Monday, March 30, 2009

Getting a Handle On the Truth

“And they watched him [Jesus], and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words…And they could not take hold of his words… (Luke 20:20,26a)

         These people had a real problem getting a handle on the things Jesus said; and there was a very good reason for this: They were not sincere seekers. In fact, their real motivation was a desire to catch this Man they feared and resented in some treasonous remark, for which they could haul Him up before the authorities (v.20). They only “feigned themselves (pretended to be) just men.”

         Before you and I shake our heads piously at such pretense, I feel compelled to point out that the same attitude is alive and well today, even among Christians. The motivation may be different, but the seemingly innocent inability to grasp Spiritual truths is the same. One may not be seeking to malign what God said, merely marginalize it. I understand and readily acknowledge that some areas in the Christian life, where there are no clear, Biblical directives, are open to personal interpretation or illumination. But when Biblical commandments and principles that have seldom, if ever, been questioned by Believers down through the ages, remain outside the grasp of individuals who have professed salvation for years, one is tempted to wonder if their faulty powers of comprehension are brought on by the same reason thieves cannot find a policeman, if you get my drift.

         The rich, young ruler we read about in Luke 18:18-23 left Jesus without having received a satisfactory answer to his question, at least to his way of thinking. Yet the woman of Samaria, in John four, had all her questions answered by Jesus. The difference was not one of intelligence, but sincerity.

         If you or I seem to have a problem wrapping our minds around some basic, Biblical truth, we should probably examine the depth of our sincerity. Perhaps we have a suspicion that the answer will not be to our liking. In which case, we may not want to know at all.  




Saturday, March 28, 2009

Biblical Co-Dependency

“Nevertheless, neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” (1 Corinthians 11:11-12)

         One of the psychological maladies being touted today is something called “Co-dependency.” I must confess, I have not taken the time to read much about it, since these new syndromes are in and out of vogue so quickly. But from what I gather, it is when two individuals (usually a man and woman) are unable to cope in life without the other. No doubt, this kind of relationship could be harmful if one or both of them is psychologically deficient, in the first place; but as far as I am concerned, these two verses in First Corinthians give us a picture of a Biblical co-dependency that is both healthy and beautiful.

        As a matter of fact, I suspect all this psychobabble could be yet another ruse to undermine the Biblical pattern for a husband and wife, as laid out in the Bible. God has ordained that when a man and woman are joined together in holy matrimony they become two parts of one flesh (Gen. 2:23), in a way that compliments both and makes one without the other less effective. That’s why it is so important for each one to fulfill his or her distinct role, without jockeying for the other’s position, “in order to form a more perfect union,” as it were, to borrow a phrase from the Preamble to our Constitution.

       Order involves rank, not superiority.

       Verse twelve says the woman is “of the man,” because she was taken from the man, and nothing can change that Creation order; yet the man is “by the woman,” because every man after Adam has been born of a woman. The obvious dependence here is healthy, I say, because it nurtures respect for the unique role a mate plays, while at the same time, instilling confidence in our own important one.

       I am not ashamed to acknowledge my dependence upon the good man God has given me to share my life; and I like to think he feels the same about me. But, in reality, as the last few words in our text indicate, it is not really a matter of co-dependence, but inter-dependence—between husband, wife…and  God. And, as Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Other Side of God

 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forsaken the law of God, I will also forget thy children.” (Hosea 4:6) 

         Phillip Yancey wrote a book entitled, The God I Never Knew, which I must confess, I have not read. But whatever it was about God that he came to learn late, it is not an uncommon phenomenon. Our perception of God is nearly always biased in one way or another. We are prone to single out certain of His attributes depending on things such as how we saw our own fathers and what we are personally looking for in a god. Both preconceptions are unreasonable and self-deceptive.

         Personally (and perhaps for the stated reasons), I tend to see God, first and foremost, as a God of love; which is not altogether bad, for He surely is. But I am reminded by such passages as Psalm 2:4-5, and the cited one in Hosea, that God is not only three-dimensional in His Person, He is multifaceted in His Personality. For instance, the verse in Hosea presents two actions on our part that can call forth a reaction from God that might surprise us.

