Friday, February 27, 2009

You Cannot Reverse the Order

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

       “Deny himself…take up his cross…follow me.” In the Christian life, these three commands will not work in reverse order. You cannot follow Jesus unless you are willing to take up your cross; and you will never be willing to take up your cross, until you have reached the spiritual plateau of self-denial. All through the Gospels, the Lord warned anyone who sought to follow Him that it would not mean a bed of roses. After all, His own path ended (humanly) with a cross. No wonder we, like Peter, sometimes follow “afar off.”

       It is not necessary, I think, to equate self-denial with automatic relinquishing of anything we want, or succumbing to every whim of those around us. What I do think it means is that everything we want must be conditioned on the will of God, and that a willingness to give right of way on secondary things to those around us, will be evidenced. In this world of egomania, true Biblical denying of one’s self may resemble martyrdom to some; but, in reality, it is a tremendous liberation. When I am free from the pressure of making sure my own best interest is being served, I am free to watch God work in the lives of others, as well as my own.

       As believers, we are quick to say, “I am a follower of Jesus Christ”; but it is only true if we have accepted responsibility for our own cross in life. And that only happens when we are first willing to deny ourselves for His glory. Say what you will; you cannot reverse the order.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Love Notes

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 

         “I give to you, and you give to me, true love, true love.” At least, that’s what the song says. But do we? There are as many definitions of love as there are people. Fortunately, we have the definitive explanation in God’s treatise on love as found in 1 Corinthians thirteen. Whole books have been written on this brief passage, but I am going to be audacious enough to try to be nearly as succinct as the Scripture.

“Charity suffereth long, and is kind…" 

         Long after others have, or even perhaps should have, stopped loving, true love goes right on. And did you catch the word “suffereth”? You can, indeed, love till it hurts. And the word “kind” reminds of the how the Psalmist speaks of “loving-kindness.” The two go together. Protest, if you will; but I would contend that were there is little or no kindness, there is little or no love.

“…charity envieth not…" 

         Proverbs tells us that envy is “the rottenness of the bones.” It is also the rottenness of a relationship, and it reduces love to a useless powder. It is easily morphed into bitterness, scorn, and finally, belittling.

“…charity vaunteth not itself, is not easily puffed up…" 

      The word “vaunt” means to boast or brag (cf. Judges 7:2). Genuine love does not need to be constantly acknowledged and praised. It is never “full of itself.” Nor does it assume an air of superiority. Love does not say of itself, “See how much and well how well I love”; “No one loves as I do.”

“…[D]oth not behave itself unseemly…”

       By “unseemly,” I mean inappropriate or rude. Love will always choose the courteous response, if given a choice, whether it has been to a “finishing school” or not. Bad manners are at least as much a sign of a lack of love as they are a lack of training.

“…seeketh not her own…” 

       Love is not fixated on having its own rights, realizing its own debt of love as affirmed in the law (Romans 13:8). Instead, it manifests itself by great unselfishness, for love is deeper than human justice.

“…is not easily provoked…”

        Notice it does not say love cannot be provoked; only that it is not easy to do. As Shakespeare said, “The course of true love never did run smooth,” but neither does it look for ways to purposely make it bumpy, especially by provocation.

“thinketh no evil…”

      Love always assumes the best, and does not hold grudges. It may inadvertently hurt, but it will not be planned and deliberately thought through.

“Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in truth…”

       Love is never pleased when moral weakness or wrong-doing is suspected, but, instead, is gratified when the suspicians are proven to be untrue.

“Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”

        This verse summarizes all that has come before. In the end, love is able to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things. The two middle qualities (belief and hope) make the first and last possible. In order to bear the unbearable or endure the unendurable, one must believe and hope in the impossible. That is love.

        “But you haven’t said anything about emotions and feelings,” I hear you say. Every concept discussed in these four versed involves choice, not feeling. They are the foundation, the part of love that gives meaning and legitimacy to any emotion involved. But I am not suggesting that emotion has no place in love. Can I say it this way? Emotion is the whipped cream; but love is the sundae. The sundae is even better with the whipped cream (Mmmm!). But without the sundae, the whipped cream is just sugary fluff?

       Now, before you ask yourself, “Does someone really love me,” I would suggest you ask, “Do I really love anyone?”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

How To Take a Rebuke

“And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:39)

         There’s nothing pleasant about a rebuke. Notice, I did not say a rebuke isn’t a good thing; merely that it isn’t pleasant. In fact, Proverbs 9:8 says, although a wise man may love you for it, a “scorner” may very well hate you. Well, let’s face it; a rebuke is always negative, no matter how positively it may be presented. The result of some real or perceived offense or misstep. One way or the other, something needs to be corrected, and our feeling about the person who brings it to our attention has nothing whatsoever to do with the validity of the rebuke (Num. 22:28).

