Thursday, December 31, 2009
A syllabus is a summary or outline most often used to describe a course of study. At the beginning of the school term, it is customary for a teacher to furnish his or her students with a syllabus, so that the student will have some idea where the teacher is headed, and what information will be covered. I thought once, while looking over a syllabus for a class I was taking, that it would be helpful if God furnished such a document to each of us as we began our Christian life, so that we, too, might know what lies ahead. That was my first thought. Here are some of the ones that followed:
In the first place, there are plain commandments in the Bible that one can and should systematically apply to his or her life, if he or she has any desire to fulfill the will of God. Some are even defined as being “the will of God,” and may be taken personally, without ever fearing a misstep. For instance, moral purity (1Thess.4:3); a spirit of gratitude (1Thess. 5:18); and civil obedience (1Pet.2:13-15), to name a few. Beyond this, God deals with each of His children with the same individuality any good parent would. He provides a framework of principles in His Word; counselors to offer sound, practical suggestions; providence to nudge us in the right direction; and, ultimately, the Holy Spirit to say “This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isa.30:21).
I had occasion to offer spiritual counsel to a young woman once, who had (what seemed to her, at least) pressing questions concerning the will of God. I’ve noticed that the devil often takes something good—the will of God, in this case—and uses it as a weapon of torment. He likes to suggest to us, as he did to Eve, that God knows something He selfishly does not want to share with us (Gen.3:5). But as I wrote to my young friend,
“The will of God is not a deep, dark secret. It’s just not always far-seen. It’s easy to become anxious about our place in His program, rather than looking for day-to-day guidance in the place we are now. So much so that we are in danger of overlooking what may very well be some necessary stepping stones to that program.”
At the time of his dramatic conversion, Paul the Apostle’s question to God was, “Okay, so now what do I do?” Beyond Ananias’ message to him that his ministry would be one of suffering, and that he would preach to groups as widely diverse as Jews, Gentiles, and kings, the only direction he received was to get up and start, and God would let him know what to do next. As my husband would say, “Do the next thing!” Don’t you imagine that if God handed out to each of us a personal, detailed game plan, we’d just “take the ball and run with it,” seldom, if ever, checking with the Captain of our Salvation?
No, God does not hand to us a personal syllabus when we begin our walk of faith, going back to the academic metaphor. Instead, the One who called us unto Himself—He, who is the only truly trustworthy Guidance Counselor—takes us aside, shows us the spiritual gifts with which He has equipped us, and gives us our first assignment. For you see, the will of God is not a once-sought-for-and-acquired revelation. At nearly the same time I heard from the young woman I mentioned, I also heard from another—more elderly—Christian friend, who had some of the same questions she did. One thing my husband and I have been learning in the service of God is that the ministry or place of service may change, but the call to follow Him is life long, and only He knows where and when we will be of greatest use to Him in the battle, at any given time.
I rejoice to know that there is a plan for my life—a syllabus, if you will. I also rejoice that, although I don’t have it, I know Who does. And He will share it with me on a need-to-know basis. This keeps God and me in close contact. And come to think of it, that's not a bad thing.
"Lord, what wilt thou have me to do…today?"
Monday, December 28, 2009
Reading the Word of God, or hearing it preached or taught, brings an awesome responsibility. It may not be heeded, but it will have to be reckoned with. How we hear is just as important as what we hear.
As I see it, the verse above presents both an absolute and conditional promise. Paul promised those who were wise enough to receive the Word of God he preached for what it actually was, the very Word of God, that they could be absolutely sure they were right. There are those who may consider the Bible to be only the writings of men; but that doesn't change the fact that it is not. It is what it is. The only thing their doubts change is the outcome of its effectiveness in their own lives. This is the conditional promise. Unless one is willing to accept it for what it is—God's Word to him or her personally—it is powerless to open to them the Way of Life.
And unless we, as children of God, come the Bible with the thought that God is bringing to us personally a message of hope, instruction, or rebuke, we should not expect it to work at full capacity in our lives. Remember, it only works "effectually," the verse says, "in [those] who believe." Just as "faith if it have not works, is dead" (James 2:17), practically speaking, the Word of God without faith is just as dead, as least as far as its efficacy in our own lives is concerned.
The Bible: Divine authorship makes it true; but faith makes it work. It's the Word of the Living God to you. Appreciate it...appropriate it...then apply it.
Monday, December 21, 2009
We are not told directly in Scripture that Joseph was instructed by the angel not to engage in marital relations until Mary was delivered of her Child, so I think it would not be out of order to speculate why he declined to avail himself of the pleasure of her love, as long as we realize it is just that: speculation.
We might think it was because he wanted there to be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this Baby was virgin-born. But if that was his only motivation, it was a waste of his abstinence, as it turned out. The majority of people in their day considered Jesus to be his son, born too soon for legitimacy (Luke 4:22; Jno.8:41). I realize, too, that had Joseph taken advantage of his rightful privilege as a husband, Jesus would have had an “immaculate conception,” but it would not have been a virgin birth.
Aside from the doctrinal and prophetic implications, however, I wonder if there was not a holy impetus that came into play here. When the angel appeared to Joseph (v.20), one of the first things he made clear was this: “[T]hat which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” It would seem to me that this good man possessed a reverence for God that made him shrink from anything that might besmirch what had now become a holy womb, by virtue of the “holy thing” (Luke 1:35) that had been planted within it. I can understand that.
In the same way, as far as I am concerned, the highest motivation for holy living in my own life has been the knowledge—and recognition—of the Holy Ghost of God that resides within me. Peter says in chapter one of his first Epistle, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (v.23). The conception that culminated in my New Birth was germinated with “incorruptible seed,” the Word of God that lives forever. Therefore, it was an immaculate conception, spiritually, just as much as Mary's was, physically. And I, like Joseph, find myself recoiling from anything that would besmirch the residence of a Holy God.
But, unlike Joseph, I do not always exhibit the same restraint. And when that happens, neither God nor I am pleased.
The wonder of Christmas is not only that God came to earth "dressed for the part," as a babe in the womb; but also the fact that Mary's Immaculate Conception, that culminated in a Virgin Birth, can be replicated spiritually in sinful man when an immaculate conception culminates in a New Birth.
This is the wonder and glory of Christmas. Immaculate Conception and Miraculous Birth...Mary's and ours!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
According to passages in Romans eight and Galatians five, the Christian life is a walk. Yet, the writer of Hebrews encourages us to run, insisting it's a race, not a leisurely stroll. Well, when you and I are walking at the upper limits of our pace, as fast as we can, we say we are "power walking." And, indeed, that is exactly what Paul instructs us to do in Galatians five: walk in the power of the Spirit of God. Power walking, if you will!
It is usually assumed that the "great cloud of witnesses" referred to in the cited verse in Hebrews is made up of the men and women of faith mentioned in chapter eleven, which seems reasonable enough. But if they are watching, it is safe to say, all of Heaven is, too. And it would be just as safe to say that they are not watching in a judgmental capacity, for there is only one Judge. Rather, I see them as a huge cheering section; who, having finished their own race, are now leaning over the battlements of Glory, calling out such encouragement as, "Go on!" or "Get up!" or "Keep going; don't give up!" or, in my case, "Oh yes, you can!"
In this race—the race of life— it is obvious that any weight that would slow one down should be laid aside; and the truly serious runner will always heed the admonition. In addition, we are not running against anyone else, so we need not gauge our speed against his or hers. It is an individual course "set before us" personally, laid out by God Himself. It must be run "with patience," because it's not a 50-yard dash; it's a cross-country run from this country to a heavenly one.
Best of all, our goal is really not a place, but a Person: Jesus, "the author and finisher of our faith." He was there at the start of our race, and He will be there at the finish. Remember when we used to race as children, and someone would stand at the end with both hands outstretched to the side? When you touched one of his or her hands, you knew you had finished the race. Well, I will know I have finished my race, when my hand touches the nail-scarred hand of the One who "endured the cross" for me."
Till then, by the grace of God, I run!
Monday, December 7, 2009
It would seem to me that much of life is a trade-off—especially for a woman. If it's God's will for you to marry, as is generally the case, you will have to decide whether you are willing to trade independence for intimacy. If He blesses you with children, you will, most assuredly, exchange privacy for pandemonium! And, spiritually speaking, if you disdain the counsel of God (v.13), lusting instead for the things of this world's system (v.14), God may very well grant your request. But the trade-off will not be worth it. For as one preacher has characterized the people in this text, "They got what they wanted, but they lost what they had."
The resulting leanness of soul that follows a life lived independent of God and Jesus Christ will leave one so hungry that nothing in this world will ever relieve the pangs. It would be like giving cotton candy to a starving man. It might look inviting, exciting even, but it's still just air, sweet to the taste but useless to the body.