When We Reject Knowledge, God Rejects Us

       The operative word here is “reject.” The lack of knowledge is always destructive, says the verse; but when the lack is the result of deliberate rejection, the consequences are even direr. Failure to take advantage of a God-given opportunity to learn truth—especially eternal truth—is inexcusable. Allowing someone else to do our Bible study, when we have a Bible of our own, is nothing less than spiritual “welfare.” In most cases, our lack of knowledge has more to do with our will than our intelligence. Settling for surface answers, and refusal to consider all sides of an honest argument, are characteristics of prejudice and willful ignorance. And according to this verse, when you and I turn our backs on knowledge, God turns His back on us. This is surely a side of God seldom contemplated.

When We Forsake God’s Law, He Forgets Our Children 

       The first time I really read the final phrase in this verse, it struck me with such force, I had to stop reading to try to assimilate it. To me, it is so sobering—breath-taking even—that I honestly hesitate to comment on it for fear of either going beyond its meaning or cushioning its severity. I know what it says, and while it may not hang over me like a threat, it does come to me as a warning. Forsaking the Law of God, as defined by the Word of God, can bring horrendous, generational consequences; and the man or woman who takes it lightly is not only foolish, but malicious. When were you last confronted with this side of God?

       What an awesome God we have, in every way. He says of Himself in Malachi 3:6, “I am the LORD, I change not.” He cannot change who He is; but from our perspective, he can change His mind. Ask Hezekiah (2 Kings 20). You and I can be encouraged by the words in Psalm 138:8. “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.” And whatever “side” of God is needed to accomplish this perfecting, at any given time, is the side He will display. The God who chastens and prunes and purges, is the same God who comforts and heals and prospers. “For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole” (Job 5:18). 

       And just for the record, any side of God is His best side.







Sunday, March 22, 2009

The War on Poverty

“…as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” (2 Corinthians 6:10)

         As someone has so aptly pointed out, the longest war America has ever been involved in is the so-called “War on Poverty.” It’s a losing battle, as Matthew 26:11 plainly tells us; which is not to say that I am for poverty. It’s just that there are so many underlying reasons for it, ridding a society of it’s blight is like trying to push down all the apples in a barrel of water at the same time. However, there is one kind of poverty that can be remedied; and it is the worst: being destitute of God and the richness He brings to a life.

         Verses eight through ten of the sixth chapter of 2 Corinthians are made up of what is called in literature, a paradox: a statement that seems to contradict itself yet expresses a valid truth or principle. I would explain it as the result of looking at something from two different angles or points of view. For instance, if you saw a barn from an airplane, it would seem quite small, whereas if you looked at it on the ground, it might be huge. It’s all a matter of perspective.

         With this in mind, let’s look again at the last part of verse ten: “…as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” It all depends on what you consider to be the condition that would identify one as being rich. Which young child is more privileged, the one with affluent parents that he or she seldom sees, or the one with a decidedly middle-class, but attentive father and a, for the most part, stay-at-home mother? Which man or woman is more to be envied, the one with an attractive, but unfaithful mate, or the one with a faithful, loving spouse. Which life is more rewarding, the life lived for selfish gain, or the one lived for God and others? Would you rather meet God as the rich man or Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31)? Caesar in his magnificent palace or Paul in a Roman prison? Sapphira with her all her possessions or the widow with her mite? See what I mean? It’s all a matter of perspective.

         If God has blessed you with some measure of material wealth, be grateful. If it is not ill-gotten, enjoy it. Use it to take care of your needs and the needs of your family, and seek to invest as much as you can in the Kingdom of God. But if, on the other hand, this world considers you to have nothing, in comparison to others, realize this: If you have Jesus Christ, you posses all things. That is God’s perspective, and it should be ours. There is no currency strong enough to purchase eternal life; and without the forgiveness of sins, the richest man or woman is virtually insolvent.

         I read a book once entitled, The Richest Lady in Town. I forget now who the author was, but it could have been me. I was asked by an atheist professor what it was that lay behind my smile; and I told him. But between you and me, here’s my secret: I’m rich!

