Thursday, December 30, 2010

The End

“Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof…” (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

Our endings say more about us than our beginnings. None of us have any control over how we begin; but the way we end lies squarely on our own shoulders, in one way or another. The caterpillar has a truly humble beginning, yet it’s ending is so brilliant and beautiful that the lowly worm is all but forgotten.

A poor ending is always sad, but if it commenced from a rich beginning, it is especially tragic. Absalom began as the son of a King, but ended hanging from the limb of a tree by the hair of his head; Jephthah started out life as the son of a harlot, an outcast from his father’s home, yet he ended by winning a mighty battle for God and his family. In the end, neither man’s heritage proved to be either an advantage or disadvantage. The former can be wasted, and the latter overcome.

On what, then, does the quality of the ending hinge, if not the beginning? Why, the middle, of course. This is the place of power, the realm of possibility. This is where choices swing the pendulum one way or the other. How many bad choices does it take to determine the ending? No one knows. But certainly, some are more consequential than others; for instance, what one does with God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Those who disavow His Lordship set an irreversible course of destruction.

I would not squelch the prospects of a new beginning and a new year; but as I grow older, I find myself challenged more by the vision of a dazzling finish than the possibility of a series of new beginnings. I do want to grow both Spiritually and intellectually; but I want my short term goals to enrich my one great goal: the approval of God.

Like many of you, I was blessed with a good beginning — a godly beginning; but that isn’t good enough. I am determined that by God’s grace, my ending will be better than my beginning. I know one thing: I’ll be with my Savior, Jesus Christ; and, hey, it doesn’t get any better than that!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

He Chose To Die

"...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners..." (1 Timothy 1:15)

"Jesus Christ was the only human being ever born who chose to die." I'm not sure where I read this, but I do know it immediately struck me. People may choose when they will die, but everybody will die. We all have our "rendezvous with death," as the poet wrote. I realize Adam chose to die, but he was not born; he was created. No human being, born of a woman, has ever been, or will be, exempted from death (Heb.9:27).

Except for One.

Jesus Christ, as God, is untouchable by death. And this was true even in His body of flesh, as He told the mob that came after Him in the garden (Matt.26:53). He could lay down His life; but it could not be taken away from Him. Sooner could they extinguish the sun than they could snuff out that ever-existing Life.

Jesus had a virgin birth, and lived a sinless life, but He died a sinner's death. As Isaiah 53:6 says, God laid on Him "the iniquity of us all." His life was a wonderful example of love, integrity, humility, and good works, but none of that would have appeased a righteous God, who requires, and exacts, a higher payment for sin. "For the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). We needed more than an example; we needed an exchange.

And so He chose to die.

He chose to be born as a Baby, so that He could identify with us, in every way, from infancy through maturity. As Hebrews says, "He became us." Then, in the prime of life, He suddenly died. You could say, "It was either Him or us"; and Jesus said, "Me." And He showed that His death was sufficient to pay for our sins by rising from the dead three days later. "I lay down my life that I might take it again" (John 10:17).

Here's the good news: This exchange is not just about death; it's about life, too. We may not be able to choose whether or not we will die, but we can choose whether or not we will live after we die. Christ's death and resurrection made it possible. All that's required is for us to agree with God about who and what we are: sinners; and be willing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

So, when you think of the Christ child in the manger, remember it was a "cradle in the shadow of a cross." He was born to die—by choice. And I will (literally) be eternally grateful for His choice, because I'm a benefactor that blessed "exchange. He chose to die; and I chose to live.

The Babe in the manger was God's only Son,

Who came to the world to die;

The Babe in the manger could never have done,

The work of His God on High.

The Babe left the manger and went to the Cross

To pay the wages of sin;

Your way of forgiveness is not by the Babe,

But the Christ who died for your sin.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Me!"

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son..." (Romans 8:29)

Many years ago, when my husband and I were traveling in evangelism, we were sitting one day at the dinner table with a pastor friend and his family. While we were eating, he related a sweet story about a delightful, young man in his church, who happened to have Down's syndrome. The boy attended school with others like him and enjoyed it very much. He shared with his pastor that he had even acquired a girlfriend at school.

"Oh, that's wonderful," exclaimed our friend. "Is she pretty?"

"Oh, yes!" came the quick reply.

"What does she look like?"

"Me!" he answered, proudly.

As you know, people who have this disorder share unique facial features that are easily recognized; and to this young man, who was evidently "comfortable in his own skin," seeing himself in another especially endeared her to his heart.

You and I, who name the name of Christ, were bought (and brought) out of bondage to Satan for the distinct purpose of being "conformed to the image of [God's] dear Son." This is what our verse tells us. And God had this planned long before our world was ever created. It's part of the explanation for the previous verse. Everything that happens to those of us who love God is working for our good, because it is conforming us to the image of Christ. We are being lovingly whittled and molded into the Spiritual likeness of His dear Son. Not sharing in His Deity, but sharing in His identity, bearing the family resemblance.