         The wind in chapter four of Mark was only doing what wind is supposed to do—blow. But when the God of creation deems otherwise, the wind must, and does, obey. As the verse says, our Lord “rebuked the wind…and the wind ceased.” No argument, no accusation of unfairness, just a simple acquiescence. The clincher is the final clause: “…and there was a great calm.” And that is always the result of quietly taking a rebuke, valid or otherwise, and no matter who gives it.

         Here is something else that may help. Jeremiah, after suffering scorn and persecution, says to God, [K]now that for thy sake have I suffered rebuke” (Jer. 15:15). That should take some of the sting out, don’t you think? Knowing that nothing can touch us without God’s permission.

         After what He suffered for my sake; am I not able to suffer an occasional rebuke for His sake? 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Willing and Able

“For thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?” (Psalm 56:13)

       “You delivered my soul,” says David to God; “Now please deliver my feet.” He assumed that if He could do the former, He could surely do the latter. Which do you think would the harder of the two? Actually, from the way many of us tip-toe through life, I would venture to say it would be the second. But God Almighty is well able to accomplish deliverance however and whenever it is called for. As far as He is concerned, they are part and parcel of the same thing, two sides of the same coin, if you please.

        When He delivered my soul from death, that is salvation; and when He delivers me from falling, it is sanctification. The first one is a singular, once-for-all pronouncement; the second is a multiple day-by-day provision for the future. You will remember, I’m sure, in John thirteen, when Jesus was washing the disciples’ feet, it was Peter who requested that He be washed all over. And it was our Lord who patiently explained, “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit…” (italics added).

        The salvation purchased for us on Calvary and validated at the Tomb, is more than just a promise of eternal life, as glorious as that may be; and if that is all you and I take advantage of, we have only unwrapped half of the gift. The same faith that brought deliverance to our souls, can call upon God for daily deliverance over the power of sin. And let’s be clear about it: if He cannot do the second, we have little reason to count on Him for the first. But rest in this, fellow believer: He is willing…and He is able (Jude 24).

        The same Savior who said, “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” also said, “Rise up and walk.” (Luke 5:23)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Flattery Will Get You Nowhere

“Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant.” (Psalm 78:36-37)

         I mean with God, that is. Flattery will get you nowhere. Granted, it will go a long way with people who are too shallow to know any better. And there are plenty of them. They are so insecure about their own worth or abilities that any compliment, especially one that is overblown, is grasped with gusto and given all credence. The worst part is that the flatterer is elevated to a place of unmerited importance, and his or her own faults likely overlooked. Indeed, that is the motivation behind most flattery. The old “watch my right hand, so you won’t see what my left hand is up to” trick.

         God, however, does not suffer from any insecurity, and He needs no reassurance from any of us. He rightfully accepts praise, but high-sounding tribute from a far-off heart is seen for what it is: flattery (Matt.15:8). Today, what people say is considered at least as important as what they do, especially if they say it well. Politicians who can make us feel important, or who can convince us that they understand us, are given precedence over someone who has actually accomplished something. If they can make us feel a part of something unprecedented or (to us) significant, it doesn’t matter if the cause is bogus or even if the politician is a fraud.

         But as I say, God is not fooled. When our heart is not right and we have been less than “steadfast in his covenant,” no amount of liturgy or lauding will impress Him. I’m reminded of  the little chorus we used to sing in Sunday School: “I want to be more than a Sunday-go-to meetin’ Christian/ I want a religion that fills me every day/Sayin’ “Amen” to the preacher is fine, if all week I let my light shine/ I want to be more than a Sunday-go-to-meetin’ Christian.” God will forgive sin, but hypocrisy is something He just cannot stomach (Rev.3:16). The multitudes praised God with a loud voice when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey; but there were precious few with Him at the Cross.

         We should give praise and glory to God every day; but it should not come from a lying mouth and a heart that denies our words. In short, we should praise Him, not flatter Him. It won’t work, you know.  



Saturday, February 14, 2009

Let's Hear It For the Bit Players!

“And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly: For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.)” (1Kings 18:3-4)

         To me, this is a prime example of each one fulfilling his or her God-ordained ministry in life. These two men—Elijah and Obadiah—served God in completely different ways, in completely different situations. Elijah’s ministry was colorful, controversial, and at times, confrontational. God provided his needs in unlikely, and some might have said questionable ways. He challenged King Ahab, his wife, Jezebel, and their heathen gods, in every way he could. He might answer to the present day label, Fundamentalist. If made into a movie, the life of this remarkable man would be an action film, to say the least.

