Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Seizing Their Spears

“And he [Beniah] slew an Egyptian, a goodly man: and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand; but he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and slew him with his own spear. (2 Samuel 23:21)

       This incident from the story of “David’s mighty men,” as they are called, suggests a truth to me that is sometimes overlooked. Just as this man managed to overpower an enemy, take his weapon, and then defeat him, it is possible to seize from this world weapons they have come to believe are their own, and use them to fight the good fight of faith.

       This is not to refute 2 Corinthians 10:4, where we read that, as Christians, we fight our battles with spiritual, not carnal weapons. But a gun seized from a terrorist and used to save lives changes from being a weapon of destruction to an instrument of peace. And this is true of any Biblically legitimate tool in the hands of a spirit-filled believer. As Jesus pointed out in Luke 16:8, the “children of the world” are often wiser than the “children of light.” And we know from the context, He was not commending their motivation, but their methods.

       For many years now, this world has wrongly assumed that things such as education, bestselling books, policy, and entertainment were their domains exclusively. And accordingly, they have used venues like these to lambaste Christians and the Bible. But with the phenomenal growth of Christian education, Christian bestsellers, unashamedly Christian politicians, as well as the popularity of movies, if not overtly Christian, at least endorsing Biblical values, we have succeeded in taking some of the “spears” this world has been wielding against us for far too long, and drawing some blood ourselves. Our efforts may, or may not, eventually lead to cultural conquest of the enemy, depending on one’s view of eschatology, but one thing is certain: It’s always right to contend for the faith (Jude 3) in every legitimate arena.

       We should understand that whatever profession or endeavor God may lead us into, is a place where He expects us to take the offense in contending for Biblical principles, using all the lawful weapons at our disposal. This world system may have its princes (1 Cor. 2:6), but God is still the “King over all the earth” (Psl. 47:2).

 Relinquish nothing but sin; that’s all this world can legitimately lay claim to.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Heaven on Earth

“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

         The closest thing to heaven on earth is the will of God. That thought occurred to me recently, as we were reciting what is commonly called, “The Lord’s Prayer,” in the church where our son, Andrew, ministers the Word. When the Kingdom of God is fully realized, the will of God will universally prevail. A kingdom presupposes a king, with the idea that those within the kingdom are “subjects” of the king.

         When people speak of heaven on earth, they invariably refer to a pleasurable situation, one in which their own desires and dreams are fulfilled. When their own will, as it were, has been apprehended. Yet this verse says just the opposite. The Kingdom of God—heaven, if you will allow me to equate them here—is only had by submitting to the will of another: God. Today, when most people seem to be “feeling” their way through life, gratification of our own physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual desires has become the epitome of fulfillment. But when our own will prevails and we experience momentary elation, followed by the inevitable discontent, it becomes painfully apparent that we are not so far removed from the young child crying petulantly for the latest toy.

         Heaven is not heaven because of golden streets, pearly gates, or angelic choirs. Heaven is heaven because God is on the throne and His will prevails. And anywhere else where the same thing is true, is the closest thing to Heaven on Earth—whether it is in a church, a home, or a heart.   

Monday, April 20, 2009

Who Loves Most?

“Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” (Luke 7:47)

         Does this verse teach that a Christian who once lived a wicked life of sin loves God more than someone who was saved young and perhaps did not experience the same degradation? It would seem so, would it not? But since we all know God never considers sin to be an advantage under any circumstances (1 John 2:1), there must be another explanation. After all, using the distorted rationale of those who slandered Paul (“Let us do evil that good may come.”), one could make the argument that an adulterous wife, whose husband has forgiven her, will be more loving than a faithful wife will be.

         I am aware, of course, that often someone whose sin is more blatant may be quicker to acknowledge the gift of forgiveness, simply because it is more obvious. While at the same time, someone else, who, for one reason or another was restrained from overt sin, does not always realize the awful wickedness of so-called “respectable” sins such as pride, covetousness, hatred and lying. These sins cost the life of Jesus Christ every bit as much as murder, thievery, adultery, drunkenness, or drug abuse. In today’s world of religious “celebrities,” who sometimes cash-in, spiritually and materially, on their pasts, it might behoove one to ask this question: Which is the greater sin, the awful deed or awful pride in the deed? 

         What I am saying is that any sinner who understands how much he or she has been forgiven, and how much that forgiveness cost, will love God dearly, no matter what his or her sin may have been. Who loves most? The one who is willing to see—and acknowledge—personal sin.

         The older I get, the more I begin to understand that some things I thought were gross sins only covered the truly hideous ones hidden deep within my heart. And I have come to see just how desperately I am need of God’s forgiveness. I think I can understand a little of the motivation of this dear woman in Luke seven. Those times when I see myself as I truly am, I think if I had been there that day, I would have wanted to mingle my tears with hers. 

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Woman Who "Gets It"

“…Abigail…a woman of good understanding…” (1 Samuel 25:3)

         I have yet to see a Biblical anthology of women of the Bible that did not include this exceptional woman, including the one I put together several years ago. Verse three also describes her as being a woman “of beautiful countenance,” but the first compliment is the one I take note of here. Obviously, it was this quality—good understanding—that impressed David; while I would wager it was her good looks that appealed to her unreasonable husband, Nabal. 

