Wednesday, November 25, 2009

We Will Remember

“I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.” (Psl.77:11).

One of the praise songs we sing at our church has a simple little chorus that I love:

We will remember, we will remember;

We will remember the works of your hands.

We will stop and give You praise,

For great is Thy faithfulness.

That's what is necessary before genuine praise or thanksgiving: remembering. Praise for present blessings will be shallow unless we understand that the past is what has brought us to where we are now. It is the thing that gives perspective to the present. Not something to hold on to, as a child holds to a favorite toy, but something on which to build a future. And the past need not have been ideal in order to make good use of it. As my husband has said so often, it is possible to transform stumbling blocks into stepping-stones.

I have come to the conclusion that remembering usually ends up being very selective. This is readily seen by the way siblings view their childhoods. Sometimes, it’s as though they were raised by two different sets of parents! I must say, though, that husbands and wives can be just as narrow in their recollections. And since most marriages are made up of both memorable and unmemorable words and deeds, the memories depend as much on the “rememberer” as the actual circumstances.

You and I can do the same thing with God, as well. Earlier in the chapter, the Psalmist admits, “I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed” (v.3). The same man who looks back in regret in this verse, says in verse thirteen, “[W]ho is so great a God as our God?” What made the difference? If you read the Psalm, you will find that the man was going through a rough patch in the present. But rather than leave the present in the present, he reaches back into the past to other times of trouble and then lumps them altogether into a “pattern.” So, of course, he ends up being “overwhelmed.” He could just as easily have looked back at how God worked on his behalf in the past and found encouragement for not only the present but also the future.

Some of us, of course, have trouble remembering anything these days. I laughed when I read a story Barbara Bush recounts in her autobiography, Barbara Bush: a Memoir. Helen Hayes, she said, was speaking to a group of governor’s spouses visiting the While House and gave an illustration of two elderly ladies who met, playing bridge at a party. “As the party was breaking up, one said the other, ‘I enjoyed being with you so much and would like to call you for a game sometime. I am so embarrassed, but I just can’t remember your name. Would you give it to me?’ And the other lady paused, thought, and answered, ‘Do you have to have it right now?’”[1] The moral of that story is simple: remember while you still can!

This Thanksgiving, the sincerity of our gratitude will be in direct proportion to the quality of our remembering. Romans 8:28 is just as true for the past as is for the present. “All things work [and worked] together for good…” Therefore, I can praise Him for it all—the hurts as well as the happiness; the disappointments as well as the delights; and the unanswered prayers as well as the answered ones. Answered prayers may show how much faith I have, but the unanswered ones reveal how much devotion I have.

Because all I have said is true, on this day before Thanksgiving, I sing with a full and overflowing heart: "I will remember, I will remember/I will remember the works of Your hands/I will stop and give You praise/For great is Thy faithfulness."

Will you join me?


[1] Bush, Barbara. Barbara Bush: a Memoir. New York: Charles Scribner’s Son’s, 1994. p,332.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Time Will Tell

"But wisdom is justified of her children." (Matthew 11:19)

Sometimes, wisdom and true greatness are not recognized until they have passed off the scene.

In this chapter, Jesus has just given the multitude around Him His personal evaluation of John, culminating with the unprecedented, unequivocal statement, "Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist" (v.11). He knew full well that the people of His day considered John to be crude in dress, rude in manner, and just plain odd, in general. Jesus used this opportunity, however, to point out that although He and John did things very differently (vv. 18,19), neither one of them was accepted by the Pharisees; which only goes to prove my mother-in-law's old saying, "You couldn't please some people if you hung them with a new rope!"

That's why, as He says in our text, it very often takes another generation to realize a man or woman of wisdom and consequence has walked among them. The writings of A.W. Tozer are regarded as spiritual classics today and widely disseminated. Yet, to his own admission, by the time he died, Tozer had, in his words, preached himself off of every major conference platform in America. And, of course, the words Jesus spoke while here on earth, considered by multitudes today to be sacred, indeed the very words of God, were, nevertheless, seen by the majority then as either the teachings of just another would-be "messiah" or the rantings of a megalomaniac.

What does this say about us? For one thing, it says we're not as smart as we think we are and not nearly as perceptive as we ought to be. We make snap judgments because of pride, prejudice, and general unwillingness to take the time to consider the validity of the statement, not just the appearance and amiableness of the speaker.

Oh, yes, time will tell; but it may represent lost time where you and I are concerned. We should be listening for the voices of wisdom and instruction God, in His grace, may put in our paths, no matter how odd they may seem at the time.

Some people draw others to themselves; some people draw others to God, and only those who desire God are drawn to them.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Bad Business

“And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.” (1 Thess. 4:11)

Mark Twain once made the remark that he wasn't bothered nearly as much by the parts of the Bible he didn't understand, as he was by the ones he did. That's kind of the way I feel about this verse in First Thessalonians.

Paul’s admonition to “study to be quiet” seems especially appropriate in my case. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it takes every bit of concentration and will power I can muster to keep my mouth shut. As far as I’m concerned, “tongue temperance” is one sure mark of a disciplined life. I read something recently, attributed to John Andrew Holmes, that reminded me of this verse: "Speech is conveniently located midway between thought and action, where it often substitutes for both." God didn't command us to study "prophecy," per se; but He did instruct us to "study to be quiet." That should tell us something about where the truly hard work is found.

