Friday, May 29, 2009
How good are you at doing good? That may sound like double talk, but it’s still a good question. Oh, I know; none of us is good (Rom.3:10); but that shouldn’t keep us from striving to do good. Even a broken clock is right twice a day! Sadly, this verse in Jeremiah says there are people who have mastered the art of doing evil; but remain clueless when it comes to doing good. Why is that, do you think?
Well, the first prerequisite, it would seem to me, would be the ability to know the difference. Not always as straight forward for some as one might think (Isa.5:20). And simply knowing the difference does not always ensure that one will make the right choice between the two. Case in point: Eve got a “taste” of both good and evil; but it didn’t do her (or us) a bit of good. In the final analysis, all she really needed to know was God. He is the only one truly able to list good and evil, right and wrong, in their proper columns for us. No one else can be trusted to always have this kind of discernment.
Then, the way to proficiency in any activity is practice. As the old hymn says, “Each victory will help you some other to win.” You have heard, I’m sure, of “Miss Goody-Two-Shoes.” Well I’m here to say, sometimes she gets a “bum rap.” I’m not extolling the virtues the self-righteous, hypocritical sort, of course; I’m simply championing the kind of woman who jumps in with both feet when it comes to doing good.
Lest we take this commendation too lightly, I would remind you that Peter described our Lord, in Acts 10:38, as a Man who “went about doing good.” Not an especially regal description of the King of Heaven, to be sure; but a clear indication, says Peter, that “God was with him.” And would it not indicate the same thing in us?
You and I, as believers, could do far worse than to have someone carve on our tombstones, the simple inscription: “He (or she) went about doing good.”
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
One preacher has observed, “God is not some ‘cosmic kill-joy’ who frowns when we smile.” I agree. These verses, and others like them, say as much. We are all aware that in much of life, attitude determines outcome. As you can see from the cited texts, a merry heart is mentioned three times in the book of Proverbs, each time telling us a benefit we receive from having one.
First, a merry heart will make you better looking (15:3). Oh, I know; it may not change your features, but it sure will make you easier on the eyes! There is nothing beautiful about a hard, sullen, or pouty face, no matter how symmetrical the features; but the beauty of a cheerful countenance is unrivaled in its drawing power. I have always known that any compliments I have received in life had more to do with my attitude than my appearance. It’s the only “beauty secret” I possess.
There are very few truly poker faces. As Charles Bridges, in his commentary on Proverbs, points out: “A man’s countenance is the index of his spirit.” A cheerful countenance is not the same as an idiotic grin or a conspiratorial smirk. These indicate mindlessness in the first case, and maliciousness in the second. Cheerfulness is a heart matter, says the verse. It’s an inside job that is not oblivious to circumstances, only aware of the extenuating circumstances—God. It comes from that “joy that passeth all understanding.” And to quote Bridges again, “In the sensation of joy, the heart sits smiling in the face, and looks merrily out the windows of the mind.” (Don’t you love that?)
Then, a merry heart will turn your life into a banquet (15:5). That’s saying a lot, isn’t it? Jesus said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). Being “filled with the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19) will curb any heart hunger for this world; but allowing the Holy Spirit to infuse us with His enthusiasm for the life in Christ, can change a “square meal” into a veritable feast! Are you following me here?
Finally, is it any wonder then that the result of all this is that a merry heart will give you a shot in the arm, physically, as well (17:22)? Everybody knows exercise is good for you and laughter has been called, “internal jogging.” It’s both a stimulant to a fainting heart and a sedative to a nervous soul. When the oil of gladness is poured over a gaping wound, healing commences.
So let the merry-making—or rather, the merry-living--begin! Let it not be the hollow hilarity of this world, but let it be the resounding joy of the Redeemed. The Puritans were not known for their frivolity, but when it comes to fellowship, I agree with the famous pastor and author, Richard Baxter, who wrote: “Keep company with the more cheerful sort of the godly; there is no mirth like the mirth of Believers.”
Amen! and Woo Hoo!
Monday, May 25, 2009
You will never know, or delight in, the will of God until His law is “within your heart.” The fact that that it’s written anywhere else has little to do with its application in your own life. It is not the “hearers” (or the readers) of the law who are justified, says Paul in Romans two, but the “doers.”
