Friday, June 26, 2009

Flesh Wounds

“Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them. (Psalm 119:165)



“Flesh wounds produce no internal injuries.” I read (or heard) this recently and thought to myself, “No, not unless you allow them to fester and initiate internal rottenness.”

We live in a society that prides itself in “telling it like it is,” even when it really isn’t the way we think it is. Free speech is not always the same as helpful, kind, or even accurate speech; and for that reason, you and I run the risk daily of being on the receiving end of cutting criticism that has the potential of wounding us. But it is up to us to decide just how deeply we allow the wound to go.

Proverbs 18:14 tells us that a “wounded spirit” is unbearable. And it shows every time. Once we allow slights and scorn to seep into our souls, we become unappealing to those around us and ineffective for God. Who wants to be in the company of someone who is constantly nursing a hurt? The verse in Psalms says the antidote for this tendency to take offense is the peace that comes from not just knowing, but loving, God’s Word. There is nothing like being in love to make one oblivious to nonessentials!

How then do we keep flesh wounds from becoming potentially lethal? Well, first of all, we need to recognize them as being just that: flesh wounds. Scrapes, bruises, and bumps that may sting like the devil are not likely to kill us. Then, we need to develop what my husband calls “a tough hide and a tender heart.” The verse says, “…nothing shall offend them.” That’s a fairly sweeping statement. I realize the New Testament assumes we will all be guilty, at one time or another, of offending someone (James 3:2); but it does not take for granted we will all take offense. At least, as far as I can find.

Hurt feelings are only flesh wounds. If we allow them to become anything else, we jeopardize our internal peace and only prove our lack of love for God’s Law.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Leanness of Soul

“And he gave them their request; but sent leanness unto their souls.” (Psalm 106:15) 

         Much of life is a trade-off. In the case of the married woman, it’s trading independence for intimacy; and if this results in children, it’s trading privacy for pandemonium! This principle is true in the spiritual realm, as well. The context of the cited verse tells us that if we disdain the counsel of God (v. 13), lusting instead for the things of the world (v. 14), God may very well grant our desires; but the trade-off will never be worth it. As one preacher has characterized the people referred to in this text, “They got what they wanted, but they lost what they had.”

         This should be sobering to you and me. We can never alter God’s ultimate order of things, but we can limit His power in the present (Mark 6:5). For although God is sovereign, He has chosen to allow us to override His good judgment, at times, in order to give us something we think we want. And when that happens, we can be sure we’ve made a bad trade: fullness of joy for leanness of soul.

         The leanness that follows a life lived independent of God always leaves one so hungry, nothing in this world can ever relieve the pangs. It would be like offering cotton candy to a famine victim. It may look exciting, but it’s still just air, sweet to the taste but useless to the body. Who in their right mind would settle for a good time when they could have a good life (Luke 15:15)?

         The body may require a diet from time to time, but never the soul.

“…let your soul delight itself in fatness.” (Isa. 55:2)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Committed

“[F]or I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day.”  (2 Timothy 1:12)

            It’s safe to say, the thing which Paul claimed to have committed to God until the day when he would stand before Him, was his soul. Having said that, I think we miss a great benefit if we limit that principle to the next life. It is at least as viable and, it would seem to me, just as necessary in this one. Just as faith is not all squandered in salvation, commitment does not end at the Cross.

         Once we have committed our souls to Him for all eternity, does it not make sense to commit everything else outside our capabilities to Him also? After all, it says of our Lord that He “committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1Pet.2:23). And it was not His soul He was committing to the Father, but His will. We say so easily, “I’m just going to commit it to the Lord.” But those areas of our lives outside the circle of our control, may still be within the sphere of our worry; and in the dark of night, they are apt to rear their ugly heads, if they are not truly committed to God.

         The key to victory in this particular battle is acknowledging our inherent doubt of the first part of the phrase: “[I] am persuaded that he is able…” It is imperative that we face ourselves and understand that we hesitate to commit something to someone else if we are not sure he or she is capable of taking care of it. We find it hard to delegate authority as long as we think no one else can do things as well as we. If Jesus considered God to be trustworthy enough to commit His earthly life to Him, pray tell me, why should you or I hesitate to commit to Him all the needless worries we hug to our breasts so desperately? 

          In actual fact, He is able to keep that which I’ve committed to Him—people, possessions, health, past, present, future—the whole ball of wax. And the same is true for you, as well. It’s not a question of His capability, but our “commit-ability.”

         And of that I am persuaded.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Confirming or Subverting: Which?

“Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised and keep the law; to whom we gave no such commandment.” (Acts 15:24)

            Comparing this verse with one in Acts 14:22, where we read of Paul and Barnabas “confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith,” it becomes clear that not everyone who cries, “Thus saith the Lord” is  always looking out for our best interest. While Paul and Barnabas were confirming believers with their words, there were others from the church at Jerusalem following after them, subverting souls with theirs. While Paul was exhorting them, the Judaisers were troubling them. While he was encouraging them to “continue in the faith,” they were saying, “Keep the Law.” Obviously, it was not the Decalogue that was in contention here, since Paul reiterated in his own writings all but one of the ten, but the ordinances and practices given to Moses for the nation of Israel exclusively.

         There are preachers and Christians who spend their lives strengthening and reinforcing (confirming) other believers in the Faith by exhortation to, and exaltation of, righteous living. On the other hand, there are others who seem to constantly undermine or weaken (subvert) any inclination toward personal responsibility and individual study by spoon-feeding others with their own set of rules; which may or may not be valid for them or anyone else. Law keeping will not sanctify you any more than it will save you. Righteousness is the (super) natural outworking of the nature of God in a true believer, as a direct result of yielding to the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:4).

         My goal as a fellow believer is to be a confirmer of souls, not a “subverter” of them. I want to encourage those with whom I come in contact to be the best they can be for God, with enough humility and grace to allow them to decide what that may be. I’d much rather be a cheerleader than a drill sergeant. I want to allow the Word of God and the Spirit of God to tell them what they should do. I just want to encourage them to believe that with God’s help, they can do it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Women, Resurrection, and Faith

   “Women received their dead raised to life again…” (Hebrews 11:35a)



         In the great chapter of faith, Hebrews eleven, you will find two women named: Sara, the wife of Abraham, and the harlot of Jericho, Rahab. But of even greater significance to me are these words found in verse thirty-five, because in them, God was careful to tell us it was women who had their dead “raised to life again.” Why did He do this, I wonder?

         I will say that of the seven times this phenomenon takes place, three involve grieving mothers (1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4; Luke 7); another is the brother of two grieving sisters (Mary and Martha); the fifth is the raising of a woman herself (Dorcas in Acts 9); while only two requests come from fathers (Abraham and Jairus). Clearly, there is a connection between women and resurrection (Mark 16:1). Beyond this, we are forced to conjecture as to why it is. I find a clue in one of the mentioned instances.

         In 2 Kings four, where we find the story of the Shunammite woman whose son had died while working in the field, we can reasonably surmise that her husband had reconciled himself to the death; because when his wife asked for permission to take their dead son to the man of God (Elijah), he was baffled  (vv. 22-23). There was no hope. But this mother was like Father Abraham, of whom it was said that he, “against hope believed in hope” (Rom. 4:18). She met hopelessness head on with the shield of faith, and, as you know, was rewarded by seeing her son raised to newness of life.

         When it comes to impossible circumstances, like restoring life to hopeless humanity, it would seem to me that the Bible and history bear this out: God rewards faith; and He especially delights in seeing it played out in the lives of those of those whose only weapon of coercion is the prayer of faith. And Biblically speaking—by a ratio of five to two—it is women of faith who receive their dead raised to life again.

         God, who gives life, is pleased to give to her who brings forth life, the faith to see it restored.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Uncommon "Determinator"

“…for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God…even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11) 

         If Spiritual illumination comes only by the Spirit of God, why not just throw out Biblical truths haphazardly and wait to see who picks them up? Why? Because although it is the Spirit that opens the heart, in the vast majority of cases, He uses witnessing, preaching, and teaching to capture the interest. Paul may not have used “enticing words” (v. 4); but he certainly was adept at persuasive language (2 Cor. 5:11). There is a difference. As a matter of fact, each of us is equipped with the ability to reach out to certain individuals in ways others of us are not able.

         Some women and men instinctively understand the thought processes of children and are quickly able to win their confidence. Consequently, they have insight into the best way to introduce these VIP’s in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 18) to the Gospel and spiritual things. If you are blessed with this awesome gift, allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate; but, by all means, also allow Him to use you to initiate.

         God uses some preachers, teachers, musicians, and laymen to warm cold hearts and inspire love among His people. They minister the Word of God to others as a balm, as a means of reconciliation to God and other believers. On the other hand, there are those whose presentation of the Scripture carries the thrust of an Old Testament prophet, breaking up the hard ground of indifference and convicting of sin. Both ministries are called for at different times and with different people. But again, while God may use one individual to warm hearts, and another to stir them, only the Spirit of God can change them.

         For those whose interest is caught and held by intelligent, well prepared, and well thought out arguments, God has gifted some of His children with sharp, reasoning minds, who are able to present the most reasonable proposition in all the universe: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But here, too, without Supernatural illumination, it is just one more hypothesis.

