Saturday, January 31, 2009

Always Appropriate

“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

 To the Christian who is familiar with God and His Son, Jesus Christ, both will be incorporated into his or her day-to-day conversation, by default. It will always be appropriate. This cannot be said of preaching, teaching, or evangelizing, per se. These activities require prearrangement and/or preparation; and in the case of witnessing, prior leadership from the Spirit of God (Acts 8:26-29). But if you and I would not hesitate to acknowledge the friendship of a worthy individual, how much more should we be ready at all times to make known the bond we share with God Almighty, the Savior of our soul.

 These verses, in their setting, provide parents with the most effective means of instructing their children in the ways of God. The most striking thing to me is the informality of the method: while sitting around the house, taking a walk, at bedtime, and around the breakfast table. Obviously, this is not structured teaching, which definitely has its place; but, rather, the day-to- day exchange that adds comforting familiarity to the things of the Lord, and says to our children, “This is not a lesson; it’s a life. 

But as I see it, the same principle should carry over into daily contact with others. Not with the designated responsibility of a parent but with the inevitable sharing of close to the surface feelings. That’s why I make the distinction between this and so-called “official” ministering. What I’m talking about is being able to speak the name of Jesus Christ in such a way that to those around us, saved or lost, we don’t come across as just being “religious”….but related. 

The key to all this is found in the first part of the verse: “…these words…shall be in thine heart.” You will not be around me very long before you hear something about my husband, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren; because whatever is close to the heart is quick to the tongue! And, frankly, I will not be long in the company of anyone who refuses to hear the name of Jesus Christ. I won’t preach, but I can’t help but brag. God says, to do otherwise would be inappropriate behavior.

“For whosoever shall be ashamed of me…of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed.  (Luke 9:26)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ready to Forgive

“For thou, LORD, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” (Psalm 86:5)

         God is more willing to forgive than we are to be forgiven. Often, you and I are waiting to see if we really mean it, as though wallowing in guilt (self-pity?) is an indication of sincerity. On the contrary, sometimes it can be a play for a claim to “mitigating circumstances.” If we are sorry enough for our sin to be willing to give it up, we should never hesitate to ask our Heavenly Father to forgive us.

         Think of this: He forgave our sins when we were not yet His children; so it would only stand to reason He would be more inclined to forgive us now that we are related by blood? That’s the operative word here—Blood. As the old saying goes, “Blood is thicker than water”; and when that blood is sinless, it is even more binding. Second Timothy 2:13 tells us, “He cannot deny himself,” and for God to deny me, He would have to deny His Son, because Jesus and I are real, honest-to-goodness “Blood-brothers!”

         When I read this verse in Psalm 86, I can’t help thinking of the prodigal son’s father in Luke fifteen. I see Him patiently waiting and watching, while I am still “a great way off,” then running to embrace me in His great arms of love. As the verse says, He is good, He is plenteous in mercy…and He is ready to forgive.

         Are you ready to be forgiven? 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Stiff-Necked or Stiff-Hearted?

              “For they are impudent and stiffhearted…”  (Ezekiel 2:4)

         In Exodus 32:9, God describes Israel as being “stiffnecked”; but this indictment in Ezekiel is even more serious, to my way of thinking. The former, though surely reprehensible, is an external characteristic, readily seen. But the latter, a stiff, implacable heart, is a hidden, insidious, and far more lethal condition.

         Stiff-necked individuals are stubborn diehards; and whether it is a spouse, child, student, pastor, elder, or parishioner, they can always be counted on to voice resistance, even before an objective hearing of a matter. Whatever their motivation, these people are hard to work with, hard to serve the Lord with, and harder still to live with. 

         Even more dangerous, however, is the man or woman who stiffens his or her heart to a plea for pity or understanding from a Christian brother or sister, or worse yet, from a loved one. I wonder if these people are aware that the same stiff-heartedness they display to those around them is only a reflection of their attitude toward God Himself and His appeals to them? (Matt. 25:40)

         A stiff neck can be worked out through purposeful, if painful, manipulation; but a stiff heart will require invasive surgery by a skilled Physician. Mercy is an attribute of God, and only He can make a hard heart soft (Job 23:16). This should not be taken lightly. For beware: James 2:13 warns, the man or woman who shows no mercy to others calls down upon himself or herself “judgment without mercy.” 