Who in their right mind would settle for a good time, when they could have a good life?
This is a terribly sobering verse; or, at least, it should be. We can never alter God's ultimate order, but we can limit His power in our lives, in the present (Mark 6:5). For although we know God is Sovereign, He has chosen to allow us to override His good judgment at times, in order to give us something we think we want. When that happens, you and I have made a poor trade—leanness of soul in exchange for the world's cotton candy.
"Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread...hearken diligently unto me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness." (Isaiah 55:2)
Friday, December 4, 2009
I'm quite sure Judas had not thought it would come to this. We can know this because when he realized Jesus was actually going to be condemned, he "repented himself." Perhaps he had thought by bringing Jesus to this confrontation, he could force His hand, so to speak; and He would be obliged to vehemently press His Kingdom rights, thereby vindicating all those who had followed Him. Instead, Jesus was going to die, along with all Judas' hopes for political promotion. And, regrettably, he had been the instrument of His betrayal. And, as we know, his repentance, as sincere and severe as it seemed, was too little, too late.
Here again, we have an example of the awful seriousness of some decisions. We see them as merely precipitating immediate results; but, in reality, they are often the catalyst for unwanted—and worse, yet—irreparable consequences. It is safe to say, I think, that people who postpone repentance until they are backed in a corner, lack the genuine change of heart that repentance requires. This may not always be the case, but often enough to deflect much challenge. Think of Esau (Heb. 12:17). Those who opt for "one more night with the frogs," as Pharaoh did in Exodus 8:9-10, show more tolerance for "frogs" (i.e., sin) than desire for change.
Before we make a decision to embark on a course away from God and righteousness, thinking it will only be a temporary detour from the path of obedience, should first ask ourselves this: "Can I picture myself doing this, or in this situation, a few years from now...without regret or shame?" If not, I shouldn't be in this picture at all. Because, like Judas, our regret may be, well nigh, more than we can live with.
If delayed obedience is disobedience, what is delayed repentance?
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
One of the praise songs we sing at our church has a simple little chorus that I love:
We will remember, we will remember;
We will remember the works of your hands.
We will stop and give You praise,
For great is Thy faithfulness.
That's what is necessary before genuine praise or thanksgiving: remembering. Praise for present blessings will be shallow unless we understand that the past is what has brought us to where we are now. It is the thing that gives perspective to the present. Not something to hold on to, as a child holds to a favorite toy, but something on which to build a future. And the past need not have been ideal in order to make good use of it. As my husband has said so often, it is possible to transform stumbling blocks into stepping-stones.
I have come to the conclusion that remembering usually ends up being very selective. This is readily seen by the way siblings view their childhoods. Sometimes, it’s as though they were raised by two different sets of parents! I must say, though, that husbands and wives can be just as narrow in their recollections. And since most marriages are made up of both memorable and unmemorable words and deeds, the memories depend as much on the “rememberer” as the actual circumstances.
You and I can do the same thing with God, as well. Earlier in the chapter, the Psalmist admits, “I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed” (v.3). The same man who looks back in regret in this verse, says in verse thirteen, “[W]ho is so great a God as our God?” What made the difference? If you read the Psalm, you will find that the man was going through a rough patch in the present. But rather than leave the present in the present, he reaches back into the past to other times of trouble and then lumps them altogether into a “pattern.” So, of course, he ends up being “overwhelmed.” He could just as easily have looked back at how God worked on his behalf in the past and found encouragement for not only the present but also the future.
Some of us, of course, have trouble remembering anything these days. I laughed when I read a story Barbara Bush recounts in her autobiography, Barbara Bush: a Memoir. Helen Hayes, she said, was speaking to a group of governor’s spouses visiting the While House and gave an illustration of two elderly ladies who met, playing bridge at a party. “As the party was breaking up, one said the other, ‘I enjoyed being with you so much and would like to call you for a game sometime. I am so embarrassed, but I just can’t remember your name. Would you give it to me?’ And the other lady paused, thought, and answered, ‘Do you have to have it right now?’” The moral of that story is simple: remember while you still can!
This Thanksgiving, the sincerity of our gratitude will be in direct proportion to the quality of our remembering. Romans 8:28 is just as true for the past as is for the present. “All things work [and worked] together for good…” Therefore, I can praise Him for it all—the hurts as well as the happiness; the disappointments as well as the delights; and the unanswered prayers as well as the answered ones. Answered prayers may show how much faith I have, but the unanswered ones reveal how much devotion I have.
Because all I have said is true, on this day before Thanksgiving, I sing with a full and overflowing heart: "I will remember, I will remember/I will remember the works of Your hands/I will stop and give You praise/For great is Thy faithfulness."
Will you join me?
 Bush, Barbara. Barbara Bush: a Memoir. New York: Charles Scribner’s Son’s, 1994. p,332.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Sometimes, wisdom and true greatness are not recognized until they have passed off the scene.
In this chapter, Jesus has just given the multitude around Him His personal evaluation of John, culminating with the unprecedented, unequivocal statement, "Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist" (v.11). He knew full well that the people of His day considered John to be crude in dress, rude in manner, and just plain odd, in general. Jesus used this opportunity, however, to point out that although He and John did things very differently (vv. 18,19), neither one of them was accepted by the Pharisees; which only goes to prove my mother-in-law's old saying, "You couldn't please some people if you hung them with a new rope!"
That's why, as He says in our text, it very often takes another generation to realize a man or woman of wisdom and consequence has walked among them. The writings of A.W. Tozer are regarded as spiritual classics today and widely disseminated. Yet, to his own admission, by the time he died, Tozer had, in his words, preached himself off of every major conference platform in America. And, of course, the words Jesus spoke while here on earth, considered by multitudes today to be sacred, indeed the very words of God, were, nevertheless, seen by the majority then as either the teachings of just another would-be "messiah" or the rantings of a megalomaniac.
What does this say about us? For one thing, it says we're not as smart as we think we are and not nearly as perceptive as we ought to be. We make snap judgments because of pride, prejudice, and general unwillingness to take the time to consider the validity of the statement, not just the appearance and amiableness of the speaker.
Oh, yes, time will tell; but it may represent lost time where you and I are concerned. We should be listening for the voices of wisdom and instruction God, in His grace, may put in our paths, no matter how odd they may seem at the time.
Some people draw others to themselves; some people draw others to God, and only those who desire God are drawn to them.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Mark Twain once made the remark that he wasn't bothered nearly as much by the parts of the Bible he didn't understand, as he was by the ones he did. That's kind of the way I feel about this verse in First Thessalonians.
Paul’s admonition to “study to be quiet” seems especially appropriate in my case. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it takes every bit of concentration and will power I can muster to keep my mouth shut. As far as I’m concerned, “tongue temperance” is one sure mark of a disciplined life. I read something recently, attributed to John Andrew Holmes, that reminded me of this verse: "Speech is conveniently located midway between thought and action, where it often substitutes for both." God didn't command us to study "prophecy," per se; but He did instruct us to "study to be quiet." That should tell us something about where the truly hard work is found.
Furthermore, if you and I can keep from sticking our noses into what isn’t our concern, it will go a long way toward pleasing family, friends…and God. No small achievement! I have come to the conclusion all these many years that most of the stress I experience in life comes from fretting about things that aren’t really my business in the first place. And it doesn’t take much of this kind of thing to make us dissatisfied with everything and everyone around us. Even God.
Trust me; this only gets worse with age, so the time to put the skids on it is yesterday. God has a reason for these (seemingly) mundane mandates. They’re the equivalent of taking care of a sore before it gets infected, or a better term might be, inflamed. God knows (truly), you and I have enough business of our own to take care of. We’d do well to stay out of everyone else’s.
Minding other people's business is bad business.
Friday, November 6, 2009
You've heard the old saying, I'm sure, "Your religion may be good enough to live by, but is it good enough to die by?" I would contend that an even more pertinent question might be this: "Your religion may be good enough to die by, but is it good enough to live by?" If not, there's good reason to wonder if the first question is even relevant. John 10:27, and verses like it, make this a fairly reasonable assumption.
Ian Thomas has defined salvation as "reoccupation by God of a guilty sinner, in such a way that Jesus Christ has absolute control." That sums it up nicely, I think. After the Fall, God was no longer Adam's Companion, merely his Creator. When he declared his independence, Adam's internal connection to God was severed. But although his disobedience insured that we all come into this world predetermined to, and preoccupied by, sin; one Man's obedience offers the possibility of a predisposition to righteousness (Rom. 5:19). Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you and I can regain that Divine Tenant that Adam lost. (Depending on your surroundings, this would be a good time loudly praise the Lord!)
