Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Invisible Beam

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, and perceiveth not the beam that is in thine own eye?”  (Luke 6:41)

         Or as my husband likes to paraphrase it, why do we always see the splinter in our brother’s eye, but somehow never seem to be able to make out the telephone pole in our own? The truth is, many, if not most, of us are guilty of criticizing others, while we ourselves may be guilty of far worse, in God’s estimation. The fact that we are at fault may not excuse others’ guilt, but neither do their imperfections lessen our own culpability. God purposely uses this over-the-top metaphoric speech to show us just how blind we can be to our own vulnerabilities.

         What is it that makes this beam—this telephone pole, if you will—right before our very eyes, so invisible to us? If I had to give a one-word answer, it would be “prejudice.” Not in the sense that society has corrupted the word to identify anyone who does not go along with its latest cultural mores; but rather, a preconceived opinion that completely disregards any fact that might contradict it. This is why one refuses to be corrected by anyone outside his or her own comfortable alliances (e.g., denomination, church, fellowship, peer group, etc.). It is also why we may be skeptical of anyone below, or above, our own education level. And why we tend to list sins by priority and feel more comfortable in a group whose list resembles our own.

         This is important. Not just to our relationship with one another, but God, as well. As long as we are minimizing our sins by magnifying the shortcomings of others, we run the risk of harboring chronic sins that contaminate our fellowship with Him (Psl.66:18). If we fail to put this truth in the right perspective, we are always going to assume the gigantic beam is in the other fellow’s eye, while that insignificant little mote is in our own, instead of the other way around. In which case, we never will see straight! 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Give Thanks

I Give Thanks

Thousands of memories—family and home

Hosts of dear friends—new and old

Ample supply from an Unseen Hand

Numberless Promises on which to stand

Knowledge of the ages; great Truth the ponder 

Stories of majesty, glory, and wonder 

Grace for the journey each step of the way

Indwelling Spirit to brighten the day

Victory promised o’er death and its sting

Infinite ages to dwell with the King

No need to worry; on this I depend

God of creation is my Father and Friend. 

                                            Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!



Harold's Caramel Pie

Dear Readers: Many of you will be in charge of preparing Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends. Before you do, I thought you might enjoy reading something I wrote several years ago about one of our family “traditions.” It’s all true, except for the obvious literary license I have taken with some of the dialogue. A good opening text might be Proverbs 17:22. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”

Harold’s Caramel Pie 

            My brother-in-law swears that his renowned recipe for caramel pie was passed down to his family from a great aunt, who relented on her death bed, and revealed her treasured secret to members of the family huddled around her. Being of Kentucky (“Brier-hopper”) extraction myself, and not altogether unfamiliar with such family traditions, I’m fairly certain that it went something like this: 

            “How much longer you reckon she can hold out, Aunt Lizzie? She’s wheezin’ some’n awful.”

            “It’s untellin’, Martha. She’s powerful stubborn when she wants to be. You young’uns should have seen her in her prime. She could catch a chicken, wring its neck, pluck the feathers, and have it cut up and fried before breakfast. She’ll be missed, sure.”

            “You don’t suppose she’d give us her recipe for the caramel pie before she passes on, do you?” Young Martha’s brawny husband had goaded her into making this request that very morning.

            “Marth,” he had said, his eyes narrowed menacingly, “If you let that old woman die without findin’ out how to fix that pie…” What followed must have emboldened poor Martha so that now she was suggesting the unheard of, wheedling the secret recipe out of the poor dying woman. 

            But, the way Harold and the rest of his family tell it, that’s exactly what happened. And, frankly, I can see all the family gathered around her, with young Martha sitting in the corner, pencil and paper in hand, asking feverishly from time to time such things as, “How much brown sugar did she say?”