         On the other hand, if Elijah puts one in mind of a Fundamentalist, Obadiah might resemble the Evangelical. It would be easy for shortsighted people to put him in the same category as the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz, a secret disciple, as it were. But if you did, you would miss an important lesson, I think. To question his situation in Ahab’s court would mean that we would be forced to look at those in Caesar’s household, who befriended the apostle, Paul, with the same caution (Philippians 4:22). Don’t forget; it was from this very position that Obadiah was able to hide and feed over a hundred of the prophets of the Lord, who, it is safe to say, would have starved to death, during a dangerous time of persecution. Elijah may have thought he was too hesitant in his dedication (vv. 11-16); but then Elijah doesn’t strike me as someone who would have much patience with a man who lacked his own bravado! I think God must have known we would be tempted to write this good man off (and some do, by the way)…especially in such close proximity to the spectacular Elijah; so He made sure we understood, “Obadiah feared the Lord greatly.”

         We should be careful of underestimating those we consider as being less engaged, not in the thick of the battle. We all have our own assignments; and to presume one place to be more important than another is to assume the exclusive prerogative of our Great Commander. If God has put someone on center stage, his or her place may be more visible; but it is of no greater consequence than that of the so-called, “bit players,” or even those who might be considered as working behind-the-scenes.

         After all, there is nothing more spectacular than obedience.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

From the Inside Out

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1)

         We have been singing a song at church lately that says this very thing: “Lord, I want to be changed from the inside out.” It’s the difference between conforming to the world on the outside or being transformed by God on the inside. When you merely conform, you look and think like everyone around you. This may not appear to be a bad thing if those around you are looking and thinking right; but it only stands to reason that if your admirable qualities are merely the result of positive influence, then a negative influence will generate just the opposite. When the Spirit of God is at work transforming us, all His power is at our disposal, and the result will be you and I at our personal best. 

         The verse lets us know that this transformation will come as a result of the “renewing of [our] mind,” not the rekindling of our religious fervor. Christianity may involve a “salvation you can feel,” but make no mistake; our Faith stands up to any thinking man or woman’s scrutiny. For that reason, our minds should constantly be engaged in our Spiritual maturity. Superficiality is as stunting in Biblical thinking as it is in any other intellectual pursuit; and it may be one reason we have well nigh lost a whole generation of young people raised in Christian homes. One reason; not the only, of course.

       We are often reminded to keep our hearts right with God, but what about our heads? That’s where the real transformation is going on. This is not a one-time commitment here, either. It requires habitual “renewing.” This world is constantly badgering us to think its way, conform to its social mores and succumb to its latest “spiritual” mumbo-jumbo. “Open-mindedness” is the mantra of the day; but I, for one, refuse to allow such uncensored access to my thought processes to anyone but God Almighty and His Word he has given to us.

       This verse promises that if we will accept the transforming power of the Spirit of God to renew our minds day by day, we will be rewarded with the ability to know what is the perfect—perfect—will of God for our lives. Not a bad deal, wouldn’t you say? Think like the world, conform to its standards, and you get fear and uncertainty. Think like God, be transformed by His Holy Spirit, and you get peace and confidence. Not that hard a choice from where I sit. 

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Softer Side of Provocation

“But let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.”    (Hebrews 10:24)

         Provocation has been saddled with a fairly bad reputation, and, for the most part, well deserved. Of the many times the word is used in Scripture, only two or three are in a favorable connotation. On numerous occasions, it was God who was provoked to anger. (The children of Israel were especially adept at this!) The same bunch could also elicit the same reaction from poor, old Moses; and on one occasion in particular, they caused him to “speak unadvisedly with his lips.” Fathers are cautioned in Ephesians not to provoke their children to wrath, making a bad situation even worse.

         On the other hand, though, provocation is one of several sins or faults that can be “flipped” to the right side. For instance, in1 Corinthians, we are encouraged to “covet…the best gifts” (12:31); and become addicted…to the ministry of the saints” (16:15). In chapter fourteen of Mark, the otherwise condemned trait of “waste” is commended by our Lord; and in Colossians three, Paul exhorts us to “mortify” our inclination toward sins such as fornication, inordinate affection, etc. The world says to acknowledge (even embrace) any immoral or aberrant proclivities we may possess, but God says to kill them.