We used to sing a little chorus in Sunday School that said, “In a good place for a good purpose/ I will hide God’s Word in my heart.” (“Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against God” Psl. 119:11). We may use this verse to encourage memorization of the Bible, but rote does not automatically translate into reality. I know the Ten Commandments, but it doesn’t always keep me from coveting; and I don’t know about you, but quoting Romans 8:28 hasn’t kept me from asking, “Why?” plenty of times. It’s the Word of God hidden—and housed—within our hearts that generates authenticity and much more.
By his own testimony, before his conversion, C.S. Lewis made the decision to make a study of the claims of God and the Bible; and as it will be with any truly honest questioner, he found those claims to be true. He had thought that simply finding the truth would be sufficient; but, alas, knowledge alone did not bring peace. In fact, it was just the opposite. He was convinced that becoming a Christian would lead to a life of joyless misery. But finally, he says, he reluctantly (his word) committed his heart and life to Jesus Christ for now and all eternity. It was then, when the law of God took root in his heart, that to his surprise (his word again), his soul, heart, and mind were all filled with …joy!
His word—and mine!
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
“Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 15:5) “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Rom. 15:13)
Our Heavenly Father is a God of patience and hope. The two go hand-in-glove together. Someone has said, “Lack of patience is a sure sign that hope is weak.” And I would say these verses seem to bolster that assertion. Notice in verse five that an evidence of patience will be “like-mindedness” with others. In other words, when other people fall short of our, and their own, expectations, the first reaction of the patient man or woman will be identification. “Well, I’ve been lax in things myself, at times” (Gal. 6:1). It’s not a matter of excusing, but empathizing. By refusing to isolate those who try our patience, we are more apt to help them overcome any feelings of hopelessness they may be experiencing.
Is there someone you know who wears thin your patience? Who makes you strip your gears, when you should be idling your motor? Someone over whose head you see a flashing sign, reading, “HOPELESS CASE”? Verse thirteen says the Holy Spirit is able to so fill our hearts with joy and peace that we fairly “abound” in hope. Think about it; the very idea of hope assumes a situation of hopelessness. God never asks us to have hope in any man or woman. In fact He advises just the opposite (Psl. 146:3). But He does encourage us to dare to hope in Him (Psl. 38:15; 42:5,11; 43:5; 71:5).
“Where there’s life, there’s hope,” goes the old say. Not necessarily. But it is true, “Where there’s God, there’s hope!”
Monday, May 18, 2009
Here’s a strange. It’s possible to be devoted to—even worship—a god who is, for all practical purposes, unknown to you. And stranger still, it is possible for that god to be the true God.
Here, in Acts seventeen, Paul confronts such people, a group of philosophers, made up of Epicureans, who enjoyed life and Stoics, who endured it. These men of Athens had gathered on Mars Hill to do what philosophers have always done: “…to tell, or to hear some new thing” (v.21). The fact that they were interested in what Paul had to say about Christ and the Resurrection would indicate that philosophy and worship are closely related. This is why the study of philosophy must be undertaken subjectively, weighing everything against the infallible Word of God, a truth that, fortunately, is not lost on my grandson, Richard, a graduate student in Philosophy.
Paul accused these men of offering their devotion ignorantly to an admittedly unknown God. And I would suggest to you that it is possible for Christians to be as guilty of this as these philosophers. Here’s why I say this: Notice in verse twenty-five that Paul says, the God who made the world cannot be worshipped “with men’s hands.” Yet how many of us look upon service to God as evidence and means of worship. John 4:24 tells us, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” If that be the case, bowing my spirit and my will to the will of God, as revealed in His Word, the Source of all truth, is the very foundation of worship. Service is both commendable and commanded. But it should never be confused with worship. Mary and Martha may have been sisters, but they were not the same.
The Father is still seeking worshippers (Jno. 4:23), but not the “ignorant” kind. Ones who will worship “in spirit and in truth.” Then, and only then, should we offer Him the service of our hands.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:3)
In case you are wondering what the antecedent for the “Who” is, you have only to look back one verse: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He, says the writer of Hebrews, is the brightness of God’s glory. In other words, He is to God what its rays are to the sun. The part that radiates, or extends out, to us. Expanding the definition further, Christ is identified as being the “express image”—the exact image—of God’s person. Whew, that’s heavy! God is a Person, and His bodily image was visible on this earth for thirty-three years. You and I may have been made in the image of God (Gen. 9:6); but we are not His express image. And to claim such distinction, in some kind of “New Age” self-affirmation, is to show more resemblance to Lucifer than Christ (Isa. 14:12-15). Jesus Christ was (and is) the only visual, human expression of God that this world has (or will ever have) known.