            I suppose now would be a good time to say something about my brother-in-law, Harold, himself. My sister may not appreciate me for saying this, but her husband is decidedly…well…different. If he were rich, I could call him eccentric; but since he has always been decidedly middle-class, I’m forced to label him as simply strange. Someone whose daily attire at home has been little more than his under shorts and a tee shirt, for as long as I’ve known him, augmented only by an occasional towel wrapped around his waist if company turns up unexpectedly, could not be considered “mainstream.” At least, not to most people. And believe me; this is only one of his peculiarities. Mind you, he can look quite handsome and debonair when he ventures out. His sleek black hair (now silver), patrician nose, and pleasing smile, never fail to turn heads.

            But it’s his two culinary masterpieces that have endeared him to our family, while, at the same time, causing untold frustration. We all love his memorable fudge, which is never quite perfect enough in his own estimation; and, as far as his caramel pie…well, we would all gladly die for it. Any maddening idiosyncrasies he may possess are all forgiven after the first bite.

            At Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any other large family gathering, someone is always sure to ask, “Did Harold bring the caramel pie?” Once we’ve been assured that our palates will indeed be afforded this ultimate treat, we’re all able to relax and enjoy each other and the rest of the meal.

            How can I describe it? It’s as though you had somehow acquired the most perfect caramel morsels ever made, and they were now gently bursting in your mouth, then sliding sensuously down your throat on a fluffy pillow of meringue. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.  Some, struck inarticulate by the taste, will say, “This sure is rich!” as though you’d given them far too big of a piece. It never fails, though, they always manage to wolf down every last crumb, often scraping the plate quite rudely.

            But the trouble started for me when my brother-in-law found out his daughter had given the recipe to me. Remember, it’s Harold’s caramel pie—Harold’s secret recipe caramel pie—and, after all, it’s not as though I am “blood kin” or anything.

            “You shouldn’t have given it to her,” he fumed to his daughter. “Oh, Dad, for pity sakes, she won’t let it outside the family,” Debbie had argued. But I knew the situation was still strained when I happened to mention that sometimes when I made it, the filling didn’t always “set-up” just right, and he snarled, “Your tablespoons were probably even.  Anybody should know they’re supposed to be slightly heaping.” This came in a withering tone that really said, “What did you expect? It’s a family thing.”

             Family thing or not, this baby is not easy to make, no matter who you’re related to. The worst part is that you must never—I repeat, never—stop stirring while you’re making the filling, which can take fifteen or twenty minutes, but will seem like three hours. And, trust me; there will always be something to tempt you away from the stove—nature calling, children crying, phones ringing, fire—but whatever happens, you must never stop stirring. Not if you know what’s good for you. That is, unless you’re just fond of lumpy goo clinging desperately to the bottom of the pan.

            I was careful to drive this truth home to my own daughter, Leah, when she got married and asked for the recipe. (Yes, I threw caution to the wind, and prayed that Harold wouldn’t find out.) She listened intently, nodding her head, and saying, finally, “I see.” However, I wondered if perhaps I had been a little too heavy handed with my instructions when she admitted to me a few years later that once, when she put her little son’s baby seat on the table while she stirred the filling, she was horrified to look over and see the seat (along with Joseph) teetering on the edge of the table. While she agonized over the decision of whether or not to stop stirring, sure enough, the seat, along with her precious child, slipped over the edge to the floor.

          “Mom, did I do the right thing?” she cried piteously to me, hoping for something like absolution, I suppose. But what could I say? I, too, had been torn by such decisions. And as far as we can tell, no real harm came to little Joseph.           

          You’ll be glad to know, too, that the pie turned out just fine. (This only goes to show that children are more resilient than pie filling.) Still, you do have to wonder if the pie was worth the potential disaster. But, then again, those who have eaten it will say the answer is not as obvious as one might think.

            Others have asked for the recipe, but I have been careful not to give it to anyone outside my own family. (I don’t throw that much caution to the wind!) So you will not find either the ingredients or the directions at the end of this story. Nor, I promise you, is it encrypted somewhere within the body of the text.  However, if, for some reason, you happen to be around my deathbed as I am drawing my last few breaths.......