One day, according to 1 John 3:2, God will be able to ask, "Son, is your Bride beautiful?" And the Son will say, "Oh, yes, without spot or wrinkle or blemish (Eph.5).

"What does she look like?"

"Me!"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Hasty Heart

“Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5: 2)

An old preacher once said, “Never make your Christian life so hard you can’t live it.” And you can do that, you know, by making promises and setting goals that even the angels could not achieve! In the first six verses of this chapter, Solomon is talking about vows made before God that have not been adequately thought through, but the principle stands true for any important decision. It's interesting, I think, that the place where these hurried decisions are more apt to be made, is in “the house of God” (v.1). Here, in an atmosphere of praise and adoration to God, it is easy to only see ourselves “[sitting] together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph.2:6), forgetting we are called upon to live our lives in this earthly place (Eph.6:3).

I realize Solomon often lapses into carnal cynicism in this book; however, he does point out some of the realities of life that are more practical than philosophical (e.g., 8:11). Another obvious but sometimes forgotten, observation is what he says in verse two: “…God is in heaven, and thou upon earth.” He's there, and we're here. Our affection must be where He is (Col.3:2), but our attention must be where we are, since this is where the display of our affection for him will have to be played out.

When we lived in Northern Ireland, although we were still citizens of the United States, we lived, for the most part, as the Irish did. We did not frequent the pubs or become embroiled in their internal affairs, of course; but we did eat their food and visit their Gospel Halls. To have alienated ourselves from them would have defeated our purpose, which was to make disciples for Jesus Christ. We were separate from them only when it came to sin or matters that had no bearing on our own lives as Americans. As believers, you and I are citizens of a heavenly Kingdom, but we live in what amounts to, for all practical purposes, “foreign territory.” We can walk in the Spirit (Gal.5:25), but we’ll have to do it in the body of this flesh.

Because of this reality, Solomon warns us not to make decisions on Sunday that cannot stand the light of Monday. “Be not rash with thy mouth,” he says. Hasty words come from a hasty heart. Decisions of the heart call for deliberation. It is easy to forget that mere feelings of love do not (and should not) always lead to commitment. The path of God’s choosing for us, and the conduct of our Christian lives, requires sober consideration and not just while the choir is plaintively singing, “All to Jesus I Surrender.” The decisions we make that are truly Spirit-directed will be as workable at home and on the job as they are at church. Christianity is not a Sunday-go-to-meetin’ religion; it's a 24/7 life. If it isn’t, we might have more show than sincerity; and we might be more religious than real.

Jesus said, "My yoke is easy..." If yours is too heavy, you didn't get it from Him.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Who Can Tell?

"And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live?" (2 Samuel 12:22)

Part of the consequences of King David's adultery with the wife of another man was the death of the child their liaison produced. The prophet, Nathan, pronounced God's judgment in no uncertain terms, yet David went immediately to prayer, asking God to spare the life of his child. After the death, David's explanation for his seemingly futile petitions to God was simply, "It doesn't hurt to ask. Who knows, maybe God would change His mind." Certainly, David had precedent. God had done just that, when Moses petitioned Him on behalf of Israel.

I learn several things from this story, and the most important one, I think, is this: God is more interested in our communication than my request. Faith is believing in God's integrity (Heb.11:6) not His generosity. Answered prayers may encourage my faith, but (seemingly) unanswered ones deepen my Christian walk. When I can say, like Job, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him" (Job 13:15); God can say, as He did to Abraham, "Now I know that thou fearest God" (Gen.22:12).

We often say of a parent who gives his or her child anything he or she asks for, "That's not really love. Real love does what is best, not always what is asked." As a matter of fact, David had another son on whom he lavished this kind of harmful love, and it ruined both the boy and his sister (1Kings 1). Are we to think God is such a parent? I think not. God always does what is best for His children.

Another obvious lesson from this story is that prayer is always profitable, to answer the question in Job (21:15), even when it seems futile. To pray for a wayward son or daughter, even though we know the disposition and consequences of their lives lie solely at their doorstep, would seem to be a waste of time. Yet as the words of David indicate, where there's life, there's hope; and as he says, "Who can tell whether God will be gracious to [us]?" And in the meantime, we are learning the blessedness of trusting in the good hand of our God. We know that David's unanswered petition did not leave him bitter, because he was able to comfort his wife, the child's mother, during this trying time in their lives.