This kind of "reoccupation by God" is bound to have repercussions. Allegiance to Jesus Christ, God in flesh, is a given. Anyone who is willing to compromise His exclusivity in the matter of salvation can claim no connection to God, the Father. (1John 2:23). And when His authority is questioned, so may we question His presence. God does not require perfection, only allegiance. He knows we will sin as long as we are confined to these fleshly bodies (1John 1:8); but He does reserve the right to expect confession and repentance from us when we do (1John 1:9).
We often say, "He or she died peacefully," suggesting a heavenly destination; but being able to say he or she lived peacefully would seem to be a better indication. Christianity is a life, not an insurance policy. Eternal life, as offered by Jesus Christ (John 10:28a), does not begin at death; it begins when we acknowledge Him as both Lord and Savior.
I can tell you from experience, it's good enough to live by. And I can tell you by faith, on the authority God's Word, it will be good enough to die by.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Why is it that children so often repeat the mistakes of their parents rather than learning from them? And what's worse, why do their offenses seem to be even more severe? Of course, part of it may be that it is always easier to take the way of least resistance, blaming our failures on heredity and environment. A popular, easy, and cowardly option. To believe oneself predetermined for sin and failure is to accuse our parents (and, by extension, God) for choices we ourselves make.
It can also be an unconscious (or conscious) means of repaying those faults in our parents we are bound to see as we get older. But that's rather like saying, "I'll cut off my nose because there's a wart on yours." Fortunately, as they mature, many young people begin to see the fallacy of this kind of self-destructive thinking.
I realize there are some people who seem to only learn by experience; but, frankly, I don't see them as being the brightest among us. As the little adage I am fond of quoting goes: "Experience is a poor teacher; it tests first and teaches later." If anything, the next generation should excel the previous. Not only do they have access to the previous generation's knowledge, they also have access to its experiences, both good and bad. Of course, what they do with these tools is a choice they make on their own. And one thing is for sure; when the time comes, they alone will be accountable for that choice.
"So then every one shall give account of himself to God." (Rom. 14:12)
Sunday, November 1, 2009
These words are part of the instructions Jesus gave to His disciples when He sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God. With this simile—a sheep in the middle of pack of wolves—He paints a picture capable of striking fear in the heart of any sheep or saint. It assumes an antagonism between two groups of people that can reach the point of animal ferocity. And indeed, the rest of the chapter tells us about just such treatment God's people may face from government, friends, and even family. There are at least two other assumptions to be drawn here, I think.
First, God does not insist that we stay where it's safe. Nor does He suggest that we just linger on the fringe. On the contrary, He wants us to be smack-dab in the middle of some true danger spots. Always part of the flock, but still willing to face the ever-lurking wolves, who like to think this is their world and not God's. Wrong that professes to be right, and blasphemy that claims to be "spiritual," should always be challenged. And know this: they will hang onto their error and their religiosity with the intensity of a hungry wolf.
Second, notice God does not instruct us to play the part of a wolf in order to blend in. Actually, according to Matthew 7:15, it's the wolves who like to pass themselves off as sheep. When you and I are in the midst of reprobates, it would be ludicrous, as well as unbiblical, to try to find ways that we're alike! No, God wants us to go out as real sheep, fighting real wolves.
As to methods of conflict, Jesus instructs the use of wisdom and harmlessness, in the last part of the verse. "Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." For instance, a serpent doesn't flaunt its superiority as a lion might; but instead is wise enough to be unobtrusive when necessary, in order to strike at the right time with the element of surprise. On the other hand, a dove lacks the subtlety of a serpent, but retains a demeanor of straightforward transparency that can be disarming to the most callous among us.
Of course, the real edge sheep have over wolves is a shepherd, who will fight to the death for them. And, as a matter of fact, our Shepherd did just that for us (John 10:11). So you and I, as the sheep of His pasture, need not fear the wolves. And by the way, they may be closer than you think.
"For this I know, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock." (Acts 20:29)
Friday, October 30, 2009
Did you get it? This verse is the so-called "Golden Rule," in reverse. Whereas our Lord commanded in Matthew 7:12, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (in other words, treat others as you yourself would want to be treated); the wise man tells us there are those among us whose philosophy is "I'll treat you the way you treat me." In other words, "give as good as you get." These kinds of people pride themselves in never being blind-sided or taken advantage of, never coming out on the short end of the stick.
The truly bad thing about this kind of perspective is that you end up allowing other people to decide your conduct for you, since you always respond in kind. This makes for a very predictable, unimaginative (not to mention, unbiblical) lifestyle. Once someone especially adept at the art of irritation finds out this weakness in our character, and can always be sure of getting a rise out of us, we become fair game.
But what if—just, what if—when goaded, mocked, or even wronged, we responded with a soft answer (Prov. 15:1), or turned the other cheek (Matt. 5:39), or didn't answer back (Titus 2:9)? Now, wouldn't that be original? Wouldn't that prove that nobody but God can dictate our responses? What a thing!
Our Christianity is seen best, not in the way we act, but in the way we re-act.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
There are many things of greater value than riches, not the least of which is a good name, says the wise man. We as Christians sometimes like to boast that our only concern is what God thinks of us; yet the apostle, Paul, said in 2 Corinthians 8:21, "Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men." If the scales must tip one way from time to time, it should always be toward the favor of God; but as a general rule, God prefers balance (Prov.11:1).
Obviously, one cannot choose his or her family name. A man or woman may change his or her name legally, and a woman, if she marries, will one day take the name of her husband; but that does not change the fact that they bear the identification their birth parents, and more particularly, their father. However, one can determine what he or she does with that name. It's not a matter of living up to someone else's expectations, but, rather, living in the light of inherent advantage (Luke 12:48b). If you and I have been blessed with a family name unbesmirched by scandal or gross sin, we should consider ourselves rich indeed, especially in today's society. And we should be mindful of our own responsibility to pass the same heritage down to our own children.
But what of those among us who were not born with such an advantage? Have they no standard to look to? Yes indeed. For as children of God we carry the family name of the King of Kings, a name that is "far above...every name that is named, not only in this world, but also that which is to come" (Eph. 1:21).
A good name is much better than great riches; and those of us who legitimately wear the name "Christian" have a very good name, no matter what is written on our birth certificate!
Saturday, October 24, 2009
"...the breath of the Almighty hath given me life." (Job 33:4)
"I'll not turn my back on Him now;
He's given me everything I have.
He gave me my first breath;
I'll give Him my last.
I'll not turn my back on Him now."
This was what the chorus said in the simple little song I heard The Inspirations, a Southern Gospel group, sing today. I'm not sure if it's old or new, but it was new to me. The words stirred my heart and my mind.
The word "breath" is found forty-two times in the King James Bible, eleven of them—the majority—in the book of Job. Coincidentally, that's what the song is about. It's a retelling of Job's answer to his (to my mind) hysterical wife, who urged him as he lay in ashes, scraping painful sores from his body, to "curse God and die." After calling her a fool and reminding her that he wasn't serving God for what he could get out of it, he went back to his scraping.
The songwriter was right when she said that God gave us our first breath, as the cited verse says. Conversely, both Job 27:3 and Psalm 104:29 seem to say that when our breath is gone completely, so is our life. After all, it was the breath of God in Adam that gave him life in the first place (Gen. 2: 7). In the meantime, however, you and I have the choice of what we will do with the intervening breaths.
The last verse in the Psalms insists that as long as we're breathing, we should be praising God. Everything we say need not be about Him, of course; but surely, everything we say should please Him. Since our redeemed souls still reside within sinful flesh, however, this isn't always the case. But the fact remains, when the majority of our speech is about everything but God and His Son, Jesus Christ, for all practical purposes, we're wasting our breaths.
I like the contention made by the writer that because God gave us our first breath, we owe him our last one. That's only reasonable. And since we can't be sure when our lungs will expand for the last time, we should be breathing in air and breathing out praise on a regular basis. I wonder; are we bringing glory to God or just wasting our breath?
"I'll love thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, 'tis now!"
— Wm. R. Featherston
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The two verses sound like a contradiction, do they not? That's why a haphazard, cursory reading of the Word of God can sometimes bring more frustration than illumination. More often than not, it takes many readings to grasp its multi-faceted truths, and not many among us have the inclination to do it. This is unfortunate for many reasons, one being the sheer audacity of choosing to disregard the truest revelation we have of God now, and His message to us, His creation; another being that any seeming contradictions we see within its pages only come from our own inability to see all sides of a truth.