         I have Jesus Christ. I have everything.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Characteristics of Carnality

“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as babes in Christ…for whereas there is among you envying and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1,3)

         Through the years, I have heard the derogatory adjective “carnal” attributed to people, because of how they looked, where they did or did not go, or with whom they associated. This may be understandable considering we each have our own spiritual sensibilities. But in these later years, I am trying to discern between spiritual preferences and Spiritual precepts. It seems only reasonable to me to allow the Word of God to define sin. With that in mind, shall we take these two verses from the Apostle to see if we can get a handle on true carnality?

         Immediately, from verse one, we know it is the opposite of spiritual, a mindset at cross-purposes with God; and the signal manifestation is immaturity, with only an infantile appreciation for matters of true importance. The man or woman with a carnal mind hasn’t a clue when it comes to enduring principles. Like a child, he or she simply lives in the moment, making “feel good” decisions that serve to make you look good without cramping your style too much.

         There are three more characteristics in verse three that are a dead give-away to the carnal individual: envy, strife, and divisions. Who would not argue that we are living with a “choose up sides” mentality in the Church today? Many of us have so little spiritual discernment we must seek multiple endorsements before we can even tell if someone is truly a man or woman of God, then we sometimes cling to that individual with something that resembles the devotion of a New Age junkie to a guru.

      But to bring it closer to home perhaps, the Christian man or woman who is constantly causing strife and/or division within a church, family, organization, or relationship bears the obvious mark of carnality. And as Paul indicates, such people cannot be reasoned with maturely, but must be treated as emotional babies, no matter how old they may be. As long as one displays these characteristics, he or she can, most assuredly, be considered carnal.

       Sadly, it is possible to grow old without ever truly growing up. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What's in the Pot?

“So they poured out for the men to eat. And it came to pass, as they were eating of the pottage, that they cried out, and said, O thou man of God, there I death in the pot. And they could not eat thereof. But he said, Then bring meal. And he cast it into the pot; and he said, Pour out for the people, that they may eat. And there was no harm in the pot.” (2 Kings 4:41-42)

 Sometimes our first inclination can be a cop-out.

This story begins in verse thirty-eight, where we read that the prophet Elisha had traveled to Gilgal to be with the “sons of the prophets,” a group of preacher-boys, if you will. This was a time when food was scarce, so Elisha suggested they put a pot of boiling water on and look for something growing nearby to make a vegetable stew, of sorts. While they were gathering herbs, gourds, and whatever else they could find, someone, unwittingly, pulled a “wild vine” and threw it in. Unfortunately, this wild vine turned out to be poisonous. We are not told that any of them died; but suddenly, someone among them cried out, “There’s something deadly in this pot!”

 If you had been there, what would you have done? I don’t know about you, but my first instinct would have been to simply pitch the whole mess in a field somewhere. This was not Elisha’s remedy, however. Instead, he called for a meal of some kind and added it to the mixture in the pot. Here again, I must admit, I would not have the first in line to take a bite. When Elisha said, “Eat,” I would have replied, “You first!” But verse forty-one makes it clear that the pot that had before held death, now held no harm at all.

 In rereading this story, I was reminded that there are situations in life that we would sooner just simply wash our hands of—throw the whole mess away. There are people who appear to be hopeless cases, and it would be far easier just to ease our way out of their lives. Not only that, there are areas in life that the Bible does not spell out as being either right or wrong for us as believers, as both Romans fourteen and 1 Corinthians eight plainly tell us. At times like these, we could very well say, if there’s a question, just avoid it; or in the former case, if it will involve unpleasantness, simply turn your back and walk away.

Well, I suppose that would be one way to look at it (or should I say, not look at it); and certainly, no one could condemn us for playing it safe. Find out what others are doing and follow suit; or never run the risk of being hurt by disappointing people. As I said, Elisha could have just thrown away everything in that pot.

But he didn’t. He took something that could have been harmful—even deadly—and changed it into something healthy and good.

 I might give specific examples of how this principle could be applied in our lives, but I am disinclined to do so. I would not want to make the parallel too broad—or too narrow. I am content to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to you if it applies to anything, or anyone, in your life right now. Why don’t you ask Him?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Up Close and Personal

 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

         I have come to realize that when it comes to the well being of His children, God does nothing sparingly. For instance, He doesn’t just save them; He saves them “to the uttermost.” Here we have yet another example of God’s extravagance on our behalf. For my part, I admit I would have been perfectly content to know God has promised to be present in those times when I am in trouble. But that wasn’t good enough for Him. Oh no! He had to make sure I knew the extent of His safekeeping and the caliber of His care; so He promised to be a very present help. What’s the difference? I’m glad you asked.