Prayer may not always get that for which is asks, but it always gets the attention of the Father; and for the child who loves the Father more than the answer, that will be enough.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wanted: True Worshippers

“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the father seeketh such to worship him.” (John 4:23)

This Samaritan woman, of whom we read in verses four through twenty-nine of John four, found Jesus to be a Man who knew all about her, yet did not refuse to converse with her, even though the Jews at that time had “no dealings with the Samaritans” (v.9). After sweeping aside ethnic arguments and pointing out her moral (or, rather, immoral) condition, He shot down her assumption that worship is confined to a certain place, by saying, “[T]he hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet in Jerusalem, worship the Father” (v.21).

We who are believers are not beyond making the same mistake. We are tempted (and sometimes programmed) to limit our worship of God to a particular time and place. But the only prerequisites for worship as laid out in this passage are 1) that it be in line with the Word of God; and 2) that it be accompanied by the presence of the Spirit of God. There are at least two dangers connected with this mistake.

First, it will rob us of precious, daily worship. The same Holy Spirit we are often more conscious of in church, is the same Holy Spirit we brought in the door with us! And I can assure you, God is every bit as worthy of praise and worship on Monday as He is on Sunday, regardless of how we may feel on either day.

Obviously, then, the second danger would be in thinking that the only place to worship is with our brothers and sisters with whom we worship in the local church. Make no mistake; it is needful, even imperative, for us to assemble with the people of God (Heb.10:25) and to participate in collective worship. But if that becomes our sole point of worship, we can easily flounder spiritually if it is taken away. As Jesus said in verse twenty-one, things do change. And we change. But our worship should be constant amid any and all change.

God has made Himself available to us at all times, not just for help but for worship, as well. Jesus said true worshippers worship Him in spirit and in truth, anywhere, anytime, any place, under any circumstances. That’s the kind of worshippers the Father is looking for. Are you one of them?

"If you cannot worship the Lord in the midst of your responsibilities on Monday, it is not very likely that you were worshiping on Sunday!" ~ Whatever Happened to Worship? A.W. Tozer

Friday, December 3, 2010

What Does Love Look Like?

"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10)

If God is love (1Jno.4:8), the answer to my question can only be found by looking at what He has said about it. If I want to know something about economics, I'm going to consult Thomas Sowell, not Bernie Madoff; and when I want to know something about love, I'll ask God, not Oprah Winfrey. I have said before that even though God is love, not all (so-called) love is of God. All that glitters is not gold and all affection, attraction, or even altruism is not love.

Before I tell you what I think love looks like from the mirror of God's Word, let me tell you what I think love is not:

1. Love is not even. In the picture the Apostle John gives us in the cited verse, there was an Initiator in the relationship. Someone loved first. In the case of God, had He not made the first move, there would never have been a relationship at all. For all the sermons and songs about "searching for God," there would have been precious little to preach or sing about, without the wooing of the Holy Spirit. (Incidentally, feel free to apply any of this to human relationships, as you will.)

2. Love is not always reciprocated. John 1:11 says, "He came unto his own, but his own received him not." When "love came down at Christmas," as the old song says, there were those who said, "So what?" Thankfully, the next verse tells us that those who were ready to accept the gift of God's Son as their Messiah and Lord, were able to claim God as their Father, too. Not as the "only begotten Son," but as dearly beloved children of God. But rejection did not contradict the authenticity of the love that was offered.

3. Love, like life, is not complicated. Only people are complicated. Paul's desire for the Corinthian believers was that their life would exhibit "simplicity and godly sincerity" (2Cor.1:12); which leads me to think that the more complicated a relationship is, the less sincere it is. We dissect frogs not jewels; and those things that are most precious to us should elicit the least handling. God's love for us culminated in one supreme act. He does not ask us to analyze His love, just to accept it.

4. Love is not unconditional. John says later in this epistle, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments" (5:3). As my mother used to say, "Pretty is as pretty does." God says, "Love is as love does." God did not merely say He loved us; He proved it. He may not expect perfection, but He does expect participation. "Love" that flagrantly and unrepentantly breaks God's rules is counterfeit.

So, what does love look like? Well, from what John says in our verse, it's not a pretty picture. The one supreme act in which God's love culminated, was the torture and excruciating death of His Son on the Cross, as the payment for our sins. If there is one word that characterizes love, it is the word "sacrifice." Our pastor once said, "If you have a relationship that does not involve sacrifice, it is not a loving relationship." The sacrifices may be big or small, but the principle is the same: giving up my needs or wants for someone else's.

Without this, there is no love.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ulterior Apologies

"And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." (Hebrews 10:17)

You've heard the saying, I'm sure, "Confession is good for the soul." This is always true if the confession is made to God; but I would contend that if the confession benefits your soul while wounding another's, it may be more selfish and self-serving than good.