Having said that, let me point out what seems to me to be an obvious difference between the two texts which might help to account for their obviously dissimilar statements. Deuteronomy is talking about people (generations, fathers, elders); while Isaiah's argument is against preoccupation with things of the past. One deals with living history, and the other centers of dead tradition. With knowledge of history, we are offered insight into the successes and failures of those who have gone before, so that we might add their experiences into the mix our own decisions of conduct. Tradition, on the other hand, can only tell us what time it was, never what time it is, and carries with it the danger of stagnation. It can hold us back. If we're not careful, we may find ourselves acting by rote instead of reason.
By all means, learn history—written and oral. I am skeptical of anyone who is unwilling to look beyond his or her own experience. Familiarize yourself with God's dealings with men and women in the past, and learn from those who have seen His glory and lived their lives accordingly. The verse in Deuteronomy instructs us to do just that. But, at the same time, when God clearly opens His will to you, forget "the former things." Don't even consider
"the things of old." This is Isaiah's message to us.
At times (perhaps most of the time), God will expect us to walk as pilgrims; but there will undoubtedly come a time when He will ask us to walk as pioneers. At least, it may seem like that to those around us. It will be up to you and I, with the authority of the Word of God and under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, to know the difference.
Know the past; live in the present; step boldly into the future.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
I learned a long time ago, if I wanted to grow spiritually and intellectually, one of the best ways was to be on the look out for other women who excelled in these areas. For the most part, they were older than I, but not always. Youth is not often profound, but I have met some outstanding exceptions.
I agree with Solomon, cultivating a relationship (or, if nothing else, a lengthy conversation) with someone who has walked with God and learned from this experience, is a shortcut to wisdom that is only surpassed in efficiency and quality by your own relationship with Him. The individual need not know you are picking her brain or harvesting her experience. In fact, the more natural and unassuming you are, the more candid and helpful your times together will be. Remember, it's a walk, which indicates to me leisurely companionship.
I am thinking now of people I know who always seem to be floundering in their Christian lives; and I'm sure one of the main reasons is that they are seldom in the company of others who could "help them on to God," as the old hymn says.
I think Solomon is saying this: We never rise above the people with whom we willingly choose to surround ourselves.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
In the last four verses of Jeremiah eight, the prophet sounds much like a gynecologist, addressing the maladies of women. He even sympathizes with them in verse twenty-one by saying, "For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt."
Setting aside the historical significance of these verses about a backslidden nation of Israel, they remind me of women who are hurt, but who look for healing in all the wrong places. Peace of mind in not found in a pill, but a Person; emotional healing cannot be found in books, but in the Bible; and the source of true love is not a good man, but the God-Man. Medication may work in the short run, but it's only a stop-gap, not a cure. Books—even Christian ones—may provide insight, but they cannot claim Spirit infusion. And a good man can meet many needs a woman may have, but not the greatest need: peace of mind and satisfaction of soul.
Jeremiah wonders why health is not restored to the "daughter," when there is a Great Physician standing by with soothing salve for every aching soul. As with all remedies, however, it has to be applied. But, so often, not until we've "suffered many things of many physicians" and "spent all that [we] have," emotionally, do we turn to the only One who is able to say, "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace" (Mark 5).
"Is there no balm in Gilead?" Answer: "Yes!" "Is there no physician there?" Answer: "Yes, there is!" These are simply rhetorical questions with obvious answers. But here's a real one that only you can answer: "Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?" Evidently because we fail to consult the Physician. It's as simple as that.
When you hurt, forget all the "GP's; go straight to the Specialist!
Monday, October 5, 2009
We have come to assume, I'm afraid, that unless one has been a participant in a particular sin, he or she is not capable of helping someone who is caught up in it now. "They have groups for that," as they say. But these verses in Hebrews fly in the face of that supposition.
Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was tempted in all the same ways (“all points”) you and I could ever be tempted; yet, the writer is careful to point out, “without sin.” Jesus did not have to succumb to temptation in order to “succour” (help) those who had been, or would be tempted.
I would contend, the same principle applies to our ministry to one another. Recovering alcoholics do not have to be ministered to by ex-drunks; those who are overcoming drug addiction do not have to have ex-junkies to identify with them; and someone who is fighting sexual deviancy is not always best helped by a former whoremonger. There is a commonality about temptation that puts us all in the same category (1Cor.10:13a). In truth, all that is needed is a Spirit-filled, compassionate believer who has ever had to face temptation of any sort (Gal.6:1). And, as I say, who among us has not?
There may be times when professional help is called for; but, generally speaking, when we're struggling with a besetting sin, all you and I need is a fellow believer who is willing to invest his or her time, prayers, and tears in our lives, whether he or she has ever been a participant in our particular sin. And let’s face it, as Galatians points out, each of us is capable of either role. We could just as easily be the ones in need of help; therefore we should be the ones offering to give it.
Monday, September 28, 2009
I read somewhere, "Some of us are defined by our fears." I considered this to be a discerning observation at first. Then I realized, all of us are defined by our fears in one way or another, depending on our response. According to this verse, there was only one creature on earth completely devoid of fear: something called "leviathan." And if you read the chapter, you'll understand why! All the rest of us, says the Psalmist, are subject to the foul feeling of fear.
The only exception to its negativity is the fear of righteous judgment, whether from a human instrument (Rom.13; Heb.12:9) or Divine edict (Psl.33:8); and the healthy fear of pain or harm that keeps us from doing foolish things like putting our hand on a hot stove. But either way, good or bad, fear is a given with all of us.
Individual fears are part of our default setting. Not our temperament, but our tendency; our immediate response to sudden or threatening circumstances. Some fears fall into the category of phobias, but that's not where I'm going here. To me, fears do not have to be unreasonable to be intolerable. They come in all shapes and sizes, and carry their own personal legitimacy for us. Here are a few of the more subtle ones:
Fear of failure ~ This is the dread that keeps us from trying something new or difficult. I've seen it in all ages; and undealt with, it only becomes more pronounced with age. In its modified version, it gives up after one or two tries at anything, assuming further attempts are too risky. We could say, it is an indication of poor self-esteem; but in the case of a child of God with all the power of God Himself at his or her disposal, it looks more like poor God-esteem. Everyone fails at some things. It's simply a matter of trying—really trying—till we find the thing or things in which we can excel. But fear of failure will rob us of this achievement every time.
Fear of embarrassment ~ This probably goes along with fear of failure, because if one has an overinflated idea of success, failure can seem unbearable. But the truth is, embarrassment is relative. What may cause me untold chagrin might only bring a good-natured chuckle from you. In today's permissive society, what made our grandparents blush is sometimes considered only natural. What made Ezra blush—iniquity—hardly draws a headshake (Ezra 9:6). Still, when you or I respond awkwardly, or commit a social blunder, or appear inept, it is easy to choose not to speak or act at all. This keeps many of us from speaking out against wrong or sharing our Faith with others. But we should realize that sometimes it's a matter of choosing whether we want to be ashamed before this world or ashamed before God (1 John 2:28).
Fear of rejection ~ This is an especially devastating fear because it strangles and sometimes even excludes relationships. Tennyson wrote, "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." But this concept would be foreign to an individual whose confidence is dependent upon the acceptance of others. It can manifest itself in different ways, such as refusal to engage in conversation with someone we are unsure of, suspicion of being snubbed, or a constant need for reassurance. But if we can grasp the concept of our unconditional acceptance by God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, surely the prospect of real, or only imagined, rejection by anyone else will cause us little concern.
There are more I could mention, and some fear(s) of your own will come to mind, no doubt. The point is, debilitating fears like these are all prime prospects for 1 John 4:18. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." When you and I suffer inordinately from fears like the ones mentioned, it's not because we're emotionally deficient; it's because we're spiritually deficient, when it comes to love. When we are more fearful of how we look before others or how accepting they are of us, we are unconsciously saying to God that their regard is more important to us than His.
We sometimes say of someone who seems to show few signs of these irksome fears that he or she is "comfortable in their own skin"; but in the case of the Believer, it can be said they're confidence lies far beyond their skin and goes all the way to their souls. They have learned to bask in the assurance of God's love and are allowing Him to perfect their own love.
I want to be "made perfect in love," because I agree with the apostle; fear is an awful torment. I speak from experience.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I don't think these are words of resignation but, rather, ones of realization. They were not said with a deep sigh; they were uttered from an abiding certainty. David didn't say them because he had no one else, but because he had discovered he didn't need anyone else. When it comes to Heaven, we may have loved ones and friends there, and the roll call of saints may be illustrious, but you will not find a savior or mediator among their ranks. Don't expect help from the Virgin Mary, as blessed as she may be. Nor can Abraham or Moses, whose petitions were so powerful on earth, gain you any leverage at the throne of God. No, when push comes to shove, and when there is eternal business at hand, we, like the Psalmist, have no one in Heaven but Jesus Christ.