         If I had to say what I think exemplified this quality in the woman, I would say it was her ability to know when to speak and when to be silent. We are told that when she was made to understand the futility of trying to reason with someone (in this case, her husband), she held her tongue (vv. 17-19). On the other hand, even though her own life might put her own life in jeopardy, she courageously chose to speak to the more powerful, but more reasonable David, pleading with him for the life of her husband. In the first instance, she knew Nabal was in no condition to hear what she had to say; but David, however, responded to her with the words, “Blessed be thy advice” (v.33).

         I have addressed this theme before, and I will continue to do it, because I think it is crucial. Success, in almost every area of life, is dependent on good timing. Not so much being “at the right place at the right time,” but being able to recognize the right time. This is especially true in communicating with people. Proverbs says words spoken in “due season” are a good thing (15:23); and it is the “fitly spoken” word that is praiseworthy (25:11). Not only spoken in a fit way, but at the fit time. We so often assume that something that should be said must be said now; when in reality, it loses much, if not all of its effect, due to poor timing.

         If you have lived for any length of time, you know that what I am saying is true. But that doesn’t mean we always put that knowledge to use. You never get too old to make poor judgments. At this moment, I cannot think of anything I have not said that bothers me enough to weigh heavily on my mind; but oh, the things I have said that come back to haunt me! Solomon was right: “A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth” (Prov. 15:23). Our joy has much to do with whether or not we know how—and when—to answer. And it’s a dead give-away as to whether or not you or I are women “of good understanding.” Women who “get it.”


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Memo: Be Courteous

“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous. “ (1 Peter 3:8)

         In the first nine verses of this chapter, Peter takes up the discussion of home matters; in particular, the husband and wife relationship. Verses eight and nine, however, seem to purposely include the whole family, and beyond. They give us a very concise list of attitudes and actions guaranteed to enhance any relationship. In other words, they will help us get along with people; and nowhere is this more needed than in the home.

         Among such high virtues as consensus (“one mind”), compassion, pity and love, we find the everyday, homespun attribute of being “courteous.” This word is only found in this verse, but you will find the word “courteously” two times in the book of Acts, both referring to acts of kindness. And that’s all courtesy and good manners are: kindness to others. Without delving into the etymological roots of the word, I see that it begins with the word “court,” which gives it a regal connotation, of sorts, and may be one reason some people are not overly concerned with it. They see it as being pretentious or showy. But on the contrary, there is nothing more pompous and conceited than an individual who thinks it’s “cool” to run roughshod over the feelings and sensibilities of others.

         My thesis here is Peter’s: Good manners should begin—and continue—at home. If it is rude to humiliate, ignore, or slight a friend or acquaintance, how much more offensive it is to violate a family member. If we can tip a waiter or waitress we don’t even know, would it not seem right to show gratitude to a husband, wife, child, or sibling who does something for us? And if we are willing to overlook faults and shortcomings in friends and coworkers, why must we find it necessary to point out every little flaw we see in a family member? 

          I remember, one of the many times I reminded my children to observe good table manners, one of them grudgingly said, “But there’s nobody here but us!” My reply was something my own mother used to say to me: “You’ll never be in better company than you are right now.” And when we are discourteous to family members, we only prove that we don’t believe that.

         The old saying goes, “Charity begins at home.” Well, so does courtesy. Don’t pretend to possess the former, if you withhold the latter.  


Monday, April 13, 2009

Heart Burn

“And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? (Luke 24:32)

         We’ve all had that awful, burning sensation in our upper chest and throat that is referred to as heartburn, although it rarely has anything to do with our heart. But there is one “heartburn” that is decidedly good, with no discomfort at all associated with it. On the contrary, it offers immense comfort. I’m talking about “spiritual heartburn,” of course.

         The two men in the story found in Luke twenty-four had walked with the risen Lord all day, without realizing who He was. You may find this hard to believe, but remember, they knew Jesus was dead and buried, and not even his closest disciples were expecting a miracle. We can only imagine how demoralized they all must have been. Finally, however, at the end of the day, and oddly enough, as they were all eating, their spiritual eyes were suddenly opened, and someone must have said, “It’s Jesus!” Looking back, they reasoned, “We should have known Who He was because of the way our hearts burned when He opened the Scriptures to us.”

         This story only bears out what Paul told the Corinthian believers in 2 Corinthians 2:5:16. Though they might have known Christ “after the flesh,” at one time; now, he explained, they would recognize him by sound rather than sight. That’s the way it works now. You and I should not be looking for Him in visions of the night, random impressions, or “ecstasies” of spirit. We will see Him, and know Him, by the sound of His voice in the Word He has left us. If—if—we are one of His, He will speak to us from its pages, and our hearts will burn. Every reading may not be blindingly enlightening, but every reading will be pleasantly familiar. “My sheep know my voice,” Jesus assures us (John 10:27). That’s just the way it is.