I have seen this played in personal encounters between individuals as well as in so-called, "confess your faults" services in churches. Sentences that began, "I confess to having had bad feelings toward so-and-so because..." were always a dead give away that grievances which might have sounded petty otherwise were now going to be aired in a way that gave them more importance, while at the same time, giving the confessor the aura of profound humility. I have heard everything from perceived personal slights to sexual inadequacies in a mate pointed to on occasion. Things that could and should have been taken care of privately and individually. Otherwise, it becomes little more than a confession of our feelings about someone else's failures.

Frankly, I will have to say I've seen this tendency more often in women than men, which is not to say this is a gender-based trait. It's not. But perhaps because we women are more adept at sharing our feelings, we are, for that reason, more in danger of sharing them too often. An apology should not be taken lightly, whether it is given or received; but you will be hard pressed, I think, to find a directive from God to apologize for having "bad feelings" toward another. We are told to confess our faults (James 5:16), not our feelings.

It is God who searches the heart, and there are some things that should remain between the two of you. To do otherwise may, instead of eliminating bad feelings, only create more. It may make me feel better to tell "Jane" that I always felt hard toward her because she ended up getting the husband I wanted; but now God has given me the grace to face my sin and ask for her forgiveness. But, truthfully, if you're "Jane," what kinds of feelings toward me have now been aroused?

Don't forget, God is the only one who can—or has—promised, "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A "Thank-ometer"


“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” (Col.3:15)

Our pastor suggested this past Sunday that thanksgiving is a poor substitute for "thanks-living." I agree. Talk's cheap, even when we're talking to God, or maybe, especially. I appreciate a conscientious child or adult who is careful to say, "Thank you," for great or small favors; but I question my own, or others' genuine gratitude when our lives are played out otherwise. I began thinking of attitudes that (to me) indicate very little gratitude and came up with five. There are others, I'm sure, but these are for sure.

We are not thankful, when we are:

1. FRETFUL - "...and it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God..." (Isa.8:21). Why is it that some people are so quick to blame God or others when they suffer need, yet are the last to acknowledge the grace of God and the kindness of others, when life is smooth sailing? When we are easily agitated by circumstances or people we show disregard for past blessings.

2. BOASTFUL - "For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them...In God we boast all the day long..." (Psl.44:3,8). As long as we are more conscious of our own actions in any victories we may experience, we will be less inclined to give glory to the hand of God that caused us to triumph.

3. WASTEFUL - "When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments hat remain, that nothing be lost" (John 6:12). When we are filled and satisfied, it is easy to assume "there's more where that came from"; and, indeed, Jesus could have made loaves and fish all day long if He had wanted to. But He didn't. He wanted them to be as thankful for the fragments as they were for the fish. This is just as true for our lives as it is for our leftovers. To waste the fragments that remain is to display ingratitude for the fullness that came before.

4. JUDGMENTAL - "Then his lord...said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt...shouldest thou not also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?" (Matt.18:32-33) Let me make it clear; God expects us to make good judgments—about things and people; and when necessary, and called upon, these judgments should be expressed. What I am questioning here is sizing up and pigeonholing people, with no regard for all the facts or any mitigating circumstances. To refuse forgiveness of a moral or spiritual "debt" that has been repented of and forsaken, is to forget the heavy debt we ourselves owed, making us ingrates of the worst kind.

5. UNCHEERFUL - "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" (Heb.13:5). By uncheerful (Okay, I know it's not be a word.), I mean discontented. When the Bible ranks contentment with godliness (1Tim.6:6), one is forced to take it very seriously. I wrote something a few years ago that is still true today, I think: "As we used to say, "Make do." Make do with your husband or wife, children, possessions, health, temperament, looks—all of it. Not because they are all you have, but because they are truly all you want. We may say we are thankful for our husbands, but if we are constantly trying to correct or change them, our words belie our actions. We may profess to be grateful for the children God gave us, but when we insist upon comparing them unfavorably with the children of others, they feel little appreciation. And when we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to upgrade our possessions, health, or looks, our discontent has smothered any vestige of gratitude we might profess." Ouch! I hate it when I "preach" myself under conviction!

Gratitude, like love, is a choice. "Be ye thankful," or not. I thank the Lord every morning for numerous blessings, and often I ask the blessed Holy Spirit to help me live that day as if I really meant what I said. I can testify, sing, write—praise God, in general—for all His mercies to me; yet the "thank-ometer" of my life can show some fairly low readings from time to time.

But, thank God, every day is a new beginning, and you and I have the opportunity of not only offering our thanksgiving, but more importantly, our thanks-living. May God make it real in our hearts—and lives—today!

It's good to give thanks; but it's better to be thankful.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hidden Beauty


"And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us..." (Psalm 90:17)

I glanced at the small, lead crystal sculpture only momentarily before turning to look at something else. It was lovely, but it was only one of many beautiful items in the shop. This was several years after my husband and I moved to Northern California, and we were on a one-day outing, browsing in some of the local, old gold mining towns nearby. Much of their business comes from tourists, and although we've been here for nearly ten years now, we still enjoy joining their ranks from time to time to soak up some of the rich history preserved here.