The first half of the verse is true for all of us, but the second part cuts the number down sizably. We may realize and even rejoice in the fact that we have One in Heaven to represent us before the Father, but only you can say whether you desire Him above all others on earth. For many of us, we want Jesus and...
I once heard a woman, whose husband was having heart problems, remark that as long as she had her husband and the Lord, it would be all she needed. Perhaps I chose an inopportune time to speak, but, nevertheless, I made the comment that it was good to know, when all is said and done, we only need the Lord. At this, the woman quickly spun on me and replied, "No, I need my husband, too!" Frankly, I was a little taken back. I'd like to think I love my husband every bit as much as she loves hers, but I'd also like to think that the God Who gave him to me in the first place would be sufficient enough for me should He choose to call him home to Heaven.
No one on this earth can satisfy us like the God who created us. And the sooner we learn this, the sooner we'll stop looking for others to be what only He can be, and do what only He can do. If Jesus Christ is our only hope in Heaven, it seems to me He should be our only requirement on earth.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Two little words: "I see." We say them often, and with hardly any appreciation of their significance and consequence. Jesus had just healed a blind man; and the Pharisees, with their usual flair, had managed to turn an occasion for rejoicing into one of interrogation and intimidation. They were like many today who are so hung up on delving into the "why" of behavior, they can't seem to find the time to simply change (v.2).
The subject of blindness turns from the physical to the spiritual in the last few verses of the chapter, when Jesus says to these nit-picking Pharisees, "For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and they which see might be made blind" (v.39). This declaration evoked an immediate reaction from the Pharisees that seems to drip with sarcasm: "Are we blind also?" (emphasis supplied)
And at this point, Jesus gives them (and us) a principle that is found over and over in the Word of God: Illumination adds both advantage and accountability.
Make no mistake; this is serious business.
In a verse in Luke that begins with a concept, whether taken literally or spiritually that is sobering, to say the least, our Lord adds these ominous words: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required..." (Luke 12:48). By insisting, "We see," Jesus said, these Pharisees could be assured that their failure to give Christ the recognition of Lordship He was entitled to, meant that their sin was far greater than the sin of those whom they would have considered to be inferior, when it came to spiritual matters. Claiming 20/20 vision only emphasized the enormity of their blunders.
Someone once said to me, referring to a mutual friend, "He is way too accountable." And I'm afraid the same thing could be said of many of God's children who chronically make poor decisions, enter into unhealthy relationships, or come to unbiblical conclusions. If you are one who falls into this category, be aware that you cannot claim either ignorance or blindness; and therefore, as Jesus said, "Your sin remains."
Thursday, September 10, 2009
The Christian life, in its simplest form, is a walk (Micah 6:8). And like any walk, it has a beginning and a destination. From our standpoint, it begins when a man, woman, boy, or girl takes responsibility for his or her sin, receives forgiveness through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, and takes Him and Lord of their life. From then on, it becomes a walk of faith that culminates in the very Presence of God. It is not characterized by aimless ambling, but, rather, purposeful progression. Amos gives us the one overriding requirement: agreement.
How can you and I determine if we are truly walking with the Lord? Here are two prerequisites for companionable walking, I think:
1. You both have to be walking in the same direction. Jesus claimed to be the only Way to God (John 14:6); therefore, the notion that all roads lead to Heaven makes about as much sense as saying all roads lead to Canada. No, some roads lead to Mexico; just the opposite. And, as believers, it is possible to be stuck in one pet doctrinal rut or always in the same gear when it comes to our service to God, perhaps only moving in circles, as Israel did for forty years. And it goes without saying (though I will), if we knowingly defy plain, Biblical directives, we are wandering solo down potentially treacherous trails. Here's the thing: When two people are going in the same direction, they see that same things.
2. Not only that, you both have to be going at the same speed. Here's where it can get a little tricky. Sometimes my husband and I walk together, and unless he purposely paces himself, or I purposely take longer strides, it's not long before he says something to me that I miss, because I'm lagging behind. In order for two people to actually walk together, one must automatically set the pace and the other gauge his or her steps accordingly. This second requirement is nearly as important as the first one. If you or I purpose to walk with God, we will have to decide which of us is going to set the pace. (Hint: This is where we find out who is actually Lord in the relationship.) It would seem that the will of God not only has a framework, but also a time frame; and in order to stay within it, we must gauge our steps to His. If we are not allowing God to set the pace, as well as the path, in our lives, we run the real risk of walking alone, for all practical purposes.
You and I have the glorious privilege of walking with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We should make sure we're walking in the same direction, at the same speed, always allowing Him to set the pace. I used to listen to a wonderful Bible teacher on the radio, who is now in Heaven, and who always ended each program with these words, good advice for all of us:
"Be a blessing today, and walk with the King!"
Friday, September 4, 2009
Obedience to God almost always means accepting change. Granted, it may sometimes require adherence to the status quo; but, more often, it means breaking rank. In Peter’s case, God’s drop-down smorgasbord of “common or unclean” animals (vv.11-12) was not really meant to change the way Peter ate but the way he thought. As we know from the preceding verses, Cornelius, a Gentile, was, at that very minute, on his way to see Peter. So God was working on both ends. Not only did Cornelius need a change of heart; so did Peter.
I see in this chapter several steps we may need to go through as believers in order to come to a change in thinking about a previously held conviction, idea, or (as in Peter's case) prejudice. First, there is a sense that something is not right—a restlessness, if you will. For Peter, it was hunger (v.10), and that is often the way. We become hungry for more than the narrow experience our nominal Christian life provides us, and we wonder, “Are there greener pastures of fellowship with God and clearer paths of righteousness?”
Then into this restlessness, God, in His mercy, seems to open to us opportunities down trails we would not have thought to venture onto otherwise (v.11). It is nothing short of a revelation. And here is where our previously undisturbed self-righteousness comes face to face with something we had always considered to be “common and unclean." And, alas, we, like Peter, protest, “Not so, Lord!” Rejection. We are like the bride in Song of Solomon, who hesitates to open the door for her Beloved, because, as she says, “I have washed my feet: how shall I defile them” (5:3). To Peter’s squeamishness God answers, “Hey, if I say someone, or something, is clean, it’s clean!" (v.15)
Peter’s initial rejection (and God’s vehement counter argument) is followed by one more stage, before he finally submits to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in this matter (v.34-25). It is indecision: “Now while Peter doubted in himself…” (v.17). For Peter, this would be one giant step of faith, nearly as hard as the one that took him out of the boat and onto the water (Matt.14:29). In the end, he was able to see beyond the threat of change, and he was better for it. And so was Cornelius, I might add.
Now, let's bring this truth home. If you and I are able to see some of the changes we are presented with for what they truly are—nudges from God, we will realize the will of God in a way we never could have otherwise. But for that to happen, we’re going to have to be willing to eat what God puts on our plates…no matter how hard it may be to swallow!
"Not so, Lord." The first two words cancel out the last one; you can't have it both ways.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
A few years ago, I was given a compliment that cheered my heart for more than the obvious reason. It came from an unassuming young girl who happened to be sitting next to me in an English class I was part of that term. "I love your eyes," she said. Then she thought a minute and said, "They're young eyes." I thanked her sincerely. When you're not really young, anything young-looking about you is a plus!
Later, when I (smugly) related the incident to my husband, he reminded me of this verse in Matthew six. As you may or may not know, the eye is not really a disperser of light, but a receiver. Yet God calls it "the light of the body." Not because it originates there, but because it accumulates there.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a "single-eyed" person as one who is "sincere, honest, or straight-forward." This would be in contrast to the one in verse twenty-three who has an "evil eye," rendering their whole body "full of darkness." The way we see things has much to do with the way we look at them, if you catch my meaning.
When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29); but others said of Him, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber..." (Matt. 11:19). Same Man—two completely different visions. The former saw Him with a "single" eye, but the latter, with an "evil" one. And make no mistake; the way we see Him is the way we will portray Him to others. If He is vague, limited, unfair, or harsh in our own eyes, that is the way He will come across to those with whom we interact. But on the other hand, if He is all-powerful, fair, merciful, and most important, real, to our way of seeing, He will veritably shine through us, like the Sun through a window (Malachi 4:2).
If my eyes looked young to that young woman, it must have been because they reflect the eternal life that lives within me. Beside this verse in Matthew, you will find these words, in my Bible: "A single eye steadily fixed upon one object will make the path luminous." And as long as my eyes are "steadily fixed" upon the Eternal Son of God, the Light of the World, they will shine a clear path before me...and they will never cease to be young.