But we’re not through with the heavy stuff yet. The verse, still speaking of the Son, goes on to say that His Word is what’s holding this whole thing together (“…upholding all things by the word of his power…”). And the same claim is made in John, chapter one. The verse then finishes by letting us know that after Jesus had finished the supreme task of purging away our sins by the Blood of his sacrifice, He “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” He, who is the brightness of God’s glory is now again with the Father.
Alas, then, have we lost the Glory? Where is the Brightness now? Is it lost to our eyes till we see Him face to face? “Oh, no!” says the apostle Peter, in the last few verses of the first chapter of his second Epistle. On the contrary, we have “a light that shineth in a dark place.” In fact, “a more sure word…” I didn’t say that; he did. But I, for one, am not surprised since like God, the Father and God, the Son, the Word of God “liveth and abideth forever” (I Pet. 1:23). There’s the Glory!
Is it any wonder then that I rise each morning with a sense of expectation? I believe, with all my mind and heart and soul that when I am poring over the pages of Holy Writ, I am gazing upon the face of God.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Ten Rules for Holy Living…Five Steps to Victory Over Sin…The Formula For the Abundant Life…How to Be the Christian You Want to Be. On and on it goes. Check your local bookstore, Christian or otherwise, for even more examples (if you care to). Yet here, the Apostle Paul says the only action that precipitates change is…beholding. Who knew? We should have. Did God lay down a list of steps and rules and formulas to personal salvation? He did not. So let’s not complicate sanctification more than salvation, shall we? If we are to believe God’s Word, the “process” of change, “from glory to glory,” takes place as we gaze upon the glory of God. This is what imprints the image of God upon our lives.
Theologian and Christian apologist, Francis Schaeffer, wrote a book entitled, How Then Shall We Live? But in light of this verse, I would rather ask, “How then shall we gaze?” And the only fine point we are given is this: Our manner of beholding should be characterized as “open face.” “What does that mean?” you may ask. Before running to commentaries, lexicons, Dr. So-and-So, or (Heaven forbid) multiple translations, let’s try using our God-given, feminine intuition. (I’m not kidding). What’s an open-faced sandwich? “That’s easy,” you answer, “It’s a sandwich that doesn’t have a top.” Right. In other words, we could say it’s one that isn’t covering up what’s inside.
Call me simple, if you will, but that’s exactly what I think the apostle is talking about. When you and I come to God, gazing upon Him and His Word, there must not be anything covering up what’s on the inside. The wise man, in Proverbs 28:13, lets us know that trying to cover sin is not only futile, but it holds back the mercy of God. You and I should be willing to say to God, as David did, “See if there be any wicked way in me” (Psl.139:24). Being an introvert may work with other people, but it won’t work with God. In His case, we must never “put a lid on it.”
The first prerequisite to holiness is honesty.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
They say consistency is the virtue of fools, but verses like this one, as well as Proverbs 4:25 and Psalms 5:8 seem to question the veracity of this broad assumption. There are times when inconsistency indicates another kind of foolishness. The rationale behind the saying, I suppose, is that when you follow the same pattern unswervingly, you are more easily tracked. But sometimes, that’s the whole idea. As Romans 14:7 plainly states, none of us live and die to ourselves, no matter how uninvolved we may claim to be. There will always be someone. And when we constantly vacillate from side to side or make abrupt stops and starts, we are hard to follow, even on the right path, especially if the follower is “lame.”
Does this mean we should never stop and take stock of where we are spiritually, or never vary the speed or substance of our Christian walk? Not at all. But there is a difference between consistency and stubbornness. One is unwavering, while the other is unbending. One represents stability, and the other signifies rigidity. What I’m saying is that there should be an overall reliability in our Christian lives that is both reassuring and easy to follow.
Virtues such as love, loyalty, integrity, and morality should not ebb and flow, depending on circumstances. Our love should not wane when the recipient becomes unlovable; our loyalty should remain when unproven accusations are flying; integrity should govern our lives when it works for us or against us; and morality should be Bible driven, not culture dependent.
Obviously, those of us who are more emotionally driven (and who among us is not, from time to time) will more easily fall into the habit of inconsistency. This is not to say, however, we are exempt from responsibility. Just because one is more sensitive to hurt does not negate the admonition to love. Those who are plagued with a spirit of suspicion are still told to “think no evil.” The person who fears the Lord will always be characterized by a willingness to “swear to his own hurt” (Psl. 15:4). And “Josephs” still run from fornication, no matter how persistent the provocation.