We were in a tiny town (pop: 150) with the ambitious name of Amador City, and had stepped for a moment into a shop selling dried and silk flowers, as well as delicate pieces of decor. And it was here, when I was giving the crystal pieces merely a perfunctory glance, that I was suddenly stopped by the proprietor, who said, brightly, “Oh, wait; you have to see them with the light behind them!” Then she picked up the little figurine I had admired before and sat it down in front of a little night-light that she turned on. With a quick intake of breath, I exclaimed, “Oh, what a difference!” For now the crystal had taken on a myriad of colors that shone with the brilliance of a kaleidoscope. And, like a kaleidoscope, the colors changed as she turned the crystal first one way then another. The colors were there all the time—or perhaps I should say, the ability of the glass to reflect the colors was there all the time, but it took the addition of the light to bring it out.

I couldn't help but think that God was reminding me, without Him, the Light of the World, my own life lacks all color and brilliance. My personality may be pleasing, but without the Spirit of God, there is no power to touch lives; I may be witty, but without God, I cannot hope to bring real joy to a drooping head; and when I sing, they may say it is “as a lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice” (Ezek.33:34), but, without the sweet breath of Heaven, it will be just as ineffective as was the prophet’s message.

There was a popular song a few years ago entitled, “You Light Up My Life,” and when I sing it, I sing it to the Savior of my soul, the Lord Jesus Christ. Without Him, life would a dull, murky gray; but with Him, my life takes on the color and hue of a brilliant sunset. If there is any brightness to my presence, it is only a reflection of Him, and I sing with the songwriter:

Oh, to reflect His grace, causing the world to see, Love that will glow, till others shall know Jesus...revealed in me. (Gypsy Smith)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's All About...Who?


"We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves...For even Christ pleased not himself..." (Romans 15:1,3)

I realize this whole idea is foreign to today's society; but there it is. "People-pleasers" are characterized as being insincere, at best, or neurotic, at worst; and, to some extent, this can be the case. But the fact remains: Christianity, as portrayed in the Bible, is anything but self-centered. And I would contend that the principle laid down in these verses in Romans, if heeded, have the power to transform our personal relationships.

Nearly all real or perceived offenses would be forgotten if our own feelings of comfort were not so important to us. But, alas, we are drawn to those people who stimulate us, entertain us, and affirm our personal worth. Granted, no one likes to be around someone who constantly criticizes or demeans you; but, on the other hand, requiring perpetual confirmation from others is just as much a sign of maladjustment, to my way of thinking. And this is exactly why some of us flit from friend to friend, by the way. When someone bores us, or hurts our feelings, we simply turn to another.

But think: How stimulating could our conversation be to the God who created the universe? And yet, He invites us to talk to Him and offers to talk to us. The Lord of Glory—the One who dwells in the company of angels—has proclaimed that He even desires our company for all eternity (Jno.17:24). And talk about reason for hurt feelings! Not only was Jesus Christ rejected by the world He came to save; but to add insult to injury, as it were, His fellowship and communion with His redeemed saints now are often sporadic and unenthusiastic. This is exactly why Paul's people-pleasing admonition here is both reasonable and legitimate: "For [or after all] even Christ pleased not himself."

Here's the thing: If Jesus could come to earth for the sole purpose of pleasing His Father and endure all the ridicule, misunderstanding, and torture, to bring us to God, surely you and I can "bear the infirmities of weak." In short, not please ourselves.

Instead of asking yourself, "What's my life all about?" try asking, "Who's my life all about?" It may be an eye-opener.

Monday, November 8, 2010

When Your Ways Please the Lord, You Can Do What You Please"

"For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." (Colossians 1:9)

Pretty snappy title, huh? Well, to my way of thinking, it's not just an aphorism; it's a principle. When your ways please the Lord, you can do as you please.

Remember the verse with which we began all this? "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philip. 2:13). God's will is all about incrementally transforming us into "God-pleasers." Every decision we make ultimately falls into that criterion. As Kevin DeYoung says, "God always gets His way" (DeYoung, 19). His will cannot be thwarted, but it can be resisted. Pharaoh did it. The angel told Mary, "Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son..." That was God's will, and nothing could have stopped it. Mary answer to this was, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1). This was Mary's will, and it displayed her obedience.

I would submit to you that you are in the will of God only to the extent that you are pleasing Him. If your life is void of the God-pleasing attributes enumerated in the second article ("God's Will and Our Wills: Mutually Exclusive?"), you are not in His will, no matter where you are or how much good you may think you are accomplishing. For instance, fornication is direct defiance of the will of God, whether you're a pastor's wife or a pole dancer (1 Thess. 4:3).

