Monday, August 24, 2009

The Subtlety of Pride

"The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee..." (Obadiah 1:3)

Unchecked, pride does not stagnate; it proliferates. And it only becomes more audacious with age. It worms its way into our character and holds us with the chains of self-importance (Psl. 73:6).

Pride is not always easy to recognize—in ourselves or others. As Andrew Murray said, it often "clothes itself with humility." It can be disguised as other, more acceptable, traits. For instance, there is an obsessive, break-neck "Christian" service that is really a neurotic bid for praise (Matt. 23:5a). And sometimes, people who would lead you to believe they are highly principled, are just plain stubborn. Many a so-called leader is just someone who is sure he or she knows what is best for everyone else and is determined to make them aware of it!

It is not the overtly proud individual (i.e., the haughty braggart) that is the most dangerous, I think, but rather the one who covertly draws attention to himself or herself by inconspicuous, subtle maneuvering. These are the ones who bring contention (Prov. 13:10) and leave destruction in their wake (Prov. 16:18).

You and I would be well advised to dig up the seeds of pride in our lives, lest they take root and turn into weeds of ruination.

"Pride makes devils out of angels."  (Isaiah 14:12)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why Do the Godly Suffer?

"And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandment or no." (Deut. 8:2)

This is one of life's great mysteries. My husband is ministering almost daily to a neighbor he led to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but who struggles with constant pain and deteriorating health. "Why can't I just go to heaven and be relieved of all the pain?" he wonders. Philosophers have grappled with this down through history, and hundreds of books have been written trying to find meaning to what seems to have no meaning at all.

God does not hesitate to point out the reality of suffering. And to those who are Spiritual enough to grasp it, He offers insight into the lofty purposes behind the pain. For instance, in this chapter in Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the nation of Israel, it was God who led them those forty years in the wilderness to suffer hardship, deprivation, and chastening. And then he tells them some things it had done for them...and, by extension, what it does for us.

First, he says, suffering humbles us. There's nothing like walking through a dry, barren wilderness to take the strut out of your step! That's why the purveyors of the so-called "health and wealth" gospel (not to be confused with the Gospel of Jesus Christ) are not known for their humility. But humility, according to James 4:10 is a boon to our Christian experience, and is the first step toward elevation by God.

Second, testing brings to the surface what we are really made of ("to prove thee"). When we are hard-pressed, the best—or worst—part of us is seen. It reveals what's in our hearts every time. Words of praise to the Lord that come so quickly to our lips during times of prosperity and ease, can seem to stick in our throats because of bitterness in our hearts over the perceived unfairness of God.

Third, in verse sixteen of the chapter, Moses goes on to tell these tired, weary travelers that God led them through "that great and terrible wilderness," with its serpents, scorpions, and drought, not only to humble and prove them, but "to do [them] good at [their] latter end." You see, there's a purpose in the pruning: fruitfulness (John 15:2); and there's a scheme in he suffering: freedom (1 Peter 4:1b). Just as suffering can bring new life into the world, it can breathe new life into our Christian experience. As the verses in John and 1 Peter indicate, it makes us more useful to God and less useful to this sinful world.

These few thoughts of mine may not be the whole answer, but they're an important part of it, I think. And if they bring a measure of peace to your weary, suffering soul today, I am blessed.

"Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." (2 Cor. 1:4)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hang in There

"But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them." (2 Timothy 3:14)

"But continue thou..."

"Hang in there," says Paul. The Christian life may involve much more than this simple admonition, but none of it is relevant if we stop putting it into practice. Christianity is more than creeds and crises. It's a criterion for life. It is not just a "life-style" that bends and molds to fit the current culture. Jesus said He was the "way, the truth, and the life." Then He said, "Follow me." That assumes persistence.

" the things which thou hast learned..."

You can only continue if you have first begun. Verse fifteen makes it plain that Timothy's knowledge of the Bible, as taught to him by his mother and grandmother, laid a foundation that culminated in his later faith in Jesus Christ. The former does not guarantee the latter; and the former without the latter only paves the way to hell with even less excuse. But no one can deny that early training in Spiritual matters, coupled with a godly example, is an advantage that money cannot buy and pedigree cannot obtain. And when the Seed springs forth into everlasting life, especially at an early age, there is no greater benefit in life. It is greatest reason why I consider myself to be a fabulously wealthy woman!

"...and hast been assured of..."

There comes a time, especially with young people reared in a Christian home, when what one has been taught will require personal assurance. To say that the Bible is true simply because our parents, pastor, or spiritual teachers says so, will never convince anyone else; and at some stage in your life, it will not convince you. This is not because the learned principles and values are necessarily questionable; it merely means they are valid enough to stand up to questions. Each of us has his or her own method of justifying what he or she believes. Some come to the Truth among the thinkers on Mars Hill (Acts 17:34); others rise from a hog pen to wend their way home to the Father (Luke 15:11-24); while a great host succumb to the Sprit of God under anointed preaching of the Word of God (Acts 2). The only thing that matters is that the questions find their answers in Jesus Christ. Whatever leads to Him, leads to life. That is where the assurance is found.

"...knowing of whom thou hast learned them."

We should always remember who taught us; and this is not as obvious as it may seem. In Timothy's case, it may have started with his mother and grandmother, but although he modestly leaves himself out of the equation, the apostle, Paul, played a great part in this young man's Christian life, as well. My own story is similar. Along with spiritual training at home, I had a godly pastor, teachers, and mentors who nurtured me through my walk of faith. But we should not stop there. In the final analysis, it is the Spirit of God who teaches us, according to John 14:26. And unless He does, no one else can. When one has had the benefit of learning from teachers with such credentials, it leaves little room for halting steps on the pathway of faith.

You and I as believers are on sure footing here, so there is no reason to stop or even hesitate.

"Continue thou."

Hang in there!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Spiritual Judgment

But he that is spiritual judgeth all things…” (1 Corinthians 2:15)

According to this verse, the truly spiritual man or woman judges things, not people. I realize this kind of judgment eventually works its way down to people whose lives fall on the wrong side of right and wrong; but the fact remains, when our judgment begins with the person, right and wrong becomes blurred.

Paul had quite a bit to say about judging one another. Perhaps because he had been on the receiving end of it from the beginning of his conversion. Even his apostleship was questioned (1 Cor. 9:1-2). At one point, he proclaimed, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment” (1 Cor. 4:3).

In Romans 14:3, he gives us the rationale behind the argument for impersonal judgment. “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth.” You see, here’s the thing; when all is said and done, God’s children answer to Him. Personal accountability may produce helpful safeguards in our lives, but it never lets us off the hook with God. Therefore, giving a man or woman the impression that our acceptance of their conduct is sufficient puts you or I in the position of “master.” And as I like to paraphrase Paul here, “Who do you think you are?”

One of the recognized fallacies in debate or argument is called “ad hominem,” which is simply attacking the person rather than the argument. It’s a method of diversion that seeks to diminish or bolster an argument by pointing out flaws in someone who opposes our own views. And it dulls the point of what may be a perfectly good argument.

Paul says in Galatians 6:1, it takes a spiritual individual to truly restore a fellow believer “overtaken in a fault.” Someone wise enough to know that he or she is susceptible to the same sin. And, as the cited verse says, “He that is spiritual judgeth all things,” not all people. Sin, as laid down by God in His Word, should be named, and the guilty should repent. But when you and I consider another believer’s sin to be a personal affront to us, we are taking far too much upon ourselves.