         Don’t go all day, as these men did, without recognizing the risen Savior by your side. Make sure you have opened the Scriptures and listened for His Voice. Then, as the two of you walk together, don’t be surprised if you suddenly become aware of a burning sensation in your heart of hearts. Ah, there it is: spiritual heartburn!


   “He walks with me, and he talks with me, and He tells me I am His own;

    And the joys we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

                                                                       — C. Austin Miles

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Stiff-Necked or Stiff-Hearted

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

         No doubt, the case could be made that the former is a result of the latter; and indeed, when Exodus 32:9 speaks of people who are “stiffnecked” it’s the same bunch. Both passages refer to the nation of Israel, as you know; but I see a distinction between the two maladies. I also see the same proclivity in you and me. Old Testament stories are essentially a history of the nation of Israel, and by extension, our own redemptive history, but they also provide a mirror for us. As 1 Corinthians 10:11 points out, they are examples and admonitions to us, who harbor the same inclinations; and are, therefore, subject to the same foolish actions. And both of these mentioned are just as unacceptable now as they were then.

         How then do they differ?

         In the first place, a stiff neck is more easily seen. Stubborn, implacable individuals are obvious rebels. These are the people who can always be counted upon to voice resistance, even before an objective hearing on any matter. Probably because it was not their idea; or maybe because they feel even unfavorable attention is better than no attention at all. Whatever the reason, they are hard to work with, hard to serve God with, and harder still to live with.

         But even more dangerous, I would contend, is the man or woman who stiffens his or her heart to a plea for mercy or understanding from a Christian brother or sister, or worse yet, a loved one. I realize this is true no matter who the seeker may be; and I also realize some pleas may be insincere or ineligible, for one reason or another. But to ignore or disdain such pleas, out of hand, and especially from someone bound to us spiritually or physically, is hard to excuse. I wonder if such individuals realize the very stiff-heartedness they show to those around them, is there, too, when the sweet Holy Spirit appeals to them?

         A stiff neck is external, and though painful, can be worked out. But, a stiff heart—spiritual arteriosclerosis, if you please—is internal, and requires major surgery by a “heart specialist.” If you or I have succumbed to either malady—a stiff-neck or a stiff heart, we should see a physician. I know a good One. 

        A stiff neck (or a stiff heart) will never bow to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.





Monday, April 6, 2009

Despising God

“Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight…Now therefore the sword shall not depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me…” (2 Samuel 12:9-10)

         If you read only this excerpt from the cited verses, one might think these words were spoken to one of God’s worst enemies; but, alas, they were directed to the man said to be after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). If that be the case, it should be good reason for you and I to check our own hearts.  

         It is evident that in God’s estimation, sin and disobedience to His commands constitute not only an indication of despising them, but also Him. (God back and read the verses.) And when you consider the word “despise” means to view something or someone “slightingly, or with contempt, disregarding them in word or action,” it appears to be exactly the right word. This sad episode (horrendous though it was) in David’s overall good life, and his heartfelt repentance afterwards, serve to indicate his real love for God. No doubt, to hear that God considered his sin to be a direct slap in His face, broke the heart of David.

         I wonder if you and I should not look upon our own disobedience in the same way? Are we to assume that adultery is the only sin that occasions this conclusion? I have often said, I think the most effective deterrent to sin in the life of a believer is not fear, but love. Not love for family, friends, or anyone else who may be involved, but love for God. After all, He is the ultimate “injured party.” Any offense we commit against another person pales next to the insult it pays to God. The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony.

         If we truly care for someone, it is heartbreaking to think that individual may not feel that we actually do. It’s not as much a matter of proving our love as disproving our lack of love. Think about that the next time you are tempted to sin against a direct command of God. Would it make any difference to you if it were an indication to Him that you despised Him? 

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Beware the Unequal Yoke

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness: and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)

         As a prohibition to “mixed marriages” (by that I mean a Christian and non-Christian), one could not ask for a more straightforward verse. But to limit it to this, when no such specialization is given, is to miss the greater truth here.

         The metaphor of a yoke denotes any relationship that binds two or more people together. As I say, marriage is the most obvious example, but such things as business partnerships, contracts, living arrangements, even close friendships, can position one in an unequal yoke that will be uncomfortable for both, unless one of them changes his or her “pace” to accommodate the other. And guess which one will be expected to do a two-step, if necessary, as a show of “Christian love.”

        The verse explains that the problem here, the reason for the imbalance, is that there is no fellowship between righteousness and unrighteousness. And just to point out the absurdity of it, Paul says it would be like a room full of both light and darkness. They are mutually exclusive. 

         Undoubtedly, a balance is called for here, and recognition of what constitutes a yoke. Jesus was said to be “a friend of sinners,” and He never contradicted that. But do you think they were friends in the same way his disciples were? I don’t. If we are aloof to the lost, with a “holier than thou” attitude, we will never influence them for God; but if we find ourselves more comfortable with the children of the world than the children of God, something is drastically wrong. I may enjoy the company of lost friends; but I only find fellowship with the righteous. I will have a meal with an unsaved friend or neighbor; but my true communion is with the people of God. And most important of all, I will make sure that any yoke I take—temporarily or permanently—is a balanced, equal yoke.

An uneven yoke makes an uneven walk.