         First, adding the adverb “very” indicates greater intensity that goes beyond the normal, with an added dimension. Think of the school child who answers, “Present,” when the roll is called; but who actually is a million miles away in his mind. He may be thinking of everything else but school, and is actually just taking up space. Not so with our God. Psalm 40:5 says of Him that His very thoughts are “us-ward.” And David extols the Lord in Psalm 139:17 by saying, “How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!” God is not just present in my time of need, He is intent on my every prayer, even when I cannot find the words to say them (Rom. 8:26). I have His undivided attention.


         Second, and perhaps best of all, a very present God speaks of intimacy reserved for someone special. It is not without significance that this promise is made especially to those “in trouble.” Think again of a child; this time a hurting one. This is one time when our Father God displays characteristics we usually associate with a mother. (After all, He is a “single parent.”) When circumstances put others outside the sphere of help, and when even the Words of God swim before our tear-dimmed eyes, the God who is our “refuge and strength” cuddles our souls with His “very present” Presence. It is an intimacy that assumes privacy, so I will refrain from elaborating further. 

         Suffice it to say, God is the very present Help for the very troubled saint. 

Monday, March 9, 2009

It's Catching!

“They zealously affect you, but not well…But it is a good thing to be zealously affected in a good thing.” (Galatians 4:17-18)

         “You know, there’s just an energy about you that’s really catching!” A young woman who sometimes provides personal tutoring at the Apple store said this to me recently. I was completely taken up with the things she was showing me that would help me in my latest project of putting together some of my writings in book form. I had already shared my goal—and my testimony—with her, so she knows I am a Christian. (As it turns out, so is she.) I suppose the fact that my enthusiasm did not benefit from youth had something to do with her observation, though she was nice enough not to say so. 

         Someone has said, “Nothing ever happened until someone got excited.” This may not be an ironclad truism, but it is true that enthusiasm often does accompany success. There is just something about an individual who is truly caught up in an endeavor that has the ability to sweep the rest of us up into their project; and the first you know, everyone is following the leader, as it were. But there is a catch to all this enthusiasm: zeal is only a good thing if it is expended on a worthy endeavor (v.18).

         Zeal is consuming and easily spent, therefore, it is important that we use it wisely. Paul told the churches of Galatia that the legalists among them displayed an impressive zeal that had affected all of them; but he added, “Not well.” It was not a good thing. There is an unenlightened enthusiasm (Rom. 10:2) that only serves to disseminate error or facilitate failure. Peter was excited about initiating a building program for monuments to past saints till God stepped in and reminded everybody who the real Celebrity was (Matt. 17:5). It doesn’t matter how enthusiastic someone is about what he or she may consider to be the will of God or even “Thus saith the Lord.” If it isn’t either one, it’s just wasted energy. Theirs and  yours, if you allow them to affect you.

         But on the positive side, when God has given you peace through His Word and the witness of the Holy Spirit that what you are doing is His will, not only in general, in particular for you, then… “You go, girl! Break a leg!”


Friday, March 6, 2009

The Ups and Downs of Life

“And through a window in a basket I was let down…” (2 Corinthians 11:33) “…such an one caught up to the third heaven.” (2 Corinthians 12:2)

       These verses come from two very different occasions in the life the Apostle Paul. In the first, he tells of having been put into a basket and let down over a wall, in order to save his life. The other comes from his account of his near death (or back from death) experience, when he was caught up to the third heaven, probably after he was stoned and left for dead outside Lystra (Acts 14). The two phrases reminded me of life. Sometimes we are caught up to Heaven, as it were; while at other times, we are so let down that we have to reach up to touch bottom.

       My point is this: It is easy to think either situation is permanent. But that’s not the case, and it can be dangerous to think so. Emotional, financial, and even spiritual highs can become intoxicating; and after awhile we begin to think, “Hey, this is life!” But it’s not life; it’s only a part of life. And if we think this way too long, we are in danger of trying to find ways to extend it that are not helpful, may not be lawful, and are certainly not Biblical.