As you know, we are often able to see our own reflection in the eyes of another; and my desire is that this world will be able to see a reflection of Jesus Christ in mine, till they close in death.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Unchecked, pride does not stagnate; it proliferates. And it only becomes more audacious with age. It worms its way into our character and holds us with the chains of self-importance (Psl. 73:6).
Pride is not always easy to recognize—in ourselves or others. As Andrew Murray said, it often "clothes itself with humility." It can be disguised as other, more acceptable, traits. For instance, there is an obsessive, break-neck "Christian" service that is really a neurotic bid for praise (Matt. 23:5a). And sometimes, people who would lead you to believe they are highly principled, are just plain stubborn. Many a so-called leader is just someone who is sure he or she knows what is best for everyone else and is determined to make them aware of it!
It is not the overtly proud individual (i.e., the haughty braggart) that is the most dangerous, I think, but rather the one who covertly draws attention to himself or herself by inconspicuous, subtle maneuvering. These are the ones who bring contention (Prov. 13:10) and leave destruction in their wake (Prov. 16:18).
You and I would be well advised to dig up the seeds of pride in our lives, lest they take root and turn into weeds of ruination.
"Pride makes devils out of angels." (Isaiah 14:12)
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
This is one of life's great mysteries. My husband is ministering almost daily to a neighbor he led to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but who struggles with constant pain and deteriorating health. "Why can't I just go to heaven and be relieved of all the pain?" he wonders. Philosophers have grappled with this down through history, and hundreds of books have been written trying to find meaning to what seems to have no meaning at all.
God does not hesitate to point out the reality of suffering. And to those who are Spiritual enough to grasp it, He offers insight into the lofty purposes behind the pain. For instance, in this chapter in Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the nation of Israel, it was God who led them those forty years in the wilderness to suffer hardship, deprivation, and chastening. And then he tells them some things it had done for them...and, by extension, what it does for us.
First, he says, suffering humbles us. There's nothing like walking through a dry, barren wilderness to take the strut out of your step! That's why the purveyors of the so-called "health and wealth" gospel (not to be confused with the Gospel of Jesus Christ) are not known for their humility. But humility, according to James 4:10 is a boon to our Christian experience, and is the first step toward elevation by God.
Second, testing brings to the surface what we are really made of ("to prove thee"). When we are hard-pressed, the best—or worst—part of us is seen. It reveals what's in our hearts every time. Words of praise to the Lord that come so quickly to our lips during times of prosperity and ease, can seem to stick in our throats because of bitterness in our hearts over the perceived unfairness of God.
Third, in verse sixteen of the chapter, Moses goes on to tell these tired, weary travelers that God led them through "that great and terrible wilderness," with its serpents, scorpions, and drought, not only to humble and prove them, but "to do [them] good at [their] latter end." You see, there's a purpose in the pruning: fruitfulness (John 15:2); and there's a scheme in he suffering: freedom (1 Peter 4:1b). Just as suffering can bring new life into the world, it can breathe new life into our Christian experience. As the verses in John and 1 Peter indicate, it makes us more useful to God and less useful to this sinful world.
These few thoughts of mine may not be the whole answer, but they're an important part of it, I think. And if they bring a measure of peace to your weary, suffering soul today, I am blessed.
"Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." (2 Cor. 1:4)
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
"But continue thou..."
"Hang in there," says Paul. The Christian life may involve much more than this simple admonition, but none of it is relevant if we stop putting it into practice. Christianity is more than creeds and crises. It's a criterion for life. It is not just a "life-style" that bends and molds to fit the current culture. Jesus said He was the "way, the truth, and the life." Then He said, "Follow me." That assumes persistence.
"...in the things which thou hast learned..."
You can only continue if you have first begun. Verse fifteen makes it plain that Timothy's knowledge of the Bible, as taught to him by his mother and grandmother, laid a foundation that culminated in his later faith in Jesus Christ. The former does not guarantee the latter; and the former without the latter only paves the way to hell with even less excuse. But no one can deny that early training in Spiritual matters, coupled with a godly example, is an advantage that money cannot buy and pedigree cannot obtain. And when the Seed springs forth into everlasting life, especially at an early age, there is no greater benefit in life. It is greatest reason why I consider myself to be a fabulously wealthy woman!
"...and hast been assured of..."
There comes a time, especially with young people reared in a Christian home, when what one has been taught will require personal assurance. To say that the Bible is true simply because our parents, pastor, or spiritual teachers says so, will never convince anyone else; and at some stage in your life, it will not convince you. This is not because the learned principles and values are necessarily questionable; it merely means they are valid enough to stand up to questions. Each of us has his or her own method of justifying what he or she believes. Some come to the Truth among the thinkers on Mars Hill (Acts 17:34); others rise from a hog pen to wend their way home to the Father (Luke 15:11-24); while a great host succumb to the Sprit of God under anointed preaching of the Word of God (Acts 2). The only thing that matters is that the questions find their answers in Jesus Christ. Whatever leads to Him, leads to life. That is where the assurance is found.
"...knowing of whom thou hast learned them."
We should always remember who taught us; and this is not as obvious as it may seem. In Timothy's case, it may have started with his mother and grandmother, but although he modestly leaves himself out of the equation, the apostle, Paul, played a great part in this young man's Christian life, as well. My own story is similar. Along with spiritual training at home, I had a godly pastor, teachers, and mentors who nurtured me through my walk of faith. But we should not stop there. In the final analysis, it is the Spirit of God who teaches us, according to John 14:26. And unless He does, no one else can. When one has had the benefit of learning from teachers with such credentials, it leaves little room for halting steps on the pathway of faith.
You and I as believers are on sure footing here, so there is no reason to stop or even hesitate.
Hang in there!
Saturday, August 1, 2009
According to this verse, the truly spiritual man or woman judges things, not people. I realize this kind of judgment eventually works its way down to people whose lives fall on the wrong side of right and wrong; but the fact remains, when our judgment begins with the person, right and wrong becomes blurred.
Paul had quite a bit to say about judging one another. Perhaps because he had been on the receiving end of it from the beginning of his conversion. Even his apostleship was questioned (1 Cor. 9:1-2). At one point, he proclaimed, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment” (1 Cor. 4:3).
In Romans 14:3, he gives us the rationale behind the argument for impersonal judgment. “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth.” You see, here’s the thing; when all is said and done, God’s children answer to Him. Personal accountability may produce helpful safeguards in our lives, but it never lets us off the hook with God. Therefore, giving a man or woman the impression that our acceptance of their conduct is sufficient puts you or I in the position of “master.” And as I like to paraphrase Paul here, “Who do you think you are?”
One of the recognized fallacies in debate or argument is called “ad hominem,” which is simply attacking the person rather than the argument. It’s a method of diversion that seeks to diminish or bolster an argument by pointing out flaws in someone who opposes our own views. And it dulls the point of what may be a perfectly good argument.
Paul says in Galatians 6:1, it takes a spiritual individual to truly restore a fellow believer “overtaken in a fault.” Someone wise enough to know that he or she is susceptible to the same sin. And, as the cited verse says, “He that is spiritual judgeth all things,” not all people. Sin, as laid down by God in His Word, should be named, and the guilty should repent. But when you and I consider another believer’s sin to be a personal affront to us, we are taking far too much upon ourselves.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
“Attention Deficit Disorder” (ADD) is the inability to sustain attention for long enough to be effective in any endeavor. Some of the symptoms are: “failing to give close attention to details or making careless mistakes”; “seemingly unhearing when spoken to directly”; “showing inability to follow through on instructions”; “forgetful of daily activities”; and easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.” Hmm…any of these ring a bell?
Spiritually speaking, do you ever suddenly realize you’re making “careless mistakes,” or, rather, careless sins? Are you ever “forgetful of daily activities” such as personal devotions with the Lord? Are you “easily distracted” by the questionable things of this world”; or is it hard for you to “follow through on instructions” the Holy Spirit might give you? In other words, when you’re “spoken to directly” by God, are you mentally unavailable? If so, you may be suffering from a bad case of “Spiritual ADD.”
The sad thing is, as long you are languishing from this “ailment,” you are forfeiting at least two important benefits. First, you forfeit fellowship with the Father. It is possible to be in attendance at church without being attentive to God. In every service where the Word of God is preached, there are those who only hear the sermon, while others actually get the message. As the writer of Hebrews points out, some people are just plain “dull of hearing.” In other words, they’re not paying attention.
Granted, sometimes we don’t hear from God because of sin in our lives; but at other times, it’s only because we are not listening. Tell me, how long would you bother talking to someone whose attention was a million miles away? John tells us that as believers, we may have fellowship “with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). But not if we aren’t paying attention.