         We women are often warned (and rightly so) of the danger of being provocative in dress or demeanor, in the more narrow, sensual meaning of the word. Then we read of the women of Israel who provoked jealousy in the heart of King Saul by magnifying David’s battlefield achievements over his own. And, of course, let’s not forget Eve’s infamous provocation of Adam in the matter of the forbidden fruit.

         Obviously, though, the inclination to the sin of wrongful suggestion lies within all of us—male and female. And if that be the case, my own suggestion is this: Don’t fight it…flip it!  Go ahead; be a provoker. As the Scripture in Hebrews admonishes, provoke “love” between friends and family instead of driving wedges; and even better, provoke others to love the Lord Jesus Christ by your own devotion to Him. Then, provoke “good works,” not by laying a guilt trip on people, but by unpretentiously showing them the reasonableness and joy of serving God.

         I have seen women whose constant nagging, cajoling, and whining turned a perfectly good man into a cowardly shadow of his potential. But, thank God, I have also seen seemingly mediocre men blossom into great men of faith, with the gentle, unobtrusive nudge of a good wife.

         Make no mistake; we all have the “gift” of provocation. The question is, “How will we use it?” 

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Contentious Woman

“A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike.”  (Proverbs 27:15)

         Men can be contentious too, of course. For example, we’re told in Acts fifteen of contention between Paul and Barnabas that led to their mutual separation. And Paul spoke in Philippians of men who preached Christ “of contention.” (I think I’ve heard a few of those!) But the unfortunate simile Solomon uses (the near maddening irritation of constantly dripping rain) is reserved for women, I’m afraid. Well, a man who lived with seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines could be considered an authority on such things, don’t you think?

         And as if that were not bad enough, I’m sorry to have to tell you that the potential for this kind of behavior only becomes worse as you get older. Case in point: I find myself wanting more and more to contend with my husband over the most insignificant of things. Then I have to ask myself, “Why are you so dead set on correcting every real or imagined inaccuracy?” Maybe it’s because as we get older, we can no longer do more, so we must prove we know more. Actually, the only thing it proves is that we talk more. Whatever the reason, it is not something that endears one to people, especially someone with whom you spend a great deal of time.

         I think of the many times someone contended with our Lord over (in perspective) incidentals, as though He were somehow in need of enlightening. Peter, fretting with Jesus because he thought He was not getting the recognition He deserved; or Martha, questioning His timing when Lazarus died, to name just two. But when I take an honest look at myself, I have to wonder if I would not have been just as guilty, had I been in their place.

         I’d rather be like a ray of sunshine than the reminiscence of dripping rain. When people see me coming, I want them to put on sunglasses, not raise an umbrella!


Monday, February 2, 2009

The Real Facebook

“He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” -John 12:48

 One of the popular social networking tools in our ever more web-based society is called Facebook. Along with sites like MySpace and Twitter, it can be used beneficially or abused foolishly. A nice way to catch up with people we used to know as well as friends and family far away from us. On the other hand, it can be used as a poor substitute for the kind of one-to-one conversation that builds lasting relationships. And it goes without saying, some of the personal information posted there should not be shared with a relative, much less the whole world.   

But this is not where I’m headed today. I realized this week (with a little prodding from my husband) that there is only one real “facebook.” As you might guess, it is the Bible. And here I offer a couple of proofs for my assertion. 

The Bible is the only Book that makes you face yourself. One has only to read James 1:23-25 to know that this infallible message from God is a mirror for the soul, “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). James tells us, when we look away from the Bible, we forget what kind of person we really are (v. 24); therefore, when we are looking into it, we are then forced to face ourselves honestly; and you can be sure God does not use “touch-ups,” or “air-brushing.” This is a good thing. We’ll never submit to a good washing as long as we can’t see the dirt. Until we are willing to face ourselves in the pages of God’s Holy Word and allow Him to change the things in our lives that are directly contrary to it, we are not really serious when we say we want to please Him.

The Bible is the only Book you will have to face at judgment. Jesus said in John, it is no small matter to ignore and reject his words, in this life. When we stand before God, it will not be The Koran, The Talmud, The Secret, or The Purpose Driven Life that will meet us: it will be the Word that lives and abides forever. Any good that may or may not be found in any of these books, or others like them, does not change that fact that none of them will matter one whit when we stand before God. He will not hold us accountable for anything written in them. But He will insist that we face the Truth we had access to in His Word and give account of why we failed to take it seriously.

Are you Child of God and a subscriber to the tenets laid down in His Word? If so, the top name on your real Facebook “friend list” is Jesus Christ.