         My thesis here is two-fold: First, God has given you and me the command to present the Gospel and minister His Word to others according to the ability He has given each of us (1 Peter 4:11). If every person were the same, we could all minister to each one the same; but since they are not, we cannot. Or rather, we should not. Second, the thing that is the same—no matter who is preaching, teaching, or testifying—is this: It is all to no avail if the Spirit of God does not open the heart.  This is the common denominator, and He is the “Uncommon Determinator.” After you and I have sharpened our tools and nurtured our abilities, it is He who will determine whether or not our best efforts are successful.

            Who God does not teach, man cannot. ~ Gaelic Proverb

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Only the Right Formula Gets the Desired Result

“For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.”  (Hebrews 4:2)

         Water, as you know, is made up of two parts of hydrogen with one part of oxygen (H20). But the fact remains, neither one, alone, will ever quench your thirst. It takes the right combination of the two, or the right formula, to get the desired result. This is what the writer of Hebrews is saying. As powerful as the Word of God is (v. 12), and as effective a faith in God may be (11:6), neither one will get the result you want—“profit”—without the other.

         The eternal Word of God, the Bible, is the fountainhead of all truth, and although it is infinitely inexhaustible, it is still possible to read and study it long and well enough to acquire a working knowledge of its principles and precepts; but unless, and until, faith is added into the mix, it will never truly come alive to us. On the other hand, the strongest faith is no more than blustery whistling in the dark if it is not based on sound doctrine (Titus 2:1) and eternal precepts (Psl. 119:100). Some folks can “quote it (the Bible) by the mile, but can’t live it by the inch,” as they say; while others have enough faith to step out on nothing. But that’s the problem: they step out on nothing, literally!

         As one gospel song says, “You can’t stand on promises if you don’t know what they are.” But all the Bible knowledge in the world won’t save a soul or get one prayer answered if it fails to lay hold on the Truth, by faith. The Christian life is not a method; it’s a mixture, as the verse says, that requires two ingredients: the Word of God and Faith. Leave one ingredient out, and just like the formula for water, you’ll die of thirst.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Faith: The Real Thing

“When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” (2 Timothy 1:5)



         The word “feigned” means to pretend or to be unreal. It is only “unfeigned” faith that wins the day. Faith, like the kind pictured here, that spans generations, and is marked by reality. I am convinced that this kind of faith cannot be disputed nor ignored indefinitely. Children will overlook many things, but hypocrisy is probably not one of them. They instinctively know what (or who) is important to us, and whether or not the God we espouse is truly real to us.

         It has always been assumed that Timothy was raised by his mother (and presumably his grandmother) without the benefit of a father being present. What was probably rare in those days is commonplace today, even in our churches. We have no way of knowing what kind of help, financial or otherwise, young Eunice may have had, but we can be sure it did not come from a government program. We do know, however, that her faith in God, which came down to her through her own mother, was so real that it enabled her to raise a man for God. The same generational faith that sustained a mother and grandmother sprang forth in the life of a son and grandson; man of God whose faith impressed even the great apostle, Paul.

         By the way, this is not just a Bible story; it’s a life story I have seen played out in our own family. In this case, it was not only a “Timothy,” but also a “Joseph” and “Nathan.” It’s not the ideal way to do it, as the Word of God has told us, but it can be done. It does not require great faith—just faith that is the real thing.

                      Faith makes things possible, but not always easy.  

 

 

 


 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Tailor-Made Trails

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

         Our temptations and trials, says Paul, may be unique; but they are, nevertheless, tailor-made, in this sense: they suit us personally at any given time in our Christian lives. Just as a wise parent disciplines individual children by different, yet fair, means, God the Father fashions trials for His individual children in ways appropriate to their particular needs and temperaments, according to His long range plan for their lives.

         Each testing is custom made to help develop character and maturity. What would strengthen a seasoned Believer might very well break a young one. But, on the other hand, a seeming roadblock to a spiritual “babe” would probably only amount to a speed bump to a mature Christian. Notice the verse promises that we will not be tempted to any greater extent than we personally are able to bear. God is aware of our distinctive temperaments, doubts, and secret fears. This is why when you or I look at another Christian and ask, “How can he or she withstand this?” that same individual may be wondering the same thing about us. 

         The important thing to remember is that this personalized treatment comes from a loving Father, Who can always be trusted to provide us with a perfect fit…even in the matter of trials.

                  This is my valley

                  I will not complain

                  I know it’s good for me

                  To suffer tears and pain

                  This is my trial

                  I will do my best

                  To stand each trial and test

                  This is my valley.

                                                      — Dottie Rambo