Friday, November 21, 2008

Sour Grapes and Wasted Lives

“The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge…As I live saith the LORD, ye shall not have occasion anymore to use this proverb in Israel.”  (Ezekiel 18:2-3)

         God elaborates further on the fallacy of this proverb through the rest of the chapter and summarizes it in verse twenty: “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” I don’t know how much plainer that could be, do you? At some point, life becomes an individual responsibility.

         Whether it is the father or mother who insists upon castigating themselves over the sin or waywardness of a grown child, or the son or daughter who succumbs to the easy choice of laying personal blame on the perceived failures of a parent, the former is assuming unreasonable blame, while the other is sloughing off justifiable responsibility. I am aware parents wield a tremendous influence for good or bad on their children, but the final disposition of one’s life rests upon him or her. Either way, however, another person’s “sour grapes” should not have any effect on our own “teeth.”

         I read an interesting illustration in the biography of the great preacher of by-gone days, Louis Talbot. He once told the story of a young man in his church, who was having trouble getting victory over a particular sin in his life. At one point, the young man threw up his hands in despair and said to Dr. Talbot, “My father had the same problem, and I’m must like him!” “Young man,” the old preacher shot back, “you have a new Father now; start acting like him!”

         Our lineage cannot stop us, but leaning on it can. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Substance of Faith

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  (Hebrews 11:1)

         The philosopher, Rene Descartes, reasoned that the world is divided into three sorts of substances: God, the mind, and the physical, material being. But God says there is yet another substance: Faith. And I would contend that faith encompasses all three of Descartes’ supposed categories; for it begins with God, is envisioned in our minds, and manifests itself in the world around us.

         I think it was Matthew Henry who said that faith is to the soul what the senses are to the body. Just as the senses relate us to the natural world, faith acclimates us to the spiritual. All things around us—nature, people, sounds, etc.—are actually there, whether or not we are able to see, touch, smell, or taste them. And the same is true of spiritual things. God, and the revelation of Him through Jesus Christ and the Scriptures, is real. If one cannot, or will not, accept it, this does not change the fact.

         As I see it, there are two kinds of Biblical faith: 1) Saving faith, which enables us to respond to God’s initial work in the heart, determining the destination of our souls; and 2) Living faith, that responds to the clear admonitions of Scripture and the promptings of the indwelling Spirit of God. This faith determines the quality of our relationship with God and the effectiveness of our Christian lives. Unfortunately, once we have taken the primary leap of faith for salvation, some of us are hesitant to step up to the next plateau in our walk or faith with God. But the God to whom we entrusted our eternal souls has promised to take responsibility for maneuvering us through this life, as well; and He is eminently able to fulfill that promise.

         We say that in order to be able to hold on to something, the thing must have substance. Abstracts like love, curiosity, or pity, for instance, are intangibles. But God says faith has evidentiary substance that can change hope from air to an anchor that can be held on to. Hebrews 6:18 tells us to “lay hold upon the hope set before us.”

        Faith…we need to get a handle on it!   


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Who is Jesus?

  “[F]or if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” (John 8:24b)

         Christianity is not about God; it is about Jesus Christ. Religion is about God (or a god); and everybody has one, even so-called “free thinkers,” whose true god, if materialized, would look eerily like themselves. Since He has been the basis of faith for millions upon millions down through history and today, my question about Jesus Christ is not insignificant, nor is it inconsequential. As the verse in John indicates, getting it wrong will leave you holding the bag—of your sins, that is—when you stand before God. My husband likes to quote C.S. Lewis,who contends that the sheer audacity of Jesus’ claims about himself forces one to categorize Him as either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord God. And to try to sidestep the decision, automatically puts one on the side of one of the first two choices.

         Truth assumes the possibility of error and, by design, sets itself against it. As one reads the Bible, it becomes abundantly clear that it is a Book that presents opposites: the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:6); evil and good (1 Peter 3:11); those who are God’s friends and those who are His enemies (James 4:4); a broad way leading destruction and a narrow way that leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14), to name a few.

