Friday, May 28, 2010

It Won't Work

"And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself."  (John 18:18)

It really won't work, you know. For the child of God, there is never any real warmth at the enemy's fire. Personally, I think Peter could have stood next to that fire till noon of the next day, and still been as bitterly cold as he was on this night. The problem was that he wasn't cold to the bone; he was cold to the soul. That's why, by the time the rooster had crowed the third time, he was reduced to pitiable tears (Matt.26:75).

Christians who find themselves drawn to the exciting flames of this world  receive a rude awakening. There will be neither heat nor light for them. Instead, he or she will just end up just getting burnt. The fire of God will warm the inner man...but not the flesh. (Luke 24:32)

I guess it all depends on which of the two you're trying to heat up.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Candle of the Lord

"The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord..." (Proverbs 20:27)

"Always let your conscience be your guide." So sang Jiminy Cricket to the newly "born" Pinocchio. When you don't know what to do, your conscience will always steer your right. Well, for my part, I'll need to have it on better authority than a cricket!

You may wonder why I began with this verse in Proverbs when I intend to write a few things about the conscience; but someone asked me what I thought about the verse, and I shared that I have always surmised that "the spirit of man" in this verse is referring to the conscience. (I was heartened to find out later that others, far more knowledgeable than I, agreed.) It may entail more than just the conscience, for instance, innate knowledge, and the powers of reasoning. But I do tend to think that since God can only be worshipped in "spirit and truth" (Jno.4:24), this is the part of our triune being (body, soul, spirit) that makes us conscious of an all-knowing, all-seeing God, which may, in turn, lead to full recognition and acceptance of Him, depending on what we choose to do with the light from the "candle."

Am I saying that all men have a "Divine spark?" No, indeed! I am not gullible enough to fall for the Gnostic/New Age philosophy that insists we all have God within us, and we have only to recognize this power in order to claim anything and everything we want. Scriptures such as Psalm 14:3; Jeremiah 17:9; and John 3:10-18, to name but a few, make it abundantly clear that there is nothing inside any of us that would enamor us to God. When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in a repentant sinner, it does not make him or her "Divine"; it merely makes that individual accepted —"accepted in the beloved," as a matter fact (Eph.1:6). There is only one Divine Being in this and any other universe, and that is Almighty God, who has manifested Himself as three-fold—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Case closed.

Having said this, I want us to look at this thing of conscience two ways: biblically and practically. We have to identify it, not as philosophers or psychologists do, but as God does, if we want to find out the truth about any subject. But, as a student of the Word (2 Tim. 2:15), I always want my knowledge to be a working knowledge, not just a knowing knowledge. If God has given me the gift of conscience, I want to know what to do with it. Don't you?

My Conscience and the Bible

First, I will tell you that the word "conscience" (Latin: "with knowing" or "co-knowing") is not found in the Old Testament and only once in the Gospels. We do find it thirty-one times in all, and to a great extent, in the writings of the Apostle Paul. To be sure, the idea of conscience is seen in such places as when Adam and Eve hid themselves from God, after they had disobeyed His orders, and when it was said of David on two occasions that his "heart smote him" (1 Sam. 24:5; 2 Sam. 24:10). But it is left to Paul, Peter, and the writer of Hebrews to supply us with essential truths about the conscience. The following are just a few that were especially helpful to me. Be sure to read the cited verses to get the full effect of the truth and to verify (or not) my assumptions:

1. Conscience lets us know we have offended God (Acts 24:16). Someone has said, "Conscience is not an 'inner light' that will ultimately lead us to God, but an 'inner guilt' that tells us we have offended someone to whom we shall have to answer.

2. Conscience is one reason why the heathen are lost (Rom. 2:14-15). It is that innate sense of right, wrong, justice, and injustice found in all classes and cultures, whether heeded or spurned.

3. A guilty conscience can be purged from remembrance of sin ("dead works") (Heb.9:14). Conscience is not deactivated at salvation, but rather, re-commissioned. Its main job now being to forewarn, not accuse.