As I see it, there are four things that go into Biblical discernment of the will of God for one's life, with another important ingredient that gives credibility to the four.

1) Providence — both kinds: There is God's invisible providence that "works all things after the counsel of his own will" (Eph. 1:11). As the old song goes, "There is an unseen hand to me/That leads through ways I cannot see/While going through this world of woe/This hand still leads me as I go." And we also have visible providence, as Paul experienced in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18, when his desire to talk face to face with the believers of Thessalonica was hindered by Satan. As far as he was concerned, the door was shut.

2) Prudence: Jesus said in Luke 14:28, "For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it." Does this mean we should never venture anything for God without sufficient funds or reasonable hope for success? Not necessarily. But it does mean it should not be a way of life with us. Count the cost.

3) People: One could not read the book of Proverbs without seeing that God expects us to "talk among ourselves," if possible, when we have a decision to make. And should we assume that the only reason we're told to assemble ourselves together is to pray, praise, and preach? Acts 2:42 tells us the primitive Church "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship."

4) Prayer: Most of all, praying that God will help us to be submissive to His will. After all, telling someone the way to go is an exercise in futility if that person is dead set on going his or her own way. The most effective prayers, in the long run, are not the ones that change things or other people, but the ones that change us.

Finally, I have found (and I think the Bible bears this out) that as I saturate myself more and more in the Bible, the easier it becomes to know the right thing to do. It's as simple as that. The will of God is the way of God; and the way of God is found in the Word of God. This is true, even when our choice is not defined in the Bible. There are definite guidelines into which you can plug any decision; and if several choices fall within the boundary of those guidelines, pick one and go with it!

This is why Paul prayed for the Colossian believers to be "filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." The Word of God, illuminated by the Spirit of God, provides the child of God with the wisdom and spiritual understanding he or she needs to discern the will of God. If you're heart is right with God, you can't miss. And that's why I say, if you ways please the Lord, you can do what you please. If we are to wait for God to show us every move to make before we step out, why would He admonish us so often to gain wisdom? Wisdom for what?

Let me finish, not by saying something touching, but, hopefully, by letting Kevin DeYoung put a burr under our saddle, if need be. Perhaps you're someone who has been teetering on the brink of a decision, waiting for the perfect answer for a perfect life. If so, here is his admonition to you:

"So go marry someone, provided you're equally yoked and you actually like being with each other. Go get a job, provided it's not wicked. Go live somewhere in something with somebody or nobody. But put aside the passivity and the quest for complete fulfillment and the perfectionism and the preoccupation with the future, and for God's sake start making some decisions in your life. Don't wait for the liver-shiver. If you are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, you will be in God's will, so just go out and do something."[i]

Amen!


[i] DeYoung, Kevin. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will. Ch. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009. p.61

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

God Speaks To Me


"God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son..." (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Before you write me off as a spiritual mystic, let me quickly add, God speaks to you too. The difference may come in how we look for Him to speak.

I'm thinking now of the young preacher who was confronted by an old saint in the church, after he preached a fiery, but powerless, sermon. The kindly old lady asked him, "Son, how were you called to preach?" to which the young man replied, "I saw a sign in heaven—two letters: GP. I knew it was God saying to me, "Go preach!" It was then that the dear soul laid her hand gently on the boy's arm and asked, "Did you ever think He might have meant, "Go plow?"

You and I may not have succumbed to the temptation to look for signs in the heavens, but I'll readily admit to having opened the Bible, closed my eyes, and pointed to a Scripture, in my younger days, to see if I could get "a word from the Lord." And some of us have gone the "Gideon" route, as well, putting out the (in our case) symbolic "fleece" to elicit a "yea" or "nay" from God, which could be argued is a lot like resorting to a Ouija board. We may cite Gideon's tactic as preferred procedure, but I was reminded by Kevin DeYoung that Judges is probably not the best book of the Bible on which to base our walk of faith, since it was a time when there was precious little word from the Lord, and "everyone did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25).

But perhaps the most common motivator to action in the family of God is the "impression," not to be confused with dreams or visions. "I felt impressed to do such-and-such." As a matter of fact, you will find all three of these utilized in the Bible; therefore, I refuse to mark them off as leftovers from another "dispensation." But neither am I prepared to elevate them to a place of normalcy in the everyday experience in the Christian life. These phenomena found in the Old Testament through the book of Acts are strangely sparse in the church Epistles. Here we seem to find another principle in play; and it is unequivocally laid down in our text: "God...hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son."

All we can and need to know about God, redemption, and sanctification have come from the words of His Son, Jesus Christ, the pre-existent, incarnate, and inspired Word of God (John 1). How this is translated into our every day decisions will be the subject of my final thoughts on the Will of God, next time.

