Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wise Wisdom

"But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." (James 3:17)

Lest you think my title somewhat redundant, I would remind you that not all knowledge is equal. By that I mean all facts are not worth knowing. As a matter of fact, some things are dangerous to know. Eve chose to know good and evil (Gen.3) instead of God. Big mistake. In the first place, "facts" vary from person to person, depending on where he or she derives his or her authority. In Eve's case, she chose the devil's "facts" over God's revealed Truth. When the Bible says the truth shall "set you free," it is talking about the Truth, not just truth in general. The devil may have said a few things that were accurate, but I would never consider him to be the repository of Truth (Jno.8:44).

The same principle applies to wisdom. There is wisdom spoken of in verse fifteen of this chapter that does not come from above. In fact, the two are poles apart. The wisdom of verse fifteen is described as "earthly, sensual, devilish." See what I mean? I would call this worldly wisdom or "street smarts." The trouble is, we have come to consider Christians who have acquired some degree of these attributes through the years to be better equipped to counsel other Christians because of it. They may be better equipped to sympathize with their brothers and sisters who may be tempted by sin, or have succumbed to it; but it does not necessarily follow that they will be better equipped to help them overcome the temptation or be restored afterwards. If I read Galatians 6:1 right, the only resume one needs to restore another believer is spirituality and humility. Frankly, I try not to be overly impressed with other people's sins: I have enough of my own.

Verse seventeen gives us a way to spot the real thing, the Heavenly wisdom. First, it is "pure"; it cannot boast of any instructions in unrighteousness. It is "peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated." Heavenly wisdom never has to force its opinions on others, for Truth is its own best argument and needs no outside vindication. It is "full of mercy and good fruits," and is "without partiality" or "hypocrisy." It not only sounds good, it looks good; and it does not change to fit the individual or the occasion. All in all, would you not say, after seeing what this Heavenly wisdom actually looks like, we should be less apt to lightly claim it for others, and especially ourselves?

What kind of wisdom do I have, I wonder? The wise kind or the other kind? I don't want to know evil; I don't even want to know good. I just want to know God.

"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God..." (James 1:5)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Food For Thought

"Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts." Jeremiah 15:16

When our younger son, Joshua, was a toddler, he followed Jeremiah's lead and ate a page out of the Bible—literally, much to our frustration and his brother, Andrew's, consternation, since it was his Bible! Obviously, this was not what God had in mind, when He had Jeremiah record his experience; however, it does serve to illustrate a truth that is reiterated many times in the Word of God: the Bible is of no personal benefit until it is internalized. In fact, the writer of Hebrews tells us, we can hear good Bible preaching all day long, but if it doesn't get mixed with faith on the inside, we might just as well have not heard it (Heb.4:2).

The metaphor of receiving the Word of God as food is common in the Bible. For instance, Deuteronomy 8:3 says, "[M]an shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live"; and Job proclaimed, "I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food," to name but two.

Notice in the verse that Jeremiah doesn't say the "joy and rejoicing" came when the words were found, but only after they were consumed. There is a great deal of difference between reading the Bible and assimilating it. In other words, allowing it to go beyond comfort and encouragement (both important) to conviction and instruction, the bitter with the sweet, if you will (Rev.10:9-10). Like food, some things in the Bible just slide down easily, like mashed potatoes; other things need to be chewed thoughtfully and purposely, as you would steak; while still others are just plain hard to swallow! (Can you say, "Cod liver oil"? ) But here's the thing: whatever it is, just get it down.

Do you want to know the part that is dessert for me? It's the last part of the verse, the "joy and rejoicing" part. The glorious assurance that when I call myself a Christian ("I am called by thy name"), I'm telling the truth. I claim Him, and He claims me. That is absolutely...delicious!

"Come and dine," the Master calleth, "Come and dine"; You may feast at Jesus' table all the time. He who fed the multitude, turned the water into wine, To the hungry calleth now, "Come and dine!" — C.B. Widmeyer

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cutting Off Ears and Other "Ministries"

"When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword? And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear." (Luke 22:49-50; cf. Matt. 26:51-53 & Jno. 18:10)

Many of us are like Peter, well meaning, but over-protective, even of Jesus. We go through life "cutting off ears," in order to defend Him—or so we think. But the fact that Jesus chose to undo Peter's actions attests to the fact that right motives do not justify presumptive behavior. Surrounded by a mob of men, including chief priests and elders, brandishing swords and staves, the disciples asked Jesus if this might not be a good time to use one of the two swords they had brought. But before Jesus even answered their question, Peter decided to direct a preemptive strike. After all, he was the who had promised the Lord that even if everyone else forsook Him, he was willing to stand by Him, go to prison with Him, or even die for Him. But we all know how those grandiose promises turned out.

