, fathers, and mentors to address. My purpose is to point out that Biblical submission (in any situation) should be because of love—not love for the obvious recipient (i.e., a husband), but for the actual recipient (i.e. God). Submission may be a beautiful way for a wife to show love for her husband, but it is an even greater way of showing love for her God.

        “…unto your own husbands…” True submission is a private affair between a husband and a wife. In the same way that excessive public show (good word) of affection can be a sign of private neglect, the seemingly quiet, “here-at-your-beck-and-call” wife can actually be the puppet master, in disguise. Submission isn’t a demeanor; it’s a daily choice. It’s choosing grace over grandstanding, and finding victory without vindication. It’s being courageous enough to disagree—privately, kindly, and acknowledging the final decision without grudging, whether or not it was your own. In the final analysis, it is only necessary for God and her husband to be aware of the godly wife’s submission.

         “…as it is fit in the Lord.” Lastly, the verse says it is only fit that a wife should be submissive to her husband. It’s the proper thing to do, the modus operandi for the godly wife who is confident enough to leave the outcome to God. It’s the difference between a marriage and an “arrangement.” It’s shared input without a final deadlock.

         Surely, one of the worst accusations to be brought against a woman would be that she is an unfit mother. And it would seem to me at least as demeaning to carry the unfortunate distinction of being an unfit wife.

“A prudent wife commands her husband by obeying him.” — John Trapp


Monday, October 13, 2008

Self-Esteem or Self-Extreme

“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

         It seems to me that as a society we have been nearly choked to death on the perceived need for self-esteem. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of the Bible will know that this whole concept is foreign to Biblical reasoning. I am not advocating the false humility that says, “I am nothing,” because this accuses God of shoddy workmanship. I am simply saying what Paul says in this verse in Philippians. To consider myself to have more intrinsic value than anyone else is to give myself more credit than I am due. My real worth comes from the fact that for some reason known only to Him, God chose to take me into His family, which instantly upped the property value on me!

         But as I said, we are repeatedly told that low self-esteem is the catalyst for depression, divorce, obesity, prostitution, suicide, murder, and innumerable other of society’s ills. Yet I have read other articles that quote statistical research, which indicates that, on the contrary, many of the people who fall into the above categories actually poll high on the self-esteem chart. As one author put it, “If you think you’re God’s gift to this world, you’re particularly offended when other people don’t treat you that way.” That’s why we see the word “strife” is this verse, as well.

         So, if you are one of those people who sometimes feel you are not as good as others, good for you! That’s exactly the estimate Paul advocates. You may be out of sync with this world; but then, when was this world ever in sync with God? Remember, Jesus said, “[T]hat which is highly esteemed among men is abomination to God” (Luke 16:15). And that includes self-esteem. Besides, if God esteems us redeemed sinners fit to spend eternity with Him in heaven, who in the world needs self-esteem?  


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Prescription For Peace

“Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God which passeth understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

         The next time you find yourself troubled and anxious, instead of reaching for the Valium, try reaching for the Volume…of God’s Word, that is. Practice the remedy the Apostle Paul prescribes, by Divine inspiration, in this passage in Philippians; then try adopting the regimen laid out in verse eight for preventive maintenance.

         Notice the prescription here instructs the patient to make his or her request known to God. That’s the clincher. The peace is only promised if God is the Counselor. Talking things over with a friend or loved one may be a good thing, but not if it’s peace you’re after. They can, and may, provide sympathy, some perspective, and even good advice; but peace of mind is too much to ask of them. There is only One who dares to claim the ability to affect perfect peace to the mind that rests upon Him (Isa. 26:3). When things get so bad that any hope for peace seems out of question, as children of God, we are free to pick up a prescription for peace the kind of peace that passes all understanding. God has already called it in.

         D.L. Moody paraphrased verse six like this: “Be careful for nothing; be prayerful for everything; be thankful for anything.” So, whether your malady is a broken mind or a broken heart, go for the cure.

         “O, what peace we often forfeit; O, what needless pain we bear;

         All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

                                                                      — Joseph Scriven (1819-1886)


Thursday, October 9, 2008

An Exit Strategy

“For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Philippians 1:23-24)

         Paul considered leaving this life to be far more desirable than staying here. This is only better, of course, if leaving here means one is sure of “being with Christ” (John 8:24b). As my husband often says, “Death is only gain, if one has lived for Christ” (Philippians 1:21). In any case, Paul reasons, though it might be better for him, it would not necessarily be better for those around him. In other words, we should never assume that departure plans, no matter how desirable, supersede present responsibilities.