         Having laid down the premise that what one thinks of Jesus Christ determines the legitimacy of his or her claimed relationship with God, I now take the inerrant Word of God to answer the posed question…and another.

Who is Jesus? 

1. He is the Son of God and God the Son (Matt.1:11; John 1:1 & 14).

2. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth (Philippians 2:9-11).

3. He is the one who died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead

    (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

4. He is the only valid way to approach God or gain Heaven (John 14:6;

    Acts 4:12).

5. He is the one who will be our Judge when we stand before God (Acts 17:31). 

Who is not?

         Oddly enough, this question is every bit as important as the other one. You see, God takes it very seriously when you or I presume to share in His glory (Isa. 48:11). When we claim to be “sons of God” in the same way as His “only begotten Son,” we have claimed for ourselves the deity reserved for Him. We only become children of God “by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26). He may live within me (Gal. 2:20), but that does not make me Divine any more than Jesus in Mary’s womb made her sinless. We may give our life for another, but it will only save a life, not a soul; and the only hope for our own resurrection is belief in His (John 11:25).

         There is only one Jesus Christ; and what we think about Him determines what God thinks about us (John 1:12).   

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bloom Where You're Planted

“Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.” (Psalm 92:13)

         We could limit this verse to its historical setting of the Old Testament Temple or even the New Testament, mystical Body of Christ; but why should we, when we can just as easily (and even more helpfully, I think) equate it with the literal “house of God,” spoken of in 1 Timothy 3:15? Surely, for purposes of edification, it would do no disservice to the past Temple to apply the principle of this verse to a corporate body of believers in today’s Church age. With that in mind, let me paraphrase the verse and the principle: Christians who are grounded in a good church do better than those who are not.

         The operative word here is “good,” of course. And it should be pointed out   that by church we mean people, not brick and mortar. Nor is number of any consequence (Matt.18:20). A handful of believers banded together in a covenant of love, observing New Testament principles, as laid down by the apostles (principally, Paul), can meet all the requirements for a New Testament church; while a thousand people meeting in a beautiful structure, who disregard Biblical doctrine and policies, constitute nothing more than a social club.

         I well understand there are Christians who have been hurt in some church, somewhere; and I know it can happen in so-called “good” churches. But exceptions are only exceptions because they are not the rule. I am aware, too, that church attendance and affiliation can be emphasized to the extent that some people make it the supreme gauge of spirituality. But the fact still remains, the early believers gathered together in individual bodies on the first day of the week to break bread in communion, hear the Word of God expounded (Acts 20:7), and receive offerings (1 Cor. 16:2). And here is another fact you will acknowledge if you are honest: The best Christians you know, who are physically and geographically able, are known to be found with God’s people on the Lord’s day. Again, any exception is just that: an exception.

      You've heard the little saying, “Bloom where you’re planted,” the thought being, though you may not like where you are, you can still excel. Well, this verse promises even more. If you and I are not scattered here and there, hopping from one group to another, but are actually “planted” in fellowship with a group of believers, we can not only bloom…we can positively flourish!


           “Satan watches for those vessels that sail without a convoy.”

                                                                     — George Swinnock (1627-1673)


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Glass of Milk or a Filet Mignon

“For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:13-14)

         What’s the difference between milk and meat? In the spiritual realm, I mean. We all know in the physical realm it depends on whether you are trying to feed a baby or an adult, primarily. Well, it’s not much different when it comes to spiritual matters. So, the next question, obviously, is who does God categorize as being spiritual babies, and who may wear the distinction of being “of full age?” One might be tempted to see the latter as someone who can explain the intricacies and implications of the Old Testament tabernacle furnishings and practices, or perhaps the imagery in the Book of Revelation. If so, one would be wrong. According to this passage, spiritual grown-ups are simply those able to discern between good and evil. And don’t kid yourself; there are not all that many who fall into this category.