Furthermore, if you and I can keep from sticking our noses into what isn’t our concern, it will go a long way toward pleasing family, friends…and God. No small achievement! I have come to the conclusion all these many years that most of the stress I experience in life comes from fretting about things that aren’t really my business in the first place. And it doesn’t take much of this kind of thing to make us dissatisfied with everything and everyone around us. Even God.

Trust me; this only gets worse with age, so the time to put the skids on it is yesterday. God has a reason for these (seemingly) mundane mandates. They’re the equivalent of taking care of a sore before it gets infected, or a better term might be, inflamed. God knows (truly), you and I have enough business of our own to take care of. We’d do well to stay out of everyone else’s.

Minding other people's business is bad business.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Good Enough to Live By

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." (John 10:27)

You've heard the old saying, I'm sure, "Your religion may be good enough to live by, but is it good enough to die by?" I would contend that an even more pertinent question might be this: "Your religion may be good enough to die by, but is it good enough to live by?" If not, there's good reason to wonder if the first question is even relevant. John 10:27, and verses like it, make this a fairly reasonable assumption.

Ian Thomas has defined salvation as "reoccupation by God of a guilty sinner, in such a way that Jesus Christ has absolute control." That sums it up nicely, I think. After the Fall, God was no longer Adam's Companion, merely his Creator. When he declared his independence, Adam's internal connection to God was severed. But although his disobedience insured that we all come into this world predetermined to, and preoccupied by, sin; one Man's obedience offers the possibility of a predisposition to righteousness (Rom. 5:19). Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you and I can regain that Divine Tenant that Adam lost. (Depending on your surroundings, this would be a good time loudly praise the Lord!)

This kind of "reoccupation by God" is bound to have repercussions. Allegiance to Jesus Christ, God in flesh, is a given. Anyone who is willing to compromise His exclusivity in the matter of salvation can claim no connection to God, the Father. (1John 2:23). And when His authority is questioned, so may we question His presence. God does not require perfection, only allegiance. He knows we will sin as long as we are confined to these fleshly bodies (1John 1:8); but He does reserve the right to expect confession and repentance from us when we do (1John 1:9).

We often say, "He or she died peacefully," suggesting a heavenly destination; but being able to say he or she lived peacefully would seem to be a better indication. Christianity is a life, not an insurance policy. Eternal life, as offered by Jesus Christ (John 10:28a), does not begin at death; it begins when we acknowledge Him as both Lord and Savior.

I can tell you from experience, it's good enough to live by. And I can tell you by faith, on the authority God's Word, it will be good enough to die by.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Slow Learners

"...they did worse than their fathers." (Jeremiah 7:26b)

Why is it that children so often repeat the mistakes of their parents rather than learning from them? And what's worse, why do their offenses seem to be even more severe? Of course, part of it may be that it is always easier to take the way of least resistance, blaming our failures on heredity and environment. A popular, easy, and cowardly option. To believe oneself predetermined for sin and failure is to accuse our parents (and, by extension, God) for choices we ourselves make.

It can also be an unconscious (or conscious) means of repaying those faults in our parents we are bound to see as we get older. But that's rather like saying, "I'll cut off my nose because there's a wart on yours." Fortunately, as they mature, many young people begin to see the fallacy of this kind of self-destructive thinking.

I realize there are some people who seem to only learn by experience; but, frankly, I don't see them as being the brightest among us. As the little adage I am fond of quoting goes: "Experience is a poor teacher; it tests first and teaches later." If anything, the next generation should excel the previous. Not only do they have access to the previous generation's knowledge, they also have access to its experiences, both good and bad. Of course, what they do with these tools is a choice they make on their own. And one thing is for sure; when the time comes, they alone will be accountable for that choice.

"So then every one shall give account of himself to God." (Rom. 14:12)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sheep in the Midst of Wolves

"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves..." (Matthew 10:16)

These words are part of the instructions Jesus gave to His disciples when He sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God. With this simile—a sheep in the middle of pack of wolves—He paints a picture capable of striking fear in the heart of any sheep or saint. It assumes an antagonism between two groups of people that can reach the point of animal ferocity. And indeed, the rest of the chapter tells us about just such treatment God's people may face from government, friends, and even family. There are at least two other assumptions to be drawn here, I think.

First, God does not insist that we stay where it's safe. Nor does He suggest that we just linger on the fringe. On the contrary, He wants us to be smack-dab in the middle of some true danger spots. Always part of the flock, but still willing to face the ever-lurking wolves, who like to think this is their world and not God's. Wrong that professes to be right, and blasphemy that claims to be "spiritual," should always be challenged. And know this: they will hang onto their error and their religiosity with the intensity of a hungry wolf.

Second, notice God does not instruct us to play the part of a wolf in order to blend in. Actually, according to Matthew 7:15, it's the wolves who like to pass themselves off as sheep. When you and I are in the midst of reprobates, it would be ludicrous, as well as unbiblical, to try to find ways that we're alike! No, God wants us to go out as real sheep, fighting real wolves.

As to methods of conflict, Jesus instructs the use of wisdom and harmlessness, in the last part of the verse. "Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." For instance, a serpent doesn't flaunt its superiority as a lion might; but instead is wise enough to be unobtrusive when necessary, in order to strike at the right time with the element of surprise. On the other hand, a dove lacks the subtlety of a serpent, but retains a demeanor of straightforward transparency that can be disarming to the most callous among us.

Of course, the real edge sheep have over wolves is a shepherd, who will fight to the death for them. And, as a matter of fact, our Shepherd did just that for us (John 10:11). So you and I, as the sheep of His pasture, need not fear the wolves. And by the way, they may be closer than you think.

"For this I know, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock." (Acts 20:29)