In the meantime, I want to share something DeYoung said, which I believe to be true. It puts exceptions and out of the ordinary means in perspective, at least for me: "Apart from the Spirit working through the Scripture, God does not promise to use any other means to guide us, nor should we expect Him to." [i]

The operative word here is "expect." God may indeed give us a vision, dream, or strong impression to do, or not to do, something; but to wait for and expect Him to do it is neither Biblical nor practical.

There is a better way.



[i] DeYoung, Kevin. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will. Ch. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009. p. 68

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Tomorrow, Tomorrow, I Love Ya, Tomorrow!"


"Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." (Matthew 6:34)

If you've seen the movie, Annie, you recognize my title as a line from the great song of hope she sings in the depressing orphanage where she lives with other poor, ill-fed urchins. The good thing about tomorrow, she sings, is that it's actually "only a day away." That's true, but most of us would rather look at tomorrow with a far stronger telescope. Like Annie, we love tomorrow, especially the when it's all laid out for us. When it comes to the will of God for our lives, we want a prospectus, not a day-planner. But that's not the way God works, as Matthew 6:34 indicates.

Will you agree with me that the Christian life is to be a walk of faith? What better way is there to show our faith than to acknowledge that God is working out His plan for us, in both the good and bad times of our lives, and so there are no missteps. There is obedience and disobedience to direct, Biblical commands; but there are no missteps. In other words, God is more interested in how I live than where I live. Expecting anything more definitive than this may only indicate a lack of faith. Kevin DeYoung [i] explains it this way:

"Our fascination with the will of God often betrays our lack of trust in God's promises and provision. We don't just want His word that He will be with us; we want Him to show us the end from the beginning and prove to us that He can be trusted. We want to know what tomorrow will bring instead of being content with simple obedience on the journey (DeYoung, 47).

Does this mean we should not bother to seek the mind of the Lord when we plan to move somewhere else? Of course not. God has provided us with the means to make wise decisions; and I promise we will get to those. What I am saying, however, is that if we end up in Des Moines instead of Dallas, our whole life will not be ruined, and we can glorify God wherever we are.

Someone has said, "We either have to know the future, or know someone who does." I've come to terms with that and found peace. I do know Someone who knows the future, and He has promised, "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye" (Psl.32:8). With His eternal eye, God has a much better view of my future; and my proximity to Him will determine the spiritual precision of my movements. It's as simple as that.

Who needs a horoscope when the Lord is ordering your steps? (Psl.37:23)


"Anxiety is simply living out the future before it gets here." (Kevin DeYoung)


[i] DeYoung, Kevin. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"The Lord Made Me Do It"


"It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord..." (Acts 15:25) "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us..." (Acts 15:28)

If you want to forestall criticism or unsolicited advice before you make a decision, simply repeat these seven words: "The Lord told me to do it." It may very well be His will, and we may feel strongly that it is, but the truth remains, just because we prayed, it does not follow that our inclinations are infallible. This is especially true if we're relying on a Bible verse we closed our eyes and pointed to!

Failing to make a decision is bad, as we have been arguing, but failing to own up to it once we do is just as bad. Yes, God is working behind the scenes, and our choices, right or wrong, will fit perfectly in His overall plan for our lives; but as far as you and I are concerned, those choices are just that: ours.

You may be asking, should we not pray then, or search the Scriptures, or feel free to express what we believe to be the direction in which God is leading us? Yes, most definitely, we should seek guidance through both prayer and the Word (more on this later); and, indeed, we should share our thoughts and feelings with others (more on this later, too). How will we benefit from good, godly counsel, if we keep our thoughts to ourselves? What we might need to change, however, is our terminology.

Instead of dogmatism where the Scripture is not dogmatic, why not opt for more biblical language, as in the cited verses in Acts. Why not, "I have prayed and searched the Scriptures about this matter, and it seems to me that God is leading in this direction." This lends both credence and reasonableness to our decision. Those who hear of it will not fear to question; but they will be cautious of assuming their own infallibility

My purpose here is to remind us that we can seek to diminish our own responsibility and accountability for our choices by putting the blame on God, as it were. If our choices are unpopular, we can soften the resentment by naming God as the instigator. "I really didn't want to do it, but God just wouldn't leave me alone." If our decision is unreasonable, we can quiet any voice of reason, by claiming the voice of God. But our decision was not God's fault, right or wrong.

It may be His will all right; but you and I will make the choice.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

God's Will and Our Wills: Mutually Exclusive?


"Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none else like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure...yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it." (Isaiah 46:9-11)

If, as Doris Day sang, "Que Sera Sera" (Whatever will be will be) is right, maybe the whole idea of seeking the will of God is just an exercise in futility. And the fact is, in one sense of the word, that's true. But like many words, and many things, there is another side of the coin.

