Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Life Laid Down

"Therefore doth my Father love me because I lay down my life, that I might take it again." (John 10:17)

Jesus chose His own death as an exchange for my life. Anything less would have been insufficient payment. But this verse burrows even deeper into this blessed truth. Jesus told those in his listening audience that day that His willingness to lay down His life kindled love in the heart of God. (I'm out of my depth here.) There is something about a sacrificed life that serves to appease (and I'll say it) impress God Almighty. We have only to think of all the animals laid on altars of sacrifice for the sin of Israel to know this is true.

Laying down one's life doesn't always mean the same thing. Obviously, to suffer physical death for the cause of Christ is a clear and apparent way. But you will recall, Paul said of himself, "I die daily" (1 Cor. 15:31). So, it is possible to lay down your life without actually ceasing to live. Life is made up of time, and the time we relinquish to God and His Kingdom is the measure of how much of our lives we are willing to lay down. Our time of active service may vary, even diminish, depending upon our circumstances; but our willingness to be called up for active duty at any given moment will remain as constant as our love for God remains.

We will miss another great truth, however, if we overlook the last six words of the verse. "...I lay down my life, that I might take it again." Don't mistake a sacrificial life—a "laid-down" life, if you will—for a dead one. On the contrary; it's resurrection life!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


"At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him." (Matthew 14:1-2)

This is surely an example of what Jesus meant when he said, "[T]he children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light" (Luke 16:8). I don't think He was saying that the lost have a corner on wisdom, because any insight they may have does not outlive them. In other words, it's not enough to get them (or anyone else) to Heaven. They do, however, often pick up on things that should be obvious to Christians but are not always, because they may be more interested in "hidden meanings" than plain truths.

Herod took for granted something that the disciples in Mark 9:10 had trouble getting their minds around: resurrection. These good men who followed Jesus, questioned among themselves "what the rising from the dead should mean." In fact, it was not they, but women, who were there at Jesus' tomb on Resurrection morning. Yet here in our text, Herod's first thought when he heard about Jesus was, "This is John the Baptist, raised from the dead." As I say, while the disciples were thinking their deep thoughts about the "meaning" of the idea of a resurrection, an unmitigated child of this world saw it as an established possibility.

Here is where I'm really headed, though. Herod expected someone who has experienced a resurrection to display "mighty works." He took it for granted. Do we? Paul says plainly in Romans 6:4, " as Christ was raised up from the dead by the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." When a man or woman experiences the New Birth, and participation in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it makes a difference. Oh, we may not walk on water, but it surely should make us walk a straight line, morally; we may not be able to restore sight to the blind, but we ought to be able to share the light of the Gospel; and if we are not called upon to cast out devils, we, nevertheless, should have the power to overcome Satan in our own lives. If none of these things are manifested, either we have never been resurrected; or else we, like Lazarus, need to shed our grave clothes and appropriate our new life in Christ.

One way or the other, one thing is for sure. "The children of this world" are expecting something.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Conformed or Transformed?

"And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God."  (Romans 12:2)

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis reminds us that "He [Jesus] warned people to 'count the cost' before becoming Christians. 'Make no mistake," He says, 'if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that." Paul tells us in Romans 8:29, we were actually "predestinated" to be conformed to the image of Christ. If we are one of His, He is going to make sure that we end up exactly as He wants us to be.

That being said, unfortunately, the world is trying to conform us to their standards, as well. Pretty uncomfortable quarters, huh? In fact, the word "conformed" comes from a word that means to be "squeezed in." That pretty well describes the situation. As believers, we are recipients of a new "divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4) that has taken up residence with an old, sinful one (Eph.2:3, that is fighting eviction, tooth and toenail. Oh, the new one will win; we can be sure of that. But are we also predestinated to have the life squeezed out of us, in the meantime? I don't think so.

The world, like God, is capable of conforming us to its image; but the ability to transform—from the inside out—is exclusively held by God. Transformation (literally, "metamorphosis") changes the whole mindset, as the verse indicates. It predisposes us toward God and away from evil. It does not mean we cannot be seduced by Satan; but it does mean, when we are, it will go against our true, new nature. That's why, as Charles Spurgeon said, a Christian never sins successfully. It may look like a coup, but will end up being a collapse. It never turns out the way we thought it would.

As you and I struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil, we should remember that our Lord fought that fight, too. He prevailed, and so may we. We have been transformed, by grace, into the children of God, "created unto good works"; and as we allow Him to renew our minds through His Word, we are being conformed into the image of His Son.