“He who will not forgive others breaks down the bridge over which he himself must travel.” — Spencer W. Kimball

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Peacemaker or Problem-maker?

“But he that did his neighbor wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and judge over us?”  (Acts 7:27)

         You should know by now that I have high regard for the peacemakers of this world. Not the ones who broker dishonorable peace, of course, but those who oil the wheels of compromise in minor disputes. Still, there can be a negative aspect to this noble endeavor, especially when it is allowed to run amuck into unwanted, unwarranted intervention. No one likes a buttinsky, no matter how noble his or her motivation may be. 

         In Acts seven, Deacon Stephen is giving his listeners a history lesson on the nation of Israel. (One that ended in his being stoned to death, by the way.) And in recounting the story of Moses, he shares how this man’s well-intentioned interference backfired on him (Exodus 2:11-14). The circumstances were certainly ideal for a peacemaker, but the man who rebuffed Moses was right; no one had made him a judge yet. Not until after his burning bush experience would Moses have a mandate from God, and, therefore, a right to intervene. To him, he was just another meddler and Moses ended up having to get out of Dodge quick!

         It’s so easy in the heat of the moment to jump in the middle of the fray to champion a cause or interject a solution; when, really, we have had no direction from God to do so. And in many cases, we end by doing more harm than good. It’s a short step over the line between being a peacemaker to becoming a problem-maker, and it often takes the restraining Spirit of God to stop us in our tracks…and, sometimes, not even then.

         Some of us who think we’re taking the bull by the horns are really taking a dog by the ears. (Proverbs 26:17)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Won't Dance

“But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.” (Matthew 11:16-17)

 This world, says Jesus, expects us to react to things the way they do and see things as they see them. In short, they expect us to dance when their pipers pipe. If you do not, you are considered to be out of step. But considering how erratic and fickle are the fads and fancies of this world, trying to keep in step requires constant dancing lessons, which a corrupt media is only too happy to provide. To these “leaping lemmings” Jesus says, “Grow up!” Impressionable children and immature adults will always fall prey to peer pressure. But here are a few dance steps I personally refuse to learn.

I refuse to substitute a philosophy of pluralism for the Biblical doctrine of salvation. Either Jesus was telling the truth when He claimed to be the only way to Heaven (John 14:6), or He was as big of a fraud as Buddha or Mohammed. One may believe that all sincere people, no matter who or what they trust in, will end up in the same place after death, but they cannot be a Christian and believe it. There is only one Mediator between God and men: it is Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5).

I don’t care if the whole world—secular or religious—plays this tune. I won’t dance.

Nor can I bring myself to equate the execution of a cold-blooded killer with the murder of an innocent child in the womb. They may claim it is hypocritical to be against abortion but for capital punishment; but if so, it is just as hypocritical to be for abortion but against capital punishment. In both cases, death is the result. In the case of the killer, further lives he or she might have taken are saved. When the life of the baby is extinguished, the lives that might have come from him or her are lost forever. You tell me which execution indicates a healthy society. 

This is society’s funeral dirge. I won’t dance.

Not only that, but I find it beyond my power to view sexual intercourse between two individuals of the same sex as anything but unnatural. As the song says, “What’s love got to do with it?” If love is the only prerequisite for sex, promiscuity is the only logical response. To assume that I am somehow strange or bigoted because I am sickened by the idea of something that was considered a shameful perversion until relatively recently, only proves that one is woefully ignorant of both history and the Bible.

This macabre Hokey-Pokey is not my style. I won’t dance.