         Surprisingly enough, the discipline that will bring one to this favorable plateau in his or her life Christian life is not necessarily how much Bible we read, or even how much prayer we offer. Instead, it is the discipline of our senses that is required here. That’s rather an eye-opener, isn’t it? Mundane things such as what we look at, listen to, consume, touch, or even smell, all have the capability of stunting our spiritual growth. As important as our daily contact with God through prayer and Bible reading may be, it can all be sabotaged by intemperate senses.

         We cannot, nor should we, deny our senses. After all, they are God given. But unbridled, they can fool us, at best, or destroy us, at worst. They simply cannot be relied upon to tell us what is good and evil…unless they have been “exercised unto godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). And one of the best exercises is a strong, definite “NO!”

If you’re still making decisions based on how things look, or how they make you feel, you’re still a spiritual baby. Grow up!  

Sunday, November 9, 2008

In the Morning

“Cause me to hear thy loving-kindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.”  (Psalm 143:8)

         King David, the man “after God’s own heart,” offers to you and me a few insights on the important subject of morning devotions. As it turns out, it involves two things: We hear from God (“Cause me to hear thy loving-kindness”); and God hears from us (“I lift up my soul unto thee”). In my own case, it seems the former outweighs the latter. I think, first of all, it is because when I lift my heart to God in the morning, it marks the beginning of a dialogue that continues throughout the day. Then, too, although prayer may be an ongoing pursuit, unhindered time in the Word of God is not always as easy to find, once the day’s activities have begun.

         This time—the morning—is the time for concentrated contact. It’s as if the two of us (the Lord and I) were walking together (or “abiding,” as the apostle John calls it in chapter fifteen of his Gospel); but then we stop momentarily to speak face to face (2 Cor. 3:18), as when Samuel told Saul, “Stand still a while, that I may shew thee the word of God.” This is the point in our relationship when I am most often assured of His “loving-kindness,” and when His Spirit bears witness that I am His. This is also the time when I am most apt to find out “the way wherein I should walk.” Here is when the answers I need begin to crystallize in my mind, especially for those questionable things that call for a personal audience with the Father.

         The pivotal words in the verse are these, I think: “In thee do I trust.” We will only take this morning appointment with God seriously and give it the priority it deserves, if all our trust is in Him. If we are fairly sure we can handle life on our own, God’s input will not seem overly vital. On the other hand, if you, like I, have lived long enough to see just how incapable we humans are, these morning moments with the Master will have become not a ritual, but a full-blown reality                                  

                                 THE SECRET

  I met God in the morning, when the day was at its best;

  And His presence came like sunrise, like a glory in my breast.

  All day long His presence lingered; all day long it stayed with me.

  And we sailed in perfect calmness o’er a very troubled sea.

  Other ships were blown and battered; other ships were sore distressed;

  But the winds that seemed to drive them brought to us a peace and rest.

  Then I thought of other mornings with a keen remorse of mind;

  When I too had loosed the moorings with His presence left behind.

  So I think I know the secret learned from many a troubled way;

  You must meet God in the morning if you want Him through the day.

                                              -- Ralph Spaulding Cushman

Friday, November 7, 2008

For Love's Sake

                      “Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee…” (Philemon 9)

         In this little book, only one chapter long, Paul is asking his friend, Philemon, to forgive their mutual acquaintance, Onesimus. This man had wronged Philemon, but in the providential workings of God, had met Paul, and consequently, the Lord. In appealing to Philemon for forgiveness on behalf of Onesimus, the apostle pleads on the basis of love. Have you ever wondered if it was Paul’s love, or Philemon’s, or even Onesimus’ that was being cited? It doesn’t actually all that much, does it? The point is, real forgiveness does not occur without love for someone.

         There are times when our love for an individual gives us the necessary impetus to forgive him or her for a slight—or even a great—offense. And there are other times when not to forgive would hurt a third party, and that person may be dear enough to us that it tips the scale in favor of the other. But, as you well know, there are occasions, when there is no earthly reason for us to extend forgiveness. And in such cases, we must ask ourselves if there is not a heavenly one.

