Friday, April 23, 2010

Watch My Girls

"The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another."   (Genesis 31:49)

Nearly ten years ago, when I began writing these little articles, they were only meant to be for my own two girls, Leah Beth and Charity Faith. That's why they're called, "For the Girls." As time went by, other "girls" asked to be included, and the list has grown substantially. In addition, I regularly hear from ladies I have never met, who came in contact with them by word of mouth or my blog. For this, I am truly thankful. I love being a woman, especially a woman of God—not a "super saint," just a saint, as identified by Paul in his Epistles (e.g., Rom.1:7); who happens to be a woman. To quote Elizabeth Elliot, "Being a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian; but being a Christian makes me a different kind of woman."

I found something recently that I wrote to my girls in the early days, and for some reason, I felt constrained to share it today with you. It came from a heart overflowing with love for them; and that same heart beats, even more fervently, if possible.

Watch My Girls

Remember when you children were small, and Dad would say, "If kids are out of your sight, they're out of your control"? He was right, of course, as we learned first hand, on several occasions. Nothing takes the place of on-sight supervision. That's why when we were gone, we made sure someone responsible was watching you. (Remember Mrs. Busbee and Mrs. Courtney?)

This text in Genesis says what I'm trying to say. Although the leave-taking that prompted these words was less than amicable, still there is a sweetness in them that never fails to touch hearts, mine included. They are especially poignant to me, because, for so many years, it was my responsibility (and joy) to watch you. Now, however, you are out of my sight, and out of my control, as it should be. Still, you are my girls, and somehow, I just can't bring myself to leave you "unsupervised." So I have asked Someone truly responsible to watch you for me. I leave you with Him daily, because I have every confidence in Him, and because I love you so much.

Oh, I almost forgot; be sure to mind Him!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Light of Life

"Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."  (John 8:12)

I think one could safely say that the distance between the saved individual and the lost man or woman can be measured in light years (1 light year = about 5.88 trillion miles).

The first two chapters of 1 John make this stark distinction quite plain. The difference between being a child of God, by faith in Jesus Christ, and being a child of the devil, but rejection of God's Son, is the difference between light and darkness. God's children may experience temporary darkness, as you might if you were rendered unconscious, but it is virtually impossible for someone who is filled with the "Light of the World" to remain in prolonged darkness.

What, you may wonder, could bring this temporary darkness into the life of a child of God? Sin, in general, is an obvious answer; but 1 John 2:10-11 provides us with a specific one:

"He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes."

Hate will turn the light out every time, says the apostle. According to the old saying, "Love is blind," but I would contend that love is not blind; it only chooses not to see, at times. On the contrary, it is hate, according to this verse that can be so blinding that we are virtually unable to see where we're going ("...knoweth not whither he goeth..."). Sometimes we piously insist that we don't actually hate, we just strongly dislike a brother or sister in the Lord; but I am very much afraid, the line between the two can become so blurred that we stumble over the line from one to the other, without being conscious of it. After all, that's the kind of thing that happens when you're blind.

David said in Psalm 139 that he was able to hate the enemies of God with a "perfect hatred," no small claim. But he did not include fellow believers in this category. These verses in 1 John are spoken about those among us who allow hatred for a brother or sister in Christ to worm its way into a regenerated heart. For that reason, it would be wise for all of us to guard against strong and/or prolonged feelings of resentment against another child of God, lest we wake up one morning and find ourselves stumbling around in the dark.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What's It To You?

"Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following...Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him...what is that to thee? follow thou me." (John 21:20-22)

Learn how to look at a person; then learn how to look away. I scribbled down this little piece of advice in a battered notebook I keep for such musings, thinking I might write something along these lines one day.

That day has arrived.

The one sharing this episode in Peter's life is the very man to whom Peter's enquiry refers: John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He does not tell us what his own reaction to Peter's concern for his future was; but one can imagine that Jesus' answer to Peter may well have solicited a smile from him. He was used to Peter's need to always be on top of things, not above even rebuking Jesus when he thought He was taking a wrong turn in His ministry (Matt.16:22).

Peter had a bad habit of taking His eyes off the Lord (Matt.14:28-30). Aren't you glad that isn't something you and I don't have a problem with (wink, wink)? On this occasion, in John twenty-one, our Lord had just given Peter assurance that he was going to live into his dotage. But before he died at a ripe old age, he would find himself no longer in charge, as he liked to be. Someone else would be dressing him and taking him where he or she wanted him to go. This is one of those "good news-bad news" scenarios. However he took it, for some reason, it prompted Peter to turn his back of Jesus momentarily and notice John following them, simply minding his own business, content to let Peter and Jesus converse privately.

"What's going to happen to him?" This was Peter's question. "Is he going to live long too?" It doesn't seem to be an especially intrusive or malicious question. But the thing is, what difference did it make to God's will for his own life? That's exactly what Jesus was saying, when He replied, "If he lives till I come back to the earth, what's it to you? Your only worry should be whether or not you're following me." Rather blunt, I know, but it gives us some idea of what God thinks about our so-called "burden" that God's will be accomplished in the lives of others.

I commented in another piece I wrote several years ago that if some of us were asked Cain's question—"Am I my brother's keeper"—our answer would be, "You bet I am!" I went on to describe those us who indulge in this folly as being quick to assume responsibility for the "conduct, choices, and convictions of everyone within our sphere of influence."