         We have heard much over the last few years about the necessity of disclosing a planned “exit strategy” for the present war being waged in Iraq. I must admit, though, that although I cannot claim any military expertise, this would seem to me to be a self-defeating proposal. In answer to this demand, President Bush and commanders on the field of battle sum up their exit strategy in one word: victory. Obviously, the danger here is in focusing so much attention on an escape route that the battle itself is jeopardized. And I see this same thought pattern mirrored in other areas of life.

         For instance, many enter the bond of marriage with an eye on the most advantageous means of dissolution. Consequently, pre-nuptial vows are drawn up to ensure that a mate’s professed “undying love” doesn’t end up emptying somebody’s bank account! Others reason, why even bother with the restraints of marriage? It’s much easier to get out of a situation that only carries the restraint of “compatibility.”

         In the same way, a job or endeavor can be taken on with the only thought being, “I’ll just give this “a lick and a promise” till I find something more worthy of my efforts.” I realize we all want to use our skills to the best advantage, but the goal of future betterment keeps us from doing our best work with the task at hand, we are mere opportunists.

         Finally, I think it is possible to gaze at a future Kingdom blessing to the neglect of the present battle. Whatever one’s eschatological persuasion, the truth is, we are here as long as we are here; and we should actually be here as long as we are here. Whether defying evil till the Rapture of the saints, or claiming the Kingdom for Jesus Christ, one way or the other, the working principle is still the same: “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13). A Christian life that focuses only on leaving this world will not be much help to those who have to live in it right now. So says the Apostle.

         As far as I am concerned, I took care of my “exit strategy” well over 50 years ago, when I accepted God’s offer of salvation through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and I will let Him choose the particulars. In the meantime, I’m trying to stay focused on those here, who may still need me. And though it may be needful, as Paul says, to “abide in the flesh,” I have God’s promise that I can live and walk in the Spirit (Gal.5:25). Right now, that’s the only strategy I’m concerned with.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Speaking the Truth in Love

“But speaking the truth in love…Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor…” (Ephesians 4:15,25)

        We are nearly destitute of truth telling. Not only do people lie to protect themselves, they lie simply for convenience. In fact, they take pride in how adept they are at weaving a believable falsehood. From politicians (especially skillful!) to preachers, men, women, children, young and old, liars are legion in number.

        But lying carries with it unavoidable and unwanted consequences. For one thing, just as it is true that the harder it is to tell the truth, the easier it is to tell a lie, even worse, the easier it is to lie, the harder it is to tell the truth. And the end result is an unsavory reputation for untrustworthiness. Remember the fable about the little boy who cried, “Wolf” too often? It ends by saying, “Liars are never believed, forsooth, even when liars tell the truth.” These kinds of people, says the prophet Hosea, have “eaten the fruit of lies” (10:13)

        It is always right to tell the truth, and there is always a right way to do it. Verse fifteen instructs us to “speak the truth in love.” This is especially the case when truth may cause pain. At such times, candor must be accompanied by consideration. After all, truth carries its own force; and harshness or sarcasm only weakens the thrust.

        Contrary to today’s cultural wisdom, truthfulness is vital in a marriage. It is said of the woman in Proverbs 31 that her husband could trust her with all his heart. In a world of deception, the veracity of a mate is a comfort unmatched. It is the linchpin in any enduring relationship.

        Parents who care about their children will always give them the advantage of “truth training.” Any child who lacks that is truly underprivileged. And, as we all know, children learn best by example.


        You’re never more like Satan than when you’re lying. (John 8:44)



Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Spirit of Wisdom

“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” (Ephesians 1:17)

       We are apt to think that wisdom can only be recognized by lofty rhetoric or prudent actions; but according to this verse, wisdom is best characterized by a certain spirit. The aforementioned qualities may indeed be present, but before either of these is manifested, there is a prerequisite attitude, or spirit. If I were to hazard a guess as to what that attitude might be, I would have to say “humility.” David said in Psalm 25:9, “The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.”

       Wisdom and revelation are given for one thing: “the knowledge of Him.” Every subject you study, every skill you perfect, is a means to an end—that you might be able to think some of God’s thoughts. The God of Creation, the God of all physical laws, the God of the only pure philosophy, and most of all, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ—the God of redemption, is the beginning and end of wisdom. And to think; if we come to Him with the spirit of wisdom (humility), He will share some of His wisdom with us!

         “And what is this valley called?”

            “We call it now simply Wisdom’s Valley: but the oldest maps

              mark it as the Valley of Humiliation.”

                                            — C.S. Lewis: The Pilgrim’s Regress (bk.7, ch.8)