       On the other hand, when we are sick, tired, financially strapped, or just suffering from emotional or spiritual depression, we may think because we see no light at the end of the tunnel, the light isn’t there. But it is; or in our case, He is. Older Christians may have, or at least, should have, an advantage here, for they have the benefit of hindsight. We can look back and say with the songwriter, “Through many dangers, toils and snares/I have already come/’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far/And grace will lead me home.”

       Whether things are good or bad, the only part of life that is permanent is the reality of God and Jesus Christ. Everything else is subject to change. This is true of people and places, as well. God means for us to enjoy Him in all of life—both the highs and lows—for He has ordained them both. Whatever your situation in life may be today, know that God is not only aware of it; He’s part of it. And that, friend of mine, will never change. “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising…” (Psalm 139:2)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

God's "Yes"

 “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen…” (2 Corinthians 1:20)

         Jesus is the “yes” to all God’s promises. He is the fulfillment of every Old Testament prophecy of redemption and the guarantor of every promise He has made for today and tomorrow. I was reminded of this truth while reading Alister McGrath’s wonderful book, Knowing Christ. We may look back now and line up things like Daniel’s prophecies of end time empires and the apostle John’s picture of church history in the Book of Revelation, but these prognostications are often argued to be just that: prognostications. But when God invaded time, lived among us, died for our sins, and rose from the dead for our justification—all in the person of Jesus Christ—He put the seal of authenticity on everything He had said previously.

         It is apparent that everyone who invokes the name of god may or may not be speaking of true Deity. In the end, the word is an abstract concept that must be defined in more concrete terms; and the God of the Bible is defined by Jesus Christ. It’s that simple. He is not the god of the Koran, which may claim to be identical by citing Abraham as a common progenitor, but shows its bogus beginning by ending with the prophet Mohammed. Nor is it the god of the Eastern religions that end with a contrived deification of man. The only God who can rightfully claim to be the Beginning and End, Creator and Consummator, is the one who incarnated Himself in only one Man for all eternity: Jesus Christ (Jno. 1:1-14; 1 Tim. 3:16).

         Without the (historical) reality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the promises you and I lay hold upon in the Word of God are only beautiful words, the commands are only suggestions, and the warnings are only threats. As Paul tells us, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only proof we have that God will judge man for his sin (Acts 17:31). Everything depends of Him, good or bad.

         There is nothing ambiguous about Jesus. He is everything He claimed to be, nothing more, nothing less. And He claimed to be God. Without Him, the promises of God are only “maybe”; but with Him, they are all “yea, and in him Amen.”  

        Jesus Christ is God’s eternal “Yes!” 

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Weaned Soul

“Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.” (Psalm 131:2)

         For the spiritually healthy child of God, life is a series of “weanings.” It begins with very basic things, just as in the natural realm. The word in its primary meaning refers to that time in a baby’s life when he or she is no longer breast-fed. In the Old Testament, it was such a momentous occasion that a feast was called for (Genesis 21:8).

         You will find this analogy in other places, when the Bible is speaking of growth in Bible knowledge (Isa. 28:9; Heb. 5:13); but in this verse, it seems to refer to something more personal: our soul’s relationship to earthly attachments and the release from their retarding hold on our Spiritual lives. Going back to the illustration of natural weaning, a baby is not weaned because there is something wrong with the milk, it is just that he or she is ready for something more substantial at this stage of their development. The milk has not changed; they have changed. Not only that, it is the beginning of a realization that life will not always depend upon the mother—the beginning of independence, so to speak.

         Notice that spiritual weaning brings a quietness of soul to the believer. That frantic looking for the next feeding is replaced by calm assurance that nourishment is always within reach, and fellowship is a constant possibility. We have only to pick up and savor the Words of God and acknowledge His abiding Presence, to assuage any spiritual hunger pangs that may arise. With this assurance, you and I are able to let go—literally or emotionally—to any person, place, or thing that we would otherwise cling to for spiritual nourishment and emotional stability. Each time we allow Him to take the place of what seemed so all-important to us, we become a little more independent of this world…and more dependent on Jesus Christ. And that’s a good thing.

         I wonder; how weaned is my own soul today…and yours?