4. Conscience can convict us of things we have failed to do as well as those we have done, for example, failure to follow the Lord in baptism or to practice good citizenship (1 Pet.3:21; Rom. 13:3-7).

5. Conscience is not infallible. It can be seared [and rendered unfeeling] (1 Tim. 4:2); weakened (1 Cor. 8:10); become defiled (Tit. 1:15); and even darkened (Lk. 11:35).

6. Conscience must be Biblically educated. God's Word always trumps conscience (Matt. 22:29; 1 Cor. 4:4). In this case, I agree with Martin Luther: "My conscience is bound in the Word of God."

My Conscience and Me

What am I to do then with this fragile, sensitive moral monitor that God has put within me? Carl Henry, in his book on Christian ethics, affirms that conscience can be both elevated and debased. I would say it this way: Conscience can be either nurtured or neutered. And in the case of children, the former should be done early and often. Long before Biblical truths can be affirmed, guilt for sin can be affixed. Our little ones need to know that the guilt they feel over misbehavior is a good thing. There is nothing wrong with guilt, if it is rightfully felt, especially since there is a remedy.

You and I, who claim the name of Christ, need to educate our consciences with the eternal oracles and principles of God; and nothing will sharpen a dull conscience like the Bible. The 19th Century, Scottish preacher, Alexander McClaren has given us a sobering word of warning: "Conscience is loudest when it is least needed, and most silent when most required." That should strike fear in some of us.

My Conscience and You

I am admonished by Paul in Romans fourteen and 1 Corinthians eight not to injure the weak conscience of another believer; yet, he asks in 1 Corinthians 10:29, "...why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?" I must, as a believer, conscientiously do all I can to keep from offending my brother or sister in Christ. We're family, and families love and protect one another. But, at the same time, I cannot get my convictions from someone else's conscience. It is to my own Master that I will stand or fall (Rom.14:4).

I thank God for His gift of conscience. I have lived with mine for over six and a half decades. I'm as conscious of it today as I was when I scratched the names of my favorite radio programs on my parents' wooden upright radio with a sharp pin, all those many years ago. I knew I had done something I shouldn't have done then, and I usually know when I have sinned against God now. But now I know where to go to rid myself of both the penalty and guilt of sin. The Blood of Jesus Christ has, does, and will cleanse all my sin, and will purge my conscience of the remembrance of them. The devil may try to bring them up, but when I remind him that God has forgotten all about them, he throws in the towel (Heb. 10:17).

So, how are you treating your conscience? Are you nurturing it, or neutering it? Are you honing it on the anvil of God's Word, or are you dulling it with the philosophy of this world? It's a precious gift, and we should treat it as such.

"Conscience without God is like a court without a judge." ~ A. De Lamartine

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Jesus, Himself

"Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have...And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto the, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and of an honeycomb." (Luke 24: 39, 41-42)

The disciples could see the risen Lord standing before them. They could even see and feel the wounds on His hands and feet. Yet they still were not able to bring themselves to believe that it was He. Verse forty-one says they "believed not for joy." In other words, it was just too good to be true.

It was that moment, however, that Jesus suddenly did something so human they were forced to admit that the Man in their presence was truly the Man they had known and loved for the past three years. Granted, the Body before them was a different kind of flesh that was able to go through doors, but it was still "flesh and bones." The clincher for them was when He began to eat fish and honeycomb with them. When He ate with them, they knew He was one of them! It is obvious from the text that Jesus was anxious for them to understand He was not a spirit; and there was a very good reason for that.

In the days to come, after He had gone back to Heaven, "the promise of the Father" would show up in the form of a spirit, the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8); and it would be important for these men to know that the Spirit of God would not be the last manifestation of God on this earth. This is also why, when Jesus ascended back to Heaven, two men standing by in white apparel (angels) assured them, "This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). This same Jesus—not the Holy Spirit that will come later, but the same Jesus who ate fish and honeycomb with you, is the Jesus that will come back again to this earth one day. As the young people say, "Man, that's heavy!"

