Friday, March 26, 2010

Free From What?

"For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness." Romans 6:20

In a world that sometimes seems overwhelmingly gray, it is refreshing to find truths that come in stark black and white. Sadly, while we're throwing wild punches in the gray areas, it's easy to sustain an uppercut or a knockout from out-and-out sin. (A little boxing lingo here!)

This verse in Romans tells us plainly and simply that every one of us is both a servant and a free individual, at the same time. There is no probation stage or interim period here. This is how it works: You are either free from sin (not its reality, but its rule) and a servant to righteousness; or you are free from righteousness (not its reality, but its rule) and a servant to sin. It's just that black and white.

Our choice here, with the measure of freewill a Sovereign God has given us, is from which we choose to be freed. I say this, because obviously, as sinful creatures, servitude, as such, will never be our first choice. However, this is like the law of sowing and reaping; one thing automatically sets the other in motion. If freedom from God's righteous demands is all-important to me, I, like the Prodigal Son, can run away. But, also like the Prodigal Son, I will end up working for the husks of this world, at the beck and call of its swine-keepers (Luke 15).

On the other hand, I can choose to throw off the heavy chains of sin, with the stipulation that I will serve a different Master; One who promises, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt.11:30).

Every one of us can rightfully claim to be free; it's just that we are free from different things. But, at the same time, every one is a servant, no matter how freewheeling we might think ourselves to be; it's just that we serve different masters.

I made the conscious decision many years ago to take advantage of God's "Emancipation Proclamation," sealed with the Blood of Jesus Christ, knowing full well it placed me in service to Him. Now I live accordingly—not perfectly, just purposely. And I tell you, I wouldn't trade places with the freest "husk-picker" in town!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Flame of Glory

"Wherefore glorify ye the Lord in the fires..." (Isaiah 24:15)

The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, "What is the chief end of man?" with the response being: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." The idea of the preeminence of God and His rightful glory above all other considerations is borne out all through the Scriptures. "Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: and thy glory above all the earth" (Psl.108:5). And again, "And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me" (Psl.50:15).

There is more than one way to accomplish this. For instance, we can glorify Him with our praise, "Whoso offereth praise, glorifieth me..." (Psl.50:23); with our bodies and our spirits, "...glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are Gods." (1Cor.6:20); and even when we are dying, "This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God." (John 21:19).

The cited verse from Isaiah gives us yet one more way. We can glorify God, it says, "in the fires." Not the way one would naturally choose, to be sure; but as anyone who has witnessed it will agree, a most effective way. As Hugh Latimer, 16th Century martyr, whose one death was by literal flames, remarked, "One suffering for the truth turneth more than a thousand sermons."

Suffering should not be sought as a means to glorify God, since usurping the will of God could never be said to glorify Him. But if God chooses this path for you or me, as He has, and does, for so many others, we should recognize it for the unique opportunity it provides us to give Him the glory He so richly deserves. And we can rest assured, dear saint of God, that when those times come, the Fourth Man in the flames with the three Hebrew children (Dan.3:25) will be the Second Man in the fires with us.

Make your fiery trial a flame of glory!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Squeezing God Out

"Behold, I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves." (Amos 2:13)

"You've put everything else on top of me, so I'm pushed to the bottom of your priorities." That's what God is saying to His people. Beginning in verse six of this second chapter of Amos, Israel is condemned for allowing commercialism and the quest for prosperity to steal their hearts from the God who brought them out of Egypt to the land of promise (v.10). But I am very much afraid this same accusation of misplaced priorities could also be leveled at some of us who name the name of Christ.

The more (and better) you and I serve the Lord, the more we are susceptible to the temptation of allowing our labor of love to become an end in itself; and when that happens, the labor can quickly squeeze out the love. In the morning, we grab our "to-do" list before we grab our Bible. God becomes the recipient of our service, not the motivation. Then, finally, He is no longer the recipient, and His praise is no longer our goal. In short, our lives can be so heavy with well-intentioned (and well-executed) service that God Himself is "pressed" down (I say this reverently) to "low man on the totem pole."

When what we're doing for God becomes more important than God, what we're doing is no longer important.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

For His Pleasure

"Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." (Rev. 4:11)

If you have seen the movie, Chariots of Fire, you know something of the story of Eric Liddell, the Scottish Olympic runner, who won the gold medal for the 400-meter race in 1925. He later served for many years as a missionary in China, and died in a Japanese internment camp in 1945. It is reported that his dying words were, "It's complete surrender." Another man who was a fellow internee wrote a book about his experiences in the camp and said of Liddell, "He was the finest Christian gentleman it has been my pleasure to meet."

When he was asked why he postponed going to China as in order to prepare and run in the Olympics, Liddell's reply was, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."

The verse in Revelation tells us, God created all things for His pleasure; and that includes you and me. We all know faith and obedience please Him; but I ask myself, what trait, talent, ability, or even idiosyncrasy has He given me that I can use to bring pleasure to my own unique way. Is there something I am able to do that has the potential to elicit the smile of God, so that I, too, may feel His pleasure?

I know He pleases me. It gives me untold pleasure to know that I have eternal life, and the Holy Spirit of God resides within me. It is a pleasure to drink living water every day from the well of His sweet Word. And one day, praise His name, I will see that same the flesh; and David says, at His right hand are "pleasures forevermore" (Psl.16:11).

When was the last time you felt the pleasure of God?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spiritual Wickedness

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."  (Ephesians 6:12)

In the Bible you will find the word "spirit" in both upper and lower case; and the difference between the two can sometimes be a matter of life or death. For instance, the Spirit talked about in 1 Corinthians 3:16, Galatians 4:6 and 5:22 is the Spirit of God, whose acquisition brings eternal life; but the spirit we read of in the first few verses of 1 John four will, most assuredly, send a man or woman to hell. I make this stark contrast only because the Word of God does.

There are people in this world who are aware of forces in life that are unseen, but real, and these people are often characterized as being "spiritual." But the vast majority are more alive to their senses than the Scriptures, and are dangerously open to cults, gurus, and demons. There is a "spirit of the world" (1 Cor. 2:12) in diametric opposition to the Spirit of God. Only those who are indwelt by the latter are capable of withstanding the former. Ephesians 6:12 characterizes it as a wrestling match between the saints of God and a damnable enemy set on possessing our mind, heart, and body—"spiritual wickedness in high places."

It was the Apostle Paul's desire that the people of Colosse would be "filled with the knowledge of [God's] will in all wisdom and spiritual knowledge" (Col. 1:9 [emphasis added]). Not all knowledge is Spiritual knowledge; sometimes it's just spiritual claptrap. Then he describes such a man or woman, in 1 Corinthians 2:15, as being able to judge "all things.” In other words, you can spot them by their good judgment. Spirituality is manifested in Biblical, wise decisions, not airy, meaningless dialogue. It is more interested in holy living than in a "holistic" lifestyle.

People who are spiritual may rise above the material world, but that won’t get them all the way to Heaven. Only men and women who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ and His Word are partakers of the Spirit of God:

“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist...” (1Jno.4:2-3)

“God is a Spirit,” says John in his Gospel, and anyone who worships Him, must worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (4:24); but Satan also is a spirit (Isa.14), and those who worship him do so “in the spirit of error” (1Jno.4:6).

Pity the man or woman who does not know the difference.