Friday, October 30, 2009

Acting or Reacting

"Say not, I will do to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work." (Proverbs 24:29)

Did you get it? This verse is the so-called "Golden Rule," in reverse. Whereas our Lord commanded in Matthew 7:12, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (in other words, treat others as you yourself would want to be treated); the wise man tells us there are those among us whose philosophy is "I'll treat you the way you treat me." In other words, "give as good as you get." These kinds of people pride themselves in never being blind-sided or taken advantage of, never coming out on the short end of the stick.

The truly bad thing about this kind of perspective is that you end up allowing other people to decide your conduct for you, since you always respond in kind. This makes for a very predictable, unimaginative (not to mention, unbiblical) lifestyle. Once someone especially adept at the art of irritation finds out this weakness in our character, and can always be sure of getting a rise out of us, we become fair game.

But what if—just, what if—when goaded, mocked, or even wronged, we responded with a soft answer (Prov. 15:1), or turned the other cheek (Matt. 5:39), or didn't answer back (Titus 2:9)? Now, wouldn't that be original? Wouldn't that prove that nobody but God can dictate our responses? What a thing!

Our Christianity is seen best, not in the way we act, but in the way we re-act.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Good Name

"A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches..." (Proverbs 22:1a)

There are many things of greater value than riches, not the least of which is a good name, says the wise man. We as Christians sometimes like to boast that our only concern is what God thinks of us; yet the apostle, Paul, said in 2 Corinthians 8:21, "Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men." If the scales must tip one way from time to time, it should always be toward the favor of God; but as a general rule, God prefers balance (Prov.11:1).

Obviously, one cannot choose his or her family name. A man or woman may change his or her name legally, and a woman, if she marries, will one day take the name of her husband; but that does not change the fact that they bear the identification their birth parents, and more particularly, their father. However, one can determine what he or she does with that name. It's not a matter of living up to someone else's expectations, but, rather, living in the light of inherent advantage (Luke 12:48b). If you and I have been blessed with a family name unbesmirched by scandal or gross sin, we should consider ourselves rich indeed, especially in today's society. And we should be mindful of our own responsibility to pass the same heritage down to our own children.

But what of those among us who were not born with such an advantage? Have they no standard to look to? Yes indeed. For as children of God we carry the family name of the King of Kings, a name that is "far above...every name that is named, not only in this world, but also that which is to come" (Eph. 1:21).

A good name is much better than great riches; and those of us who legitimately wear the name "Christian" have a very good name, no matter what is written on our birth certificate!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wasting Your Breath

"...the breath of the Almighty hath given me life." (Job 33:4)

"I'll not turn my back on Him now;

He's given me everything I have.

He gave me my first breath;

I'll give Him my last.

I'll not turn my back on Him now."

This was what the chorus said in the simple little song I heard The Inspirations, a Southern Gospel group, sing today. I'm not sure if it's old or new, but it was new to me. The words stirred my heart and my mind.

The word "breath" is found forty-two times in the King James Bible, eleven of them—the majority—in the book of Job. Coincidentally, that's what the song is about. It's a retelling of Job's answer to his (to my mind) hysterical wife, who urged him as he lay in ashes, scraping painful sores from his body, to "curse God and die." After calling her a fool and reminding her that he wasn't serving God for what he could get out of it, he went back to his scraping.

The songwriter was right when she said that God gave us our first breath, as the cited verse says. Conversely, both Job 27:3 and Psalm 104:29 seem to say that when our breath is gone completely, so is our life. After all, it was the breath of God in Adam that gave him life in the first place (Gen. 2: 7). In the meantime, however, you and I have the choice of what we will do with the intervening breaths.

The last verse in the Psalms insists that as long as we're breathing, we should be praising God. Everything we say need not be about Him, of course; but surely, everything we say should please Him. Since our redeemed souls still reside within sinful flesh, however, this isn't always the case. But the fact remains, when the majority of our speech is about everything but God and His Son, Jesus Christ, for all practical purposes, we're wasting our breaths.

I like the contention made by the writer that because God gave us our first breath, we owe him our last one. That's only reasonable. And since we can't be sure when our lungs will expand for the last time, we should be breathing in air and breathing out praise on a regular basis. I wonder; are we bringing glory to God or just wasting our breath?

"I'll love thee in life, I will love Thee in death,

And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;

And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, 'tis now!"

— Wm. R. Featherston

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Puzzle (of Sorts)

"Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he shall shew thee; thy elders, and they shall tell thee." (Deuteronomy 32:7) "Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old." (Isaiah 43:18)

The two verses sound like a contradiction, do they not? That's why a haphazard, cursory reading of the Word of God can sometimes bring more frustration than illumination. More often than not, it takes many readings to grasp its multi-faceted truths, and not many among us have the inclination to do it. This is unfortunate for many reasons, one being the sheer audacity of choosing to disregard the truest revelation we have of God now, and His message to us, His creation; another being that any seeming contradictions we see within its pages only come from our own inability to see all sides of a truth.