When we read verses like the ones above in Isaiah, and others like them, it is patently obvious that God has set in motion events that will culminate in His will being accomplished; and nothing anyone does, or does not do, will frustrate His purpose. On the other hand, God still calls upon us to make choices (Heb.11:25; Josh.24:15), and holds us accountable for them. He ordained the death of His Son before the foundation of the world yet held those who carried out the sentence to be responsible. To deny either one of these truths—sovereignty and accountability—is to deny the Bible. As C.S. Lewis puts it, "Till (if ever) we can see the consistency, it is better to hold two inconsistent views than to ignore one side of the evidence."

Rest assured, God will not be forced to recalculate His plans if you make a foolish decision; because, when all is said and done, what God has said will be done. He not only rules, He overrules.

Having said that, it should be pointed out that God has given us some specifics that are His will for all His children, collectively and individually. Kevin DeYoung differentiates in his book, Just Do Something[1], between what God has ordained ("God's will of decree") and what He has commanded ("God's will of desire"). The former is how things are; the latter is how things ought to be. Here are a few of these God-pleasing attributes:

· Non-conformity to a sinful world (Rom.12:1; Gal.1:4)

· Whole-hearted service to God (Eph.6:6)

· Abstinence from sexual impurity (1Thess.4:3)

· Gratitude in all circumstances (1Thess.5:18)

· A life that shuts the mouths of critics (1Pet.2:15)

· Willingness to suffer (1Pet.3:17; 4:19)

· Patience to wait for the rewards of doing the will of God (Heb.10:36)

The truth is, when you and I speak of the will of God, we're usually not talking about these things. Yet, these are the things God considered important enough to comment on. Evidently, God thinks our conduct during courtship is more important than which Christian man or woman we choose to marry; and how we serve Him is more important than where we serve Him. Does this mean He doesn't have a specific plan for our lives, and doesn't care about our futures? No, not at all. He does indeed have a plan for our lives and a way to guide us in the right direction, which we'll talk about later. But to quote DeYoung again:

"Trusting in God's will of decree is good. Following His will of desire is obedient. Waiting for God's will of direction is a mess. It is bad for your life, harmful to your sanctification, and allows too many Christians to be passive tinkerers who strangely feel more spiritual the less they actually do (p.26).

God's will and our wills are not mutually exclusive. One does not negate the other. God's will is overarching and irrefutable; but our wills are alive and well. The fact that we cannot thwart the will of God does not mean we cannot disregard it, especially when it comes to those things He has enumerated for all His children.

Next time, we will get into the will of God that is usually uppermost in our minds when we use the term—God's will of direction. But in the meantime, maybe we should zero in on what we know for sure, and for which we will surely be held accountable. In this case, God has told us most definitely how to please Him. The question is, do we will to do it?

FYI: I've added a new page to my website that I think will be a blessing to you. It's my way of sharing some of my favorite women writers, past and present. Check it out:

http://web.me.com/sallejo7/Site_2/Women_of_Wisdom.html


[1] DeYoung, Kevin. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009. Print.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

To Will and To Do


"For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13)

I think if we truly believed this verse, there would be less "adultolescents" among us. By adultolescents, I mean people of whatever age, who, among other things, cannot seem to step out and make a decision or commitment about anyone or anything for fear of finding a more pleasing option around the next corner. You know, the kind of people whose search for the will of God looks more like a search for the Holy Grail or the Fountain of Youth.

I say this not to minimize the importance of the will of God, but to try to add some perspective to the search. When it—the search—becomes a way of life instead of a means to an end, we find ourselves floating through life looking for some ethereal sense of fulfillment, purpose, and destiny. As Kevin DeYoung describes this kind of Christian in his helpful little book, Just Do Something, "Too many of us have passed off our instability, inconsistency, and endless self-exploration as 'looking for God's will,' as if not making up our minds and meandering through life were marks of spiritual sensitivity."

Reading DeYoung's book has provoked me think again about the will of God; because, as he points out, it's not something to be grappled with by only the young. Circumstances in life change, and we may find ourselves faced once again with basic decisions we thought had been settled. I realize my thoughts will not confine themselves to one visit, so my intent is to start here and see what will come of it.

I have chosen to call it, "To Will and To Do," because I think some of us only get halfway in our Christian walk. We want the will of God, or so we think; but we find ourselves teetering on the edge when it comes to the doing of it, and often for seemingly good reasons. We like to talk and sing about the "sweet will of God," but the way we fret and worry over it is anything but sweet. It's as though we see God dangling His before us, just out of reach, in order to keep our attention. Yet why would the God who admonishes us to "take no thought for the morrow," expect us to agonize over our own futures?

Have I got your antennae twitching yet? Well, stick with me; I think we're all going to get some help here.