Besides this wonderful confirmation of the blessed hope of the visible, physical return of Jesus Christ, there is another precious truth in these verses for us today. Jesus is bound and determined to make Himself real to us. He'll do whatever it takes for you and I to know that it is truly He, Himself—even if He has to eat fish and honeycomb to do it!

Jesus Himself

Faint with the heat and the length of the road,

I was oppressed with a wearisome load;

One came so tenderly saying to me:

"Give me thy load, 'tis too heavy for thee."

Jesus, Himself...Jesus Himself

I was so poor, not a penny had I,

Clothing or food for the journey to buy;

One came and whispered, "Leave that to my care;

Wealth of a kingdom with thee will I share."

Jesus, Himself...Jesus Himself

I was so lonely for lack of a friend,

One came and offered me love without end;

Love that is mighty to strengthen and save,

Love that can triumph o'er death and the grave.

Jesus, Himself...Jesus, Himself

What tho the valleys be many and deep,

What if the pathway be stony or steep;

Mountains or moorland, or valley of death,

"I will be with thee," my Comforter saith.

Jesus, Himself...Jesus, Himself

E. E. Trusted

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Getting Our (Un)Just Deserts

"For what glory is it, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently?  but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God." (1 Peter 2:20)

There are TV personalities and lifestyle gurus who have become fabulously rich by convincing people they are victims in life. As a matter of fact, one of them is purported to be the richest woman in the world; and although she has given millions of dollars to charitable enterprises, this in no way diminishes the fact that she has become wealthy by preying on the real and perceived misery of others. And her avid followers are just that: followers, in some cases, to the point of discipleship. [1]

I am forced to admit, this kind of psychological influence works especially well on women. Ever since the Garden of Eden, Satan has always known what button to push with the female of the species. "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen.3:5). "You're being deprived," says Satan. "God wishes to limit you from being all you can be and reaching your potential." Blah, blah, blah! Anybody who tries to make you think you can be as divine as God and Jesus Christ is taking his (or her) cue from Satan's playbook, and everybody involved will end up in the same place, and it's not Heaven.

Having made that distinction, my point in all this is that Peter agrees: there are those among us who are actual victims. People who, through no fault of their own, have been treated unfairly, struck out against (buffeted) by either people or circumstances, in a most unjust way. The difference is our response to such treatment. The difference between screaming for our rights and submitting to the will of God. Don't misunderstand, I believe the principle of fair treatment for all should be championed, but I also believe the principle of self-vindication should be renounced. Isn't that what verses twelve through twenty-three of 1 Peter 2 is all about? We are told in verse twenty-one that Jesus left us an example that we should "follow his steps." Follow His steps how? "Who when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him [God the Father] that judgeth righteously" (v. 23).

The most unfairly and illogically treated human being who ever lived has given us an example to follow and a rationale to embrace. Only those who suffer unfairly should expect to find their victimization "acceptable with God." Getting our "just deserts" doesn't count; only our unjust ones do. At least, that's what the Bible says.

The key to making this truth a reality in our lives is found in the last seven words of verse twenty-three, where we are told Jesus "committed himself to him who judgeth righteously." Here's the thing; the Judge hasn't ruled. The verdict isn't in yet; and when it does come in, it will be just. We can assured of that. (2 Tim.4:8) If you and I are willing to commit our vindication to the same God to whom we committed our souls, we have His assurance that any unfair treatment we may suffer is acceptable with Him.

Is that acceptable with you?


Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Puzzle

" Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he shall shew thee; thy elders and they shall tell thee." (Deut. 32:7)

Are you like me? Do you like puzzles? Here's one for us today.

Compare this verse in Deuteronomy with one in Isaiah that contemplates the dangers of nostalgia. "Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old" (Isa. 43:18). Sounds like one those oft-cited instances of contradictions in the Bible, doesn't it? That's why a cursory reading of the Bible can sometimes cause more frustration than illumination. Often it takes many readings to grasp multi-faceted truths in the Word of God, and few of us seem to have the time or inclination to do it. This is unfortunate since we can be sure any seeming contradiction is only the result of our own inability to approach the problematic text from the right perspective. Having said that, I will try to point out what to me seems to be one obvious difference between the two texts, which might help to account for their mutual contradiction.