This is not a call for perfection, just an appeal for reflection. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line; and the plainest path to lay down is a straight one. Every man, woman, boy or girl must decide for themselves between the path to Heaven: Jesus Christ, or the path to hell: everything and everyone else. But it’s only natural to look to others along the pathway for encouragement and enlightenment (1 Cor. 4:16). The question is, are you and I walking straight, consistent paths, helpful and easy to follow? If not, then what kind of fools are we?
Monday, May 4, 2009
Well, maybe not a nervous breakdown, exactly, but close enough. There certainly was an intensity about the prophet Elijah that drove him to mental and physical collapse. This we do know. The Word of God does not often open up to us the psychological bent of a man to the extent that it does this one. He was hasty in speech and exceedingly adept at sarcasm. He was capable of lofty and grandiose heights of drama (chapter 18), but susceptible to cowardly despair under certain kinds of intimidation, especially by a woman (19:2-3).
It would seem to me that verse ten of this chapter gives us a clue into what drove this man at such a pace, especially since he repeats it, word for word, in verse fourteen. It is a window into his thinking, as it were.
First, he says, “I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts.” I know our God is a jealous God; He has told us this in more than one place. But this would seem to me to be one of His attributes we should be careful of trying to emulate. Like omniscience—all-knowing. To see ourselves in either of these roles is to run the risk of over-reaching or over interference. Paul told the Corinthian believers that he was jealous over them, with a “godly jealousy”; but he never claimed to be jealous for God. God is capable of taking care of His own jealousy. And to show us the danger of the human kind, God, speaking through Solomon, said, “For jealousy is the rage of man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance” (Prov. 6:34). Jealousy becomes a rage that doesn’t know when to quit.
Then, Elijah continues by saying, “…I, even I only, am left…” When you and I begin to feel like this—that no one is lifting a standard except us—our service to God will go beyond urgency to frenzy and condemnation. God then has to remind us, as He did Elijah in verse eighteen, that we are not the only soldiers on the frontline. And sometimes He has to sideline us before we can get the real picture. When we feel that everyone else has succumbed to the age and everything is left to us, we will either work ourselves to death or throw in the towel. The truth is, to assume more responsibility than God has assigned to us personally is to question His judgment; and exceeding the will of God is just as bad as falling short of it.
You don’t have to cover all the bases; you only have to catch the balls He pitches to you.
Friday, May 1, 2009
For the child of God, there is only one justifiable incentive for endurance under difficult situations: the glory of God and the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ. Yet if you and I are honest, we will have to admit that our causes or motivations don’t always come up to this high watermark. Here are three examples in the book of Mark of hardships that need the qualifier, “for Jesus’ sake,” in order to make them worthwhile for the Christian.
-- Rejection --
In Mark 13:13, Jesus told his disciples (and us) to expect a time when Believers would be “hated of all men for [His] name’s sake.” They could be as congenial, kind, and accommodating as one could possibly be, and still encounter hated, simply because of their association with Him. Yet this should not be taken to mean that any time we find people giving us a wide berth, it’s always because we are godly. There are some among us who seem to have a “gift” for rubbing everybody the wrong way most of the time. Not because of their position, but because of their disposition. Such individuals might well consider the possibility that their constant friction with those around them may be an indication that their rejection is lacking that all-important justification—for Jesus’ sake.
-- Deprivation --
We read also in Mark 10:29 that there are some called upon to leave houses, lands, and families, in order to fulfill God’s will for their lives. But here again, one must decide if leaving everything and everyone behind is prompted by the Holy Spirit, for Jesus’ sake, or just a spirit of wanderlust. When the former dear people, God promises a “hundred-fold” recovery; but the latter, who may simply represent irresponsible abandonment, cannot claim such a promise.
-- Absolution --
Finally, we are told in the introductory verse of those who are actually willing to lose their lives—literally or spiritually—for the cause of Christ. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13); yet Paul said it’s possible to give one’s body “to be burned,” and still lack true Biblical love (I Cor. 13:3). Sadly, it is possible to lose oneself in a cause for reasons other than for Jesus’ sake.
In times of persecution, deprivation, or personal sacrifice, the glory of God and love for Jesus Christ must be our motivation as well as our consolation. If we cannot truthfully say what we are doing or experiencing is for Jesus’ sake, then we are looking somewhere else for recognition. And that’s the only place it will come from.