Having said that, let me point out what seems to me to be an obvious difference between the two texts which might help to account for their obviously dissimilar statements. Deuteronomy is talking about people (generations, fathers, elders); while Isaiah's argument is against preoccupation with things of the past. One deals with living history, and the other centers of dead tradition. With knowledge of history, we are offered insight into the successes and failures of those who have gone before, so that we might add their experiences into the mix our own decisions of conduct. Tradition, on the other hand, can only tell us what time it was, never what time it is, and carries with it the danger of stagnation. It can hold us back. If we're not careful, we may find ourselves acting by rote instead of reason.

By all means, learn history—written and oral. I am skeptical of anyone who is unwilling to look beyond his or her own experience. Familiarize yourself with God's dealings with men and women in the past, and learn from those who have seen His glory and lived their lives accordingly. The verse in Deuteronomy instructs us to do just that. But, at the same time, when God clearly opens His will to you, forget "the former things." Don't even consider
"the things of old." This is Isaiah's message to us.

At times (perhaps most of the time), God will expect us to walk as pilgrims; but there will undoubtedly come a time when He will ask us to walk as pioneers. At least, it may seem like that to those around us. It will be up to you and I, with the authority of the Word of God and under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, to know the difference.

Know the past; live in the present; step boldly into the future.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Take a Walk With Wisdom

"He that walketh with wise men shall be wise..."  (Prov.13:20)

I learned a long time ago, if I wanted to grow spiritually and intellectually, one of the best ways was to be on the look out for other women who excelled in these areas. For the most part, they were older than I, but not always. Youth is not often profound, but I have met some outstanding exceptions.

I agree with Solomon, cultivating a relationship (or, if nothing else, a lengthy conversation) with someone who has walked with God and learned from this experience, is a shortcut to wisdom that is only surpassed in efficiency and quality by your own relationship with Him. The individual need not know you are picking her brain or harvesting her experience. In fact, the more natural and unassuming you are, the more candid and helpful your times together will be. Remember, it's a walk, which indicates to me leisurely companionship.

I am thinking now of people I know who always seem to be floundering in their Christian lives; and I'm sure one of the main reasons is that they are seldom in the company of others who could "help them on to God," as the old hymn says.

I think Solomon is saying this: We never rise above the people with whom we willingly choose to surround ourselves.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Healing the Hurt

"Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?"  (Jer.8:22)

In the last four verses of Jeremiah eight, the prophet sounds much like a gynecologist, addressing the maladies of women. He even sympathizes with them in verse twenty-one by saying, "For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt."

Setting aside the historical significance of these verses about a backslidden nation of Israel, they remind me of women who are hurt, but who look for healing in all the wrong places. Peace of mind in not found in a pill, but a Person; emotional healing cannot be found in books, but in the Bible; and the source of true love is not a good man, but the God-Man. Medication may work in the short run, but it's only a stop-gap, not a cure. Books—even Christian ones—may provide insight, but they cannot claim Spirit infusion. And a good man can meet many needs a woman may have, but not the greatest need: peace of mind and satisfaction of soul.

Jeremiah wonders why health is not restored to the "daughter," when there is a Great Physician standing by with soothing salve for every aching soul. As with all remedies, however, it has to be applied. But, so often, not until we've "suffered many things of many physicians" and "spent all that [we] have," emotionally, do we turn to the only One who is able to say, "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace" (Mark 5).

"Is there no balm in Gilead?" Answer: "Yes!" "Is there no physician there?" Answer: "Yes, there is!" These are simply rhetorical questions with obvious answers. But here's a real one that only you can answer: "Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?" Evidently because we fail to consult the Physician. It's as simple as that.

When you hurt, forget all the "GP's; go straight to the Specialist!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Who Can Help?

“For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Heb. 2:18) “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15)

We have come to assume, I'm afraid, that unless one has been a participant in a particular sin, he or she is not capable of helping someone who is caught up in it now. "They have groups for that," as they say. But these verses in Hebrews fly in the face of that supposition.

Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was tempted in all the same ways (“all points”) you and I could ever be tempted; yet, the writer is careful to point out,  “without sin.” Jesus did not have to succumb to temptation in order to “succour” (help) those who had been, or would be tempted.

I would contend, the same principle applies to our ministry to one another. Recovering alcoholics do not have to be ministered to by ex-drunks; those who are overcoming drug addiction do not have to have ex-junkies to identify with them; and someone who is fighting sexual deviancy is not always best helped by a former whoremonger. There is a commonality about temptation that puts us all in the same category (1Cor.10:13a). In truth, all that is needed is a Spirit-filled, compassionate believer who has ever had to face temptation of any sort (Gal.6:1). And, as I say, who among us has not?

There may be times when professional help is called for; but, generally speaking, when we're struggling with a besetting sin, all you and I need is a fellow believer who is willing to invest his or her time, prayers, and tears in our lives, whether he or she has ever been a participant in our particular sin. And let’s face it, as Galatians points out, each of us is capable of either role. We could just as easily be the ones in need of help; therefore we should be the ones offering to give it.