Deuteronomy is talking about people (generations, fathers, elders), while Isaiah is addressing "things." One is living history; the other is dead tradition. With knowledge of history, you and I are offered personal insight into the successes and mistakes of those who have gone before, so that we might make wise judgments for our own conduct. But on the other hand, with tradition, we run the risk of easing into stagnation. It can hold us back. If we are not careful, we may find ourselves acting by rote, instead of reason.

By all means, learn history—written and oral. Familiarize yourself with God's dealings with His children in the past, and learn from those who have seen His glory. This verse in Deuteronomy instructs to do just that. But, at the same time, when God clearly opens to us His will, we must forget "the former things," without even giving lip service to "the things of old." At times (perhaps, most of the time), God will expect us to walk as pilgrims; but there will undoubtedly come a time when He will ask each of us to walk as pioneers. At least, it will seem that way to many around us.

Know the past; live in the present; and step boldly into the future.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Exceptional Lives Are Not Built on Exceptions

“And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy…” (Gal.6:16)

Rules do not rule out exceptions; but when exceptions become the rule, then your life is unruly.

I hope this little “Salle saying” doesn’t sound like double-talk to you. Perhaps I can explain what I mean.

Someone once told me about a young adult who becomes very dissatisfied if there are not enough “party times” in the week to keep him or her sufficiently entertained. In the case of this individual he (or she) has reached an age where this is impractical and a definite hardship on those around him (or her). This is understandable in a child, or even in early teens, but to see this in an older person gives us a picture of someone living a life where exceptions are the base, and real life only the fill-in. In the real world, life is meat and potatoes; fun is dessert. When you reverse the two, it’s not healthy.

But I think it is also possible for Christians to succumb to the same philosophy when it comes to their Christian lives. For instance, the writer of Hebrews admonishes us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together with other believers (Heb.10:25). Church attendance is a basic rule for the child of God. Are there exceptions? Of course. Sickness, transportation problems, unforeseen occurrences or legitimate obligations—to name a few. But when the exception becomes the rule, it’s not healthy.

Here’s another: We know from 1 Corinthians sixteen, along with the example of Israel (Mal.3:10, etc), that our tithes and offerings should be used for the furtherance of the Gospel and the maintenance of that place (and those people) where we are fed and nourished spiritually. But are there exceptions? Yes, as pointed out to us by none other than the Lord Himself, when He reminded the Pharisees that David took something meant for the temple and used it for his own need, and the need of those with him (Matt.12:1-3). Was this something David made a habit of doing? No, it was an exception. But when the exception becomes the rule, it’s not healthy.

I’m wondering, too, if the propensity of some Christians to live merely from one mountain top experience to another would not fall under this category, also. Unless a church service is high decibel, heart-pounding (not to be confused with heart-moving), with “some new thing” (Acts 17:21) from the preacher, they don’t feel as though they have really been to church. If God is not answering so-called "big prayers" for them, or if they are not reading the newest devotional book touted to be life transforming, they are apt to become bored with the Christian life. It is as if the eternal life they claim to possess needs periodic resuscitation, and the well of living water within them has sprung a leak.

All of us enjoy and look forward to those times of refreshing, when God steps into our everyday with a fresh glimpse of Himself; but part of what makes these times so precious is their very uncommonness and even unexpectedness. To consider our lives as children of God to be less than optimal if we are not always in the throes of ecstasy is to be striving for a life resting on the shaky foundation of exceptions. And it’s just not healthy.

It was said of the rich man in Luke sixteen that he “fared sumptuously every day.” This man, whose end was hell, reminds us of those among us who take those things meant to be exceptions and build their lives around them. Rules are given as a norm. Some of them, under grace, may be subject to exception on occasion. But when the exception becomes the rule, then the rules have changed.

And that is surely not healthy.