Second, you forfeit freedom from frustration. One has only to read Isaiah 26:3 to verify this: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” It’s easy to spot the Christians whose attention is fixed on their problems rather than the “God of peace.” There is a frenzy about their lives that fails to mirror the God-consciousness they received when they were born again. (I speak from experience here.)
I often think the most non-appropriated spiritual blessing by believers is this very thing—peace. And more often than not, it’s a case of Spiritual ADD. When Peter’s attention was drawn away from Jesus by the waves around him, he sank. And when our attention is spirited away from Him by circumstances around us, we too, are sunk. Before anything (or any one) can capture your heart or mind, it (or they) must first get your attention. Nothing can rob you of your peace, if you ignore it, and give all your attention to “the God of peace.”
David said of the wicked man, in Psalm 10:4, “God is not in all his thoughts.” This is understandable for a lost man or woman who have never known the joy of sins forgiven and fellowship with the Father. They don’t know what they’re missing. But for those of us who have taken the cup of salvation and tasted the goodness of God, to find our attention riveted for any length of time on anything (or any one) other than the lovely Son of God, is to give evidence of an unhealthy Spiritual life. In short, we’re suffering from Spiritual ADD. And you can be sure, God will not settle for anything less than our undivided attention.
Some people say God speaks to those who are busy; but I would say, God speaks to those who are listening.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
As a woman, I wish to point out that this is not the first instance of foot washing in the Bible. The most significant, surely, but not the first; for you will remember, I’m sure, the woman in Luke seven who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and wiped them with her hair. Her service was misunderstood, too, just as Jesus’ was on this occasion.
This kind of humble service, as exemplified in these two instances, is seldom seen today. In Jesus’ case, it was truly profound when one takes into consideration the majesty of the Servant. No doubt, this is why John was instructed to write that Jesus did not hesitate to perform this lowly task because knew exactly who He was, and why He was here. He was God when He raised the dead; and He was God when he stooped to wash dirty feet.
Sad to say, you and I are often too guarding of our own status to stoop to this type of ministry. But I think it was Andrew Murray who pointed out, “The lowliness of a work never lowers the person. The person honors and elevates the work, even to the most meager of services.” We would much rather have our deeds pointed out, praised, or put on a plaque. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet behind closed doors.
Jesus finished this lesson in humility by saying, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (v. 17). It isn’t good enough to know theoretically the blessedness of unassuming, unnoticed, even unpleasant, service to others. You must actually do them in order to reap the happiness they offer. And, yes, “happy” is exactly the right word. Those Christians who serve God and others from a heart of love, whether anyone sees them or not, are the happiest people I know.
Great services reveal our possibilities; small services reveal our character. — unknown
Thursday, July 23, 2009
God, in His mercy and grace, has chosen to portion out a part of Himself to those among His creation who will one day live with Him. To the rest, says the Psalmist, is given only whatever can be gained from this life. This is why, to the lost man or woman, this life is everything. Why all their decisions are made from the standpoint of making it as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
The Christian is not unmindful of the world, nor unappreciative of it; but we are not intimidated by it. This may be God’s world, but He is our world. Otherwise, one would be tempted to worship the Creation more than the Creator.
As the songwriter has so aptly put it, “Thou, my everlasting portion; more than friend or life to me…” The prodigal son asked of his father, “Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.” And I am able to say that the portion that has fallen to me from my Heavenly Father is an everlasting portion. It encompasses all of this life, reaches through all eternity, and will not end until God does. This is my portion…and my testimony is this: It is more than enough!
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Call it nitpicking, if you will, but for the life of me, I can’t see anywhere in this passage where Jesus actually called for Mary. And, as a matter of fact, when she did finally go to Him, I don’t find Him saying anything to her personally. As you recall, it was Martha who dashed out the door when she heard that Jesus was coming, while it was Mary who “sat still in the house” (v. 20). Martha did indeed have a conversation with the Lord, as recorded in verses twenty-one through twenty-seven; but, as I say, I can’t find within them anything that would have occasioned her conspiratorial (“secretly”) message to her sister. Of course, Jesus could have sent Martha with the summons, and the Holy Spirit just did not inspire John to record it; but to simply assume that He did takes a lot for granted, it would seem to me.
But if Jesus didn’t really send for Mary, why would Martha say He did? I honestly don’t see malice of any kind in her actions, any more than I see it in those among us today who feel constrained to hand deliver, as it were, a call from God to the rest of us. They take for granted, it would seem, that the motivation that fires them is (or should be) present in you and me and should manifest itself in the same way. To do otherwise would indicate a lack of dedication to God. But wait; where was Martha when her sister Mary was anointing the Lord with ointment and washing His feet with her hair (v.2)? Why didn’t she rush out to do that? Do you see what I mean?
The truth is, it is possible for other people to sweep us up in their own enthusiasm to the point that God’s will for our own lives gets drowned out by all the excitement. Don’t forget, God seldom speaks in whirlwinds; so we’d better have our spiritual earphones on, listening for His “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19). And you can mark this down—bold, plain and clear: When the Master wants you…He’ll call for you!
Friday, July 17, 2009
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
This verse can be, and has been, taken to mean different things to different people. It is easy to go beyond what it actually says to what it can be made to say, especially if one has a personal aversion to something questionable. The one thing we do know from this verse, however, is that there is a difference between a man or woman who is a Christian (“in Christ”) and one who is not. The Calvinist will say the difference was always there, and will inevitably manifest itself; while someone who leans more toward the Arminian persuasion will see it as a transformation after a conversion experience. One way or the other, there is a difference.
My husband likes to refer to it as a difference in disposition; and I agree with him. Especially when one considers the primary meaning of the word: a person’s inherent qualities of mind and character, essential attributes that characterize him or her. In other words, it’s just the way they are. In any given situation, they are predisposed to act, or react, in a certain way. There may be exceptions in their experience, but that’s exactly what they will be: exceptions. Christians are disposed, or inclined, to act or respond in a particular way that does not characterize a non-Christian.
Obviously, the two groups have many things in common. They both eat, sleep, work, play, laugh, cry, love, and in most cases, marry. These, and a host of other activities, exemplify the lives of both Christians and those who do not name the name of Christ. The difference is, in the case of a Believer, the God of the Bible governs every part of his or her life. His precepts and interests are the overriding consideration in every decision; and their place in His plan is the driving motivation of their lives. When He is pleased, they are pleased; and when He is displeased, they are displeased. His definition of sin is their definition of sin.
When one takes into consideration Bible examples and Church history, it is safe to say that generally speaking, a Christian will be disposed to:
1. receive the Bible as the very Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13)
2. acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God and not be ashamed of Him (Acts 4)
3. love and seek the fellowship of other Christians (Acts 2:42 & John 13:35)
4. be a witness to the Gospel (1 Cor. 15: 1-4 & Acts 1:8)
5. recognize the innate sinfulness of man and the wickedness of this world’s system (Rom. 3:10-18 & 1 Jno.5:19)
6. maintain good works, not out of pity, but piety (Titus 3:14 & Jms. 2:15-18)
Finally, I would argue that Christians are disposed to anticipation of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Philip. 3:20). They are not so entrenched in the affairs of this world, or their own lives, for that matter, that they cannot say with the apostle, John, at any given time, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Their first commitment is to the King, not His kingdom, as important as that is. Above all else, those who are “in Christ,” are in love with Him; and it shows.
So the question to each of us is, “What does your disposition say about you?”
Friday, July 10, 2009
In his helpful and inspiring book, Knowing Christ, Alister McGrath enumerates what he considers to be the main barriers to this. One of them is being unwilling to grow, mainly because one is unwilling to change, which is the obvious result of growth.
Faith is like a seed, according to Scriptures such as Mark 4:31-32, planted and nurtured to full growth. This process does not always, or even usually, involve only one person, as the verse in 1 Corinthians indicates. And, in any case, the determining factor is the activity of God. Unfortunately, some develop an attachment to the one who evangelizes them (planting), not allowing an “Apollos” to do any discipling (watering), lest they seem ungrateful to the one who brought them to a saving knowledge of Christ. Then, we must never allow the work of either of them to overshadow the personal dealings of God in our lives. Either of these is destined to stunt our Spiritual growth by making us suspicious of any change.
Just how far should loyalty go? Only as far as the Word of God and illumination by the Spirit of God allow. The one who points us to Jesus Christ, and those God uses to nurture and mentor us in the Faith should always be held in the highest regard; but it dishonors both them and God if we set them on pedestals, as McGrath says, making “plaster saints” of them. Our faith is sure to be stunted when there is an “inappropriate continuing influence of voices from the past,” he contends. We will never know Christ as we could as long as we refuse to grow; and we will never grow as long as we are unwilling to change. And we will never change as long as we have misplaced loyalties.