Finally, I decline the invitation to join in the celebration of a new president simply because he is black (or rather half-black). That would indicate a racist mentality, which is outside both my thinking and experience. I refuse to set aside the fact that this young man was a junior senator who incubated in, and rose out of, the infamous cesspool of Chicago politics, whose resume included such items as tutelage under (personally sought out) socialist university professors, personal and professional ties with anarchists and terrorists, while providing legal advice and on-job training to an activist organization charged with voter fraud. This should give pause to any thinking person. When the bravest among us, who stand daily between us and our mortal enemies, doubt a man’s moral capability to lead, I’m suspicious too. To my way of thinking, judging a man by the color of his skin instead of the caliber of his character says that the only real change some were looking for was a color change. This kind of blind adoration looks strangely like a follow-the-leader routine to me. 

In all intellectual honesty, I cannot bring myself to join this Congo Line. I won’t dance. 

The pipers of this world are playing. The tune may change, but the beat is always the same: Fall in line; join the crowd; don’t make waves; sit back down. Some of us, however, hear a different Drummer, and all that matters to us is whether or not we are in step with Him. To us, these pipers are really just snake-charmers; and to them we say….We won’t dance!




Blind Man's Bluff

“ He that loveth his brother abideth in light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and knoweth not wither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. “ (1 John 2:10-11)

         I think we could safely say that the distance between a Christian and a non-Christian can be measured in light years (In case you’ve forgotten, 1 light year = about 5.88 trillion miles). The first two chapters of this book make this kind of distinction abundantly clear. But, as this verse indicates, to some extent, Christians can fall prey to this phenomenon, as well. It is possible for God’s children to experience temporary darkness, as one might if he or she is rendered unconscious; but it is virtually impossible for someone who is filled with the Light of the Universe to remain in permanent darkness.

         What causes this temporary darkness? Well, as these verses indicate, one thing that will do it every time is hatred. They may say, “Love is blind”; but, in reality, it is hate that lacks real insight, or “inner light,” if you will. In fact, according to this verse, hate can be so blinding, you can’t even see where you’re going. (“…knoweth not whither he goeth…”) Sometimes, we piously insist that we really don’t hate; we just strongly dislike a brother or sister in Christ. But I’m afraid the line between the two can become so blurred we stumble over the line without being conscious of it. That’s all part of blindness.

         David said in Psalm 139 that he was able to hate the enemies of God with a “perfect hatred,” but he never included fellow believers in this category. These verses in 1 John are spoken to you and me, because it is possible to allow hatred for a brother or sister in Christ to worm its way into our regenerated hearts. For that reason, we should be on our guard against strong and/or prolonged feelings of resentment against a fellow believer. 

      We just might wake up one day and find ourselves stumbling around in the dark.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Season To Taste

“Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. (Colossians 4:6)

         I am afraid we sometimes get the instructions in this verse just backward. Our speech can easily get heavy on the salt with only a bit of grace sprinkled in here and there. Paul warns us about this, because it is important to know how as well as what to answer.

         We all know salt can give just the right zing to many foods, but have you ever cooked a pot of soup or beans and made the mistake of adding too much salt? Blaaa! I know they say you can throw in a potato and cook it a bit longer to soak up the saltiness; but, frankly, I’ve never had much luck with that tactic. No, once it’s there, it’s there, and you just have to be prepared for the complaints. The preventive, of course, is to salt sparingly, realizing you can add more later, if need be.

         It’s the same way with our speech. Go ahead and throw in lots of grace; it only sweetens the pot. But when it comes to the saltshaker, have a care. Salt is only appreciated if it not overpowering. And, likewise, an occasional sting in a conversation will engage someone’s attention far more if it isn’t dished out on a regular basis.

         You can tell a good cook by the way she seasons her food; and you can tell a wise woman by the way she seasons her speech.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Have It Your Own Way...Or Not

“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him. (Job 13:15)

         These two clauses cancel out one another. As long as we insist upon maintaining our own way, you are not trusting God. I hesitate to criticize Job adding one more voice to the chorus of his fault-finders; but we must learn all we can from him, since he is given to us for an example (James 5). The fact that this good man admitted to wanting his own way should give us good reason to assume the same tendency in ourselves.

         Personally, I find myself constantly prearranging in my own mind just the way I want situations to unfold, and how I expect those around me to conduct themselves in order to bring my ideas (ideals?) to pass. And if my plans are thwarted, I assume everything is ruined; when, all along, God, from His vantage point of omnipotence, is conducting business as usual.