This story in the life of Peter says to me that when I begin to zero in on what others in the Body of Christ are doing, whether family, friends, or well-known personalities, it's because, like Peter, I have taken our eyes off the Lord. When Jesus is the focal point of our interest, and His will for our life is our main concern, others' ministries and mistakes are only peripheral images to us.

God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can....and the wisdom to know it's me.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Our Cross...or His

"And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus."  (Luke 23:26)

This was not Simon's cross. In reality, it had nothing to do with him. It did not signify any hatred for him but was an extension of the hatred for Jesus Christ. It did not have his name on it, yet he would forever be connected with its famous (or infamous, depending on one's outlook) significance. Unfortunately, we are not privy to his own estimate of that day when he was pressed into service, and called upon to carry a cross for at time, with the words, "King of the Jews" scrolled at the top.

I am reminded of the (to me) enigmatic verse in Colossians, where Paul characterizes his own perspective on the trials he was suffering for the cause of Christ: "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church" (Col.1:24). To Paul, he was taking up where Jesus left off. Not that his own suffering matched in any way Christ's suffering, in either intensity or efficacy. No one has, or ever will, suffer the pain and agony that Jesus bore on Calvary that culminated in His very soul being dipped in hell; nor could such horrors, if they could be repeated by anyone else, ever pay the price for sin, since a perfect, sinless sacrifice was required. But, says Paul, I am willing to follow in this splendid succession of suffering for His sake and the Church.

I am inclined to think that not all our suffering falls under this category. Unless His name, His glory, or His cause is at stake, it would seem to me that it is "our cross," not His. This is not to minimize our own personal sufferings in any way. Jesus experienced these same afflictions while He was here on earth and was "tempted in all points like as we are," and is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities," says the writer of Hebrews (Heb.4:15). Our sorrows are His sorrows. But what of those times when His sorrows are our sorrows?

Those times when our Christianity truly costs us, when denying Him or disobeying Him would ease our circumstances, or when our witness for Him brings ridicule, persecution, or even pain; then, it would seem to me, we are bearing the cross "after Jesus," like Simon, and "filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in [our] flesh," like Paul.

I may be putting too fine a point on suffering. Perhaps all suffering can be identified with the Cross. I may have read too many biographies, or seen too many exceptional saints, whose identification with Jesus Christ has brought them untold suffering. To me, there's a difference.

Charles Spurgeon says of such saints: "When you are molested for your piety; when your religion brings the trial of cruel mockings upon you, then remember it is not your cross, it is Christ's cross; and how delightful it is to carry the cross of our Lord Jesus! You carry the cross after him. You have blessed company; your path is marked with the footprints of your Lord; the mark of his blood-red shoulder is upon the heavy burden."

Our cross, or His?

Friday, April 2, 2010

If Christ Be Not Raised

“And if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain; ye are yet in your sins.” (1 Cor.15:17)

“If Christ be not raised…” Boy, that's a big “if!” For the very reasons that Paul gives. If Jesus never rose from the grave, our faith is groundless, His death ineffective, and we are still under the penalty of sin. Any onslaught against Christmas pales in comparison to the attempted marginalization of Easter and the Resurrection.

Notice the verse does not say our hope of salvation is dependent on the death of Christ, but on His Resurrection. Of course, the latter assumes the former; but not vice versa. All men die, but not all men rise from the dead. That is a supernatural occurrence that involves Divine intervention. Jesus’ Resurrection was different from others we read about in the Bible because He was God, the Son, designated by God, the Father to be the Sacrifice for the sins of the world.

The Old Testament sacrifices died, but they did not come alive again. For that reason, they had to be repeated. But Jesus Christ “offered one sacrifice for sins forever,” then rose from the dead, and is now sitting “on the right hand of God” (Heb.10:12). In short, there would have been nothing good about "Good Friday," had there not been a Resurrection Sunday. This is the most important reason to be more concerned with Easter than Christmas. But there is another one.

Although the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ has been under fire from a few days after its occurrence (Matt.28:12-15) till this present day, the new interest in so-called “ancient manuscripts,” seen, for instance, in all the hype about the book and movie, The DaVinci Code, has served to move “higher criticism” from Academia to the front room. Such false claims can be answered, if one is willing to take the time to do the research, but how many will? For the average man, woman, and especially young person, the high-sounding language used by these supposed “experts” will raise doubts. As Romans 16:18b says, " good words and fair speeches [they] deceive the hearts of the simple."

This is critical.

The Babe in the manger, and the Man who “went about doing good,” working miracles, truly lived; and it is important to recognize this. Bu the fact is, the Man Christ Jesus, who, died and rose again is the only One who can save us from our sins and give us eternal life. This is reason why we, as the early believers, worship together on Sunday, not Friday.

When we celebrate His Resurrection, we should sing “He Arose” with twice the exuberance as when we sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem. We should raise our hearts (and hands, if you like) in worship to our Savior; for Paul does not leave us with that threatening “if.” He changes that "if" to an "is." Three verses later, He assures us: “But now is Christ risen from the dead…” (emphasis mine).

No, child of God!  We have not believed in vain, and, Praise God, we are not in our sins.

The Door to Heaven may have been hung at Calvary; but it only hinges at the Empty Tomb!