“There is a middle way here,” McGrath suggests, “which is open to the judgments of others, yet ultimately accountable only to Christ.”
There is a chain of command in the local church and the home; but there is no chain of command in the Body of Believers.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Friends are wonderful. Especially when we have a need or a problem. Scriptures that say such things as “Bear ye one another’s burdens,” and “Helping together in prayer” show that God meant for us as believers to take care of one another to the best of our abilities.
I think of the fortunate man in Mark two, with four friends who were willing to be inconvenienced and do the unconventional, in order to help him get to Jesus for healing. When was the last time a friend of yours let you down through the roof of a house on a stretcher? J But, sad to say, this man in John five was not so fortunate. There were no friends around to help him. On the contrary, he was shoved aside so that others could get into the pool of Bethesda first, in hopes of securing the healing powers of the angel that stirred its waters from time to time. But, thank God, when there was no man to help him, there was still healing from the Healer himself: the Man, Christ Jesus!
I am grateful for family and friends who encourage me, pray for me, and stand by me through the trials of this life. There have been times when words of comfort and mingling of tears meant the difference between despair and hope. But it has been a singular blessing to find that when there was no one to bear me up, the Savior Himself was there to say, “Rise…and walk.”
Cherish your friends; and better still, be a friend. Be one who is willing to go to limitless ends to help bring healing of heart and mind to a brother or sister in need. Accept the help of those God has given to ease your burden and help you overcome sin. But know this: when there is “no man”—or no woman—who will, or even can, provide the support you need, God can…and He will.
When there is “no man,” look to The Man!
Monday, July 6, 2009
“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
While refusing to succumb to the allure of the “self-esteem” trap, we should not, however, lose sight of what it really is that gives you and I as believers our distinct claim to fame: “The high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” It has nothing to do with lineage, looks, wealth, or even character. It is the summons from God not only to become a part of His family through identification with His Son, Jesus Christ, but also to fulfill the high and holy purpose He has for us.
Think of some of the individuals called by God that we read about in His Word. Abraham (Heb. 11:8), called to leave his kindred and country to initiate a new Theocratic nation; Moses (Ex. 3:4), called to deliver the same people from the bondage of a foreign power; Samuel (1 Sam. 3:4), called to rescue a corrupt clergy; Isaiah (Isa. 49:1), called to bring a backslidden people back to God; the disciples (Mark 6:7), called to spread the message of the risen Savior to those who had seen Him die; and Paul (Gal. 1:15), called to preach the Gospel to those outside the fold, but inside the Grace of God. These all received the call of God and responded accordingly.
Now, just think of it; you and I are recipients of the same high calling. We have been adopted into the family of God, added to the roster of the winning team. Our mission is to determine the direction of own personal course, planned by God, then to “press toward the mark”—the finish line. Our place in the world for as long as we are here is too important to slough off or let slide.
It is a high calling indeed; and I, for one, intend to fulfill it.
Friday, June 26, 2009
“Flesh wounds produce no internal injuries.” I read (or heard) this recently and thought to myself, “No, not unless you allow them to fester and initiate internal rottenness.”
We live in a society that prides itself in “telling it like it is,” even when it really isn’t the way we think it is. Free speech is not always the same as helpful, kind, or even accurate speech; and for that reason, you and I run the risk daily of being on the receiving end of cutting criticism that has the potential of wounding us. But it is up to us to decide just how deeply we allow the wound to go.
Proverbs 18:14 tells us that a “wounded spirit” is unbearable. And it shows every time. Once we allow slights and scorn to seep into our souls, we become unappealing to those around us and ineffective for God. Who wants to be in the company of someone who is constantly nursing a hurt? The verse in Psalms says the antidote for this tendency to take offense is the peace that comes from not just knowing, but loving, God’s Word. There is nothing like being in love to make one oblivious to nonessentials!
How then do we keep flesh wounds from becoming potentially lethal? Well, first of all, we need to recognize them as being just that: flesh wounds. Scrapes, bruises, and bumps that may sting like the devil are not likely to kill us. Then, we need to develop what my husband calls “a tough hide and a tender heart.” The verse says, “…nothing shall offend them.” That’s a fairly sweeping statement. I realize the New Testament assumes we will all be guilty, at one time or another, of offending someone (James 3:2); but it does not take for granted we will all take offense. At least, as far as I can find.
Hurt feelings are only flesh wounds. If we allow them to become anything else, we jeopardize our internal peace and only prove our lack of love for God’s Law.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Much of life is a trade-off. In the case of the married woman, it’s trading independence for intimacy; and if this results in children, it’s trading privacy for pandemonium! This principle is true in the spiritual realm, as well. The context of the cited verse tells us that if we disdain the counsel of God (v. 13), lusting instead for the things of the world (v. 14), God may very well grant our desires; but the trade-off will never be worth it. As one preacher has characterized the people referred to in this text, “They got what they wanted, but they lost what they had.”
This should be sobering to you and me. We can never alter God’s ultimate order of things, but we can limit His power in the present (Mark 6:5). For although God is sovereign, He has chosen to allow us to override His good judgment, at times, in order to give us something we think we want. And when that happens, we can be sure we’ve made a bad trade: fullness of joy for leanness of soul.
The leanness that follows a life lived independent of God always leaves one so hungry, nothing in this world can ever relieve the pangs. It would be like offering cotton candy to a famine victim. It may look exciting, but it’s still just air, sweet to the taste but useless to the body. Who in their right mind would settle for a good time when they could have a good life (Luke 15:15)?
The body may require a diet from time to time, but never the soul.
“…let your soul delight itself in fatness.” (Isa. 55:2)
Friday, June 19, 2009
It’s safe to say, the thing which Paul claimed to have committed to God until the day when he would stand before Him, was his soul. Having said that, I think we miss a great benefit if we limit that principle to the next life. It is at least as viable and, it would seem to me, just as necessary in this one. Just as faith is not all squandered in salvation, commitment does not end at the Cross.
Once we have committed our souls to Him for all eternity, does it not make sense to commit everything else outside our capabilities to Him also? After all, it says of our Lord that He “committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1Pet.2:23). And it was not His soul He was committing to the Father, but His will. We say so easily, “I’m just going to commit it to the Lord.” But those areas of our lives outside the circle of our control, may still be within the sphere of our worry; and in the dark of night, they are apt to rear their ugly heads, if they are not truly committed to God.
The key to victory in this particular battle is acknowledging our inherent doubt of the first part of the phrase: “[I] am persuaded that he is able…” It is imperative that we face ourselves and understand that we hesitate to commit something to someone else if we are not sure he or she is capable of taking care of it. We find it hard to delegate authority as long as we think no one else can do things as well as we. If Jesus considered God to be trustworthy enough to commit His earthly life to Him, pray tell me, why should you or I hesitate to commit to Him all the needless worries we hug to our breasts so desperately?
In actual fact, He is able to keep that which I’ve committed to Him—people, possessions, health, past, present, future—the whole ball of wax. And the same is true for you, as well. It’s not a question of His capability, but our “commit-ability.”
And of that I am persuaded.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Comparing this verse with one in Acts 14:22, where we read of Paul and Barnabas “confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith,” it becomes clear that not everyone who cries, “Thus saith the Lord” is always looking out for our best interest. While Paul and Barnabas were confirming believers with their words, there were others from the church at Jerusalem following after them, subverting souls with theirs. While Paul was exhorting them, the Judaisers were troubling them. While he was encouraging them to “continue in the faith,” they were saying, “Keep the Law.” Obviously, it was not the Decalogue that was in contention here, since Paul reiterated in his own writings all but one of the ten, but the ordinances and practices given to Moses for the nation of Israel exclusively.
There are preachers and Christians who spend their lives strengthening and reinforcing (confirming) other believers in the Faith by exhortation to, and exaltation of, righteous living. On the other hand, there are others who seem to constantly undermine or weaken (subvert) any inclination toward personal responsibility and individual study by spoon-feeding others with their own set of rules; which may or may not be valid for them or anyone else. Law keeping will not sanctify you any more than it will save you. Righteousness is the (super) natural outworking of the nature of God in a true believer, as a direct result of yielding to the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:4).
My goal as a fellow believer is to be a confirmer of souls, not a “subverter” of them. I want to encourage those with whom I come in contact to be the best they can be for God, with enough humility and grace to allow them to decide what that may be. I’d much rather be a cheerleader than a drill sergeant. I want to allow the Word of God and the Spirit of God to tell them what they should do. I just want to encourage them to believe that with God’s help, they can do it.