Conformed or transformed? Both, praise God!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Little Thing Called Murmuring

"Yea, they despised the pleasant land, they believed not his word: But murmured in their tents, and harkened not unto the voice of the LORD. Therefore he lifted up his hand against them, to overthrow them in the wilderness." (Psalm 106:24-26)

The dictionary defines murmuring as "a low, indistinct, continuous sound." In other words, spoken so that only a choice few can hear it, said in such a way that one cannot always be sure it was actually said. It is the insidious grumbling of someone too cowardly to speak up, but too conceited to shut up! I say this, knowing full well we are all guilty of it, from time to time. But be that as it may, it still should be recognized for what it is: a form of complaining that will seldom get you into trouble...except with God. (Go back and read verse twenty-six.)

Besides the children of Israel referred to in this passage in Psalms, here are a few others who indulged in this pastime. In Matthew 20:11, we find employees murmuring against their employer because of (perceived) unfair wages. The Pharisees murmured against Jesus and His disciples, because they ate and drank with sinners (Luke 5:30 and 15:2). The same disciples murmured against a woman who dared to "waste" good money, in the form of precious ointment, on Jesus, in Mark 14:5. And the people murmured because Jesus associated with someone of questionable occupation (Luke 19:7). In each case, rumbling resentment was displayed in place of more costly, but biblical, open rebuke (Prov. 27:5). And remember, the ones condemned in our text were murmuring "in their tents." We should not assume that our "homemade" complaints will be overlooked by God. They won't.

Paul cautions against murmuring in two places (1 Cor. 10:10 and Philipp. 2:14), reminding us in one of them that some of those who murmured were "destroyed by the destroyer." God may not deal with you or me as drastically as He did with Israel in the Old Testament, but is that any reason to risk His disfavor?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sisters Forever

Even now, it's hard to write about my sister, Jackie, who has lately taken up residence in Heaven, without speaking about my other two sisters. That's the way it's always been. Each rejoiced in the happiness and blessings of the other, and shared in the sorrows, as well. I think I especially appreciated this because I was the "Johnny-come-lately," being born 13, 10, and 8 years later, respectively. At first, as my sister, Patty, eight years older than I, remembers it, she was dismayed when she came home from Fresh Air Camp (that's another story) and found our mother "great with child." I suppose she thought four (we had a brother, too) was quite enough. But it turned out well, especially for me, since the "baby" has been "babied" by them all for some sixty-six years.

You will hear lots of complimentary adjectives to describe Jackie: classy, beautiful, fashionable, sweet, kind, compassionate, loving, and funny, to name a few. To these obvious ones I would add: guileless, forgiving, and resilient. She possessed a frank, but benevolent, honesty that was not judgmental, but was exact. She always took God's side when it came to sin, but never set herself up as judge and jury, whether it was family or friends. She could be hurt, and she was; but if she ever held a grudge, I never saw it.  She knew heartache and disappointment early, losing her only son many years ago in a car wreck, while he served in the Armed Forces in Germany.

She followed her husband to Bible School, with their three children (Debbie, Dusty, and Roz), then later, in two or three pastorates. When he felt it was God's will for them to return to Ohio and for him to work for the Post Office, well that was fine, too. She and Harold have been at home now at Grace Baptist Church in Middletown for many years, under three different pastors. She sang in the choir all those years.

There were two more children, a bright-eyed pixie named Jessica, who would much later succumb to muscular dystrophy, and a lively red-haired girl, they named Rachel. Harold and Jackie took care of Jessica for over forty years, and during those final scary days of her life, she and Jackie became more than mother and daughter. When the Lord finally took her to Himself, some of Jackie's spontaneity was gone. Her husband and three daughters attest to this. The sweetness was still there, but it was tinged with sadness; and when we lost our beloved brother, Billy, later on, it only added to the pain. As she said to me, "I cry more easily and over little things."

I liked it much better when my sisters and I were a quartet—Jackie, Patty, Martha Lou, and Salle Jo. The harmony was richer. We're a trio now, but the song is still there. Nothing changes that. You see, we're sisters because we were born of the same parents, but we're also sisters because we were Born Again of the same God—the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The cord that binds us together is a double one, both physical and spiritual.

I love my sisters, as I love my brother; and I miss them, whether they are a thousand miles away, or sharing in the glories of Heaven. We sisters were together this past November. We laughed together and prayed together. The next time, we'll worship the Lamb together. And our brother, mother, and father, who went before, will join us in praise.

But today, in my mind's eye, I only see someone running—yes, running—to meet her mother in Heaven...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

He Is Who He Is

"And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM...this is my name forever..." (Exodus 3: 14,15)

God is who He says He is. This may sound obvious, even redundant, but it is possible to slip from "God" to "god" in our thinking as easily as it is to do in our writing. This is no small matter. According to Exodus 39:25, God is jealous when it comes to His name. He is careful in these verses in Exodus three to let us know that He is the Old Testament God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as the New Testament God of the Church (1Cor.10:32; 1Tim.3:5). According to His Word, He is self-existent. No one brought Him into being and no one will outlive Him. Because of this, He is self-sufficient to Himself, and all-sufficient to us. He needs no one but Himself, and we need no one but Him.