         Let’s contrast this verse in Job to one in Isaiah: 

“If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shall honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words…” (Isaiah 58:13)

         The next verse tells us the reward for those who are not worried about having their own way, or whose interest is not always focused on their own pleasure, and do not consider their own words to be pearls of wisdom:

“Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

         When you reach the place in life where you’re happier with God’s way than your own, you’ll be ridin’ high and feedin’ fancy, my friend! That’s what God says.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Good Girl

“That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” (Titus 2:4-5)

         Two young men in my presence recently, on separate occasions, offered this compliment of the young women they are both seeing now: “She’s a good girl.” I thought to myself this is something you don’t hear as often today. Either because it is not considered as important as it used to be, or because it is so loosely defined now. When I heard it, I immediately thought of these verses in Titus, where Paul gives the “aged women” guidelines on how to instruct the younger women in local churches, or at home.

         This passage surrounds the adjective “good” with others like it that help us understand just what God means by the term. It should be obvious, a good girl is not a perfect girl; but a good girl is not a bad girl, either. Is that too simplistic? If so, we may be maneuvering for wiggle room here. When one reads such words as sober, discreet, and chaste, it should not be too hard to see what the apostle is driving at. And in fact, in both instances, the young men I referred to let me know that their young ladies were virgins. They have other qualities that may boost them into the “good” bracket, I know; but both men still considered this to be one of the best indications that the adjective “good” was applicable to their lady-love

         I felt constrained to make this illustrative and Biblical observation not to discourage any single girl or woman who has lost her virtue (How’s that for an old-fashioned term?), but rather to encourage the others, who have been, and are now, staying true to the high calling of chastity before marriage. The blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to cleanse any sin, but virginity cannot be reclaimed any more than a burn can be “unburned.” 

      I fear sometimes we elevate forgiveness above abstinence.

      And of such reasoning, Paul said, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid (Rom.6:1-2a). And God forbid that we ever lower our unequivocally Biblical standards of morality to accommodate the licentious whims of a corrupt culture. When God needed a woman to facilitate the entrance of His Son into time to save the world, He chose a virgin; and He hasn’t changed His preferences. He’s still looking for a few good women. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Personal Touch

“And they brought unto him infants, that he would touch them; but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:15-16)

         In Mark’s account of this event, we find out that Jesus was “much displeased” with his disciples for trying to hinder little children from coming to Him. The disciples were like many today who fail to understand the importance of time spent with children—their own or other people’s. They are obviously ignorant of their lofty position in the Kingdom of God. Those who work in rescue missions, prisons, or other “adult” ministries, are only mopping up the water; while those who teach and train children are turning off the spigot.

         This story, found in three of the Gospels, tells us three things: 1) The children were “brought” to Jesus. Their parents (assuming that’s who brought them) did not say, “I’ll just wait till they’re old enough to decide for themselves before I expose them to religion.” Children need guidance, and that includes Spiritual matters. Obviously, some adult needs to take responsibility for this. 2) These parents did not assume that if they knew Jesus, that would be sufficient for their children. Salvation is neither inherited nor absorbed; it must be experienced individually. 3) Jesus believed in “the personal touch.” No mass evangelism here. Children are masters at reading the message in a touch; and oh, what that touch must have said to them!

         I return now to my original thought. Jesus is still displeased with people ho hinder children from coming to Him, or who neglect their Spiritual growth. There are parents who are careful to see that their children are well fed, but think nothing of allowing them to suffer Spiritual malnutrition. By the way, you have noticed I’m sure that I am always careful to differentiate between Holy Spirit matters and mere “spiritualism,” as found in everything from voodoo worship to New Age fantasies, by the use of the upper-case “S,” in the former. There is a vast difference between thinking beyond this present, material world and living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

         You and I should take very seriously the Biblical instruction of children, whether it be our own or others’, in a Sunday School setting, for instance. Remember, these are the ones among us who are the closest to the Kingdom.