         You and I have a dearer Friend than even Onesimus’ friend, Paul, who has said to God the Father, “If he hath wronged thee [and we have], or oweth thee ought [and we do], put that on my account…I will repay it.” And He did. As the song says, “He paid a debt He did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay.” And He did it for love’s sake.

         Now, for the sake of this One, Jesus Christ, for whose sake God forgave the awful debt of sin we owed, can you and I not find reason enough to forgive those who have “trespassed against us?” Can we not do it for love’s sake? Not ours…or theirs…but His?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Last Word

“Therefore I esteem all thy precepts [authoritative commands or directions] concerning all things to be right.” (Psalm 119:128a)

         I have suggested that dogmatism on secondary things is sophistry; it sounds good, but it won’t pass the test of accuracy. But if this is true of secondary things, then it only stands to reason that dogmatism is acceptable—no, imperative—in the case of primary things. The precepts of God are unequivocally right, and to waffle on them is to attempt to contradict God, never a smart move. Notice how dogmatic the Psalmist is: All God’s precepts concerning all things are right, he says. Period. End of story. This leaves no room for variation or gray areas, open to individual persuasion. Under no circumstances, anywhere, any time, are things such as idolatry, thievery (including the redistribution of income), lying, perjury, coveting (including living beyond one’s means), blasphemy, murder (including the murder of unborn babies), adultery, fornication, homosexuality, etc., ever acceptable to God. We may feel there are “extenuating circumstances,” but that only proves one does not esteem God’s precepts as highly as the Psalmist did.

         Every man and woman has (or should have) the right to his or her own opinion; but that does not mean it is a valid one. Your opinion is as important as mine, but neither one is as important as God’s. One may question the relevance of Biblical principles in a postmodern world, but that only shows the individual’s own irrelevance! Our questioning changes nothing. The ancient world’s assertion that the earth was flat did not keep it from turning on it’s axis. And for you and I to engage in sins such as those mentioned does not change their status as sins one iota. It does, however, change us…for the worse.

         How highly do you and I esteem the precepts of God? As highly as the Psalmist did? High enough to live by them?

       God’s Word is the last word, because it was the first Word. (John 1:1)


Monday, November 3, 2008

Those Ever Present Gnat-Strainers

“I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad.” (Psalm 119:96)

         Here we have a sure-fire cure for dogmatism on secondary things in the Christian life. Having spent a good portion of my own Christian life in a part of the Body of Christ that over time seemed to become more lax on Biblical directives, while at the same time becoming ever narrower in the matter of externals, this verse was a great eye-opener to me. It was especially distressing to find that many of the young people in this group could see the hypocrisy in this and were coming to the conclusion that the direct commands of Scripture could be lumped in with these so-called, all-important, externals. This, of course, led to cynicism, and in some cases, near-ruined lives.

         Like the Psalmist, I, too, “have seen an end to all perfection.” I have seen outward lives that bordered on asceticism, and inward fellowship with God that bordered on nonexistent. For, as I heard one preacher say, “Externals are often used to prop-up a weak inner life.”

It was recognition of the first part of this verse—that there was not, nor would there ever be, perfection in me or anyone else—that helped me to understand the second half: God’s commandments are “exceeding broad.” They, unlike the way to Heaven (Matt.7:13) are not nearly as narrow as some of us have been led to believe. Jesus maintained that His yoke was easy (Matt.11:30). Yet the Pharisees were determined to put a yoke upon the people of God that neither they, nor their fathers before them, were able to bear (Acts 15:10). 

        And they’re still at it. 

        Mark it well: eternal principles and Divine directives are essentials, worthy of genuine narrow-mindedness. Transitory externals, however, do not fall into this category. Those who cannot discern the difference will always be at the mercy of the “gnat-strainers,” and will end up swallowing anything…even a camel (Matt. 23:24).