There are many reasons why I consider the best-selling "Christian" book, The Shack, to be inaccurate, even heretical. (Though it is allegorical, the author claims to have personally experienced these [non-biblical] conversations with God.) Not only does it characterize Christianity as only one of many paths to God, along with Buddhism, Mormonism, etc; it dares to change the name (and gender) of God. As the "God" character in the book explains it, "I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning."

One might consider this to be inconsequential, perhaps even endearing, but I would contend that the ability to name someone or something establishes superiority. Adam named the animals; parents name their children; and the conquering Babylonians gave Daniel and his Hebrew friends new names (1:7), to cite but a few examples. No human being is allowed to give God a name. Even Mary, the mother of Jesus, did not have the privilege of naming the Son of God.

Now, I point out this doctrinal error to drive home a practical, even more consequential one. God is who and what He says He is, not who we think He is; and we are who He says are, not who we think we are. God, the Father, says, "I AM... and God the Son finishes it by saying, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).

The only way to God is through Jesus Christ, because only God can please God. And according the Bible, we are not God. In fact, as Romans 3:10-18 tells us, we are unrighteous, uncomprehending God-fleers, who are unprofitable, filthy-mouthed blood-shedders headed for misery and destruction, with no peace, because we do not fear God. That's what we look like to God; and no matter how we look to others, or what pretty names we give ourselves, nothing will change this but the righteousness of Jesus Christ added to the equation. This changes everything. Then, and only then, when we accept God's picture of us, asking for forgiveness through the blood of His Son, and are not ashamed to be called by His Name: Christian (Rom.10:9), will we know forgiveness of sins and fellowship with the Father.

God is a Father, but His name is not "Papa." His name is God; and He is who He is.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

His Banner Over Me

"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah." (Psalm 60:4)

So then, what is this "banner" that God wishes to display for all the world to see? It's for you and I who fear Him, says David; so why does he not tell us what is written on it? After all, a banner is somewhat like a flag, only larger, that is unfurled high above everyone's head so that all can easily see it. It is often raised for some type of celebration (holiday, birthday, etc.) and usually gives some indication of what is being celebrated or who is being honored. So, since God has seen fit to raise this particular banner on my behalf, I want to know what is written on it. Don't you?

A good place to look first might be the next verse, I think. "That thy beloved may be delivered..." There! There's a clue: the word, "beloved." What book of the Bible comes to mind when you hear that word? Why, Song of Solomon, of course. It was left to David's son to give us the answer to our question, in chapter two and verse four of his Song.

"He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love."

One day, when you and I sit at the banquet table with our Lover, Jesus Christ, our enlightened eyes will see what has been waving over our heads from the time He made us His own: a banner proclaiming His great love for us. He wants all of Heaven (and eventually, all of earth) to know that He has chosen us to share in His loving heart, by faith in His death, burial, and resurrection. And the consummation of this great love will come when He says to you and me, His beloved, "Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away" (v. 10).

As we meditate on this precious truth, with the eyes of faith, maybe—just maybe—you and I even now could begin to hear a rustling over our heads. If so, know that it is a banner, waving jubilantly in the sky above us; and on that banner are four bold letters that read: L-O-V-E!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Who's In Charge Here?

"So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands." (Psalm 78:72)

Self-reliance is far as it goes. But that's the trouble; it only goes so far. After awhile it gets way out of its depth. We tried to teach our children to be self-reliant, so that when the time came, they would be able to make their own way. But there are some things better left to the professionals. And when it comes to the disposition of our future, it would only stand to reason that the Originator of all life is infinitely more capable.

For one thing, when you and I feel that the sole responsibility for our welfare and our decisions rests with us, we are tempted to use any means available—biblical or otherwise—to chart a course that gets us where we think we need to be. Any professing Christian who tries to set the course of his or he own life, without the expertise of the only One able to see around the next bend, is always working under the handicap of shortsightedness. He who set the planets in orbit is willing and able to prepare the path ahead for us, as well.

All of our own innate abilities, which God so often uses, must be constantly under His supervision and standards, so that when we suddenly find ourselves out our depth, we can refer to our Guidebook (the Bible) and confer with our personal Planner (the Holy Spirit.) Frankly, I trust the integrity of God's heart more than my own; and I would much rather rely on the skillfulness of His hands than mine. Better if He's in charge, don't you think?

When heart and hands work together, success is sure...but only if the heart and hands belong to God.