It would be easy to say, "All's well that ends well." Jesus repaired Peter's damage and Malchus got his ear back. The disciple was soundly rebuked (again), and the men standing in the garden that night saw Jesus do one last miracle before He died. But that would be missing the point, don't you think? Jesus told Peter, "Put up again thy sword into his place: for all that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matt.26:52). In other words, flashing our swords can become a habit.

The Word of God is a mighty Sword that can be deceitfully man-handled; and I mean that in the strictest sense of the word (2Cor.4:1-2). It is called the "sword of the Spirit," (Eph.6:17), but God graciously allows us to wield it against the devil and "spiritual wickedness in high places." As Paul says, we're not wrestling against flesh and blood. But that's what we see, so that's where we instinctively strike.

If Jesus had not been there to correct Peter's mistake, the High Priest's lowly servant would have been disfigured for life, at best, or even dead. One way or the other, he would have been wounded. And it is easy for you and I to mistake our own contention for contending for the faith. People who believe the end justifies the means will always experience collateral damage in their lives. And as to motive, we may assume it is sincere, but that's all it is: an assumption (1Cor.4:3).

I would not presume to judge Peter or his motives; but I will allow Jesus' rebuke to him to be a lesson to me. I know how easy it is to become authoritarian and autocratic (or should I say, "autocritic?), especially as one becomes older in life, and in the Faith. It is something I have to deal with in my own life. Oswald Chambers said, "God never gives us discernment in order to criticize, but that we may intercede."

There will never be a time when you and I can say we do not offend, and we should always be ready to accept the offense of the Cross; but I don't want to have to spend my life depending on the Lord to "clean up after me."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Unexpected Rewards of Searching

"...Seek, and ye shall find..." (Matthew 7:7)

Is there such a thing as an unsuccessful search? I would argue there is not. Oh, you may not always find what you were looking for, but that doesn't mean your search was unprofitable. On the contrary, it may turn out to be better than you even hoped for. I agree with pastor and author, Frank W. Boreham (1871-1959), who wrote:

"A search is really a marvelous experience. The imagination flies with lightning rapidity from one world of things to another and another...John Ploughman (C.H. Spurgeon) used to say that even if the fowls got nothing out of it, it did them good to scratch...I never remember having set out to look for a thing, and afterwards regretted having done so."

In his essay "The Corner Cupboard," from which this quotation was taken, Boreham tells of a time when, as a young boy, he lost what seemed to him to be a truly wonderful "peg-top." Its chief attraction being that it actually spun, an attribute others he owned did not share. After ransacking the house with all the gusto of a determined boy, he finally dragged a chair over to a dusty old cupboard in a corner of the kitchen and reached into "the deepest and dustiest corner of the top shelf"; and, lo and behold! there he found...a cricket ball he had lost the previous summer! In that moment, he forgot all about the "peg-top" in light of excitement of finding his long-lost treasure. As he put it, "My delight over my new-found cricket ball entirely dispelled my grief over my missing peg-top."

On the same day that I read these words by Boreham as part of my morning devotions, my husband and I were privileged to spend time with dear friends we had not seen in many years. Actually, the wife, Gerri, we had never met, since she, as a widow, had married our widower friend, Mark, some years ago. What a lovely, blessed time we had together! In the course of our conversation, Gerri told me privately that when she was widowed after the death of her first husband (they were missionaries with the Wycliffe Bible Translators), she became lonely and could not see herself in the role of a perpetual widow. She simply wanted someone to be a companion and friend to her, with whom she could share her life. When God brought Mark into her life, she knew she had found such a friend and companion, one who loved the Lord and had served Him for many years. Then she told me, "I never dreamed that I would find anything more. I didn't know how perfect we would be for one another." I said to her, "You were looking for companionship, but you found love," and she smiled and answered, "Yes!"

C.S. Lewis says that when he began looking into the claims of Jesus Christ, he was only looking for the truth; but when he found it and accepted it (and Him) by faith, he was "surprised by joy" that he wasn't even looking for. God says, "And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jer.29:13). If one searches for the Lord with a sincere, diligent heart, you will find Him; but, oh, you will find so much more! Peace, joy, contentment, hope, security...and love. He is always so much more than you expected. At least, He has been for me. He is weaning me from the non-essentials of this life and wooing me to the essential of my relationship with Him. I may have come to Him for forgiveness of sin; but I found abundant, eternal life. I am like the bride in Song of Solomon, who looked for her shepherd and found a King!

For the child of God, His elect, there is no such thing as a fruitless search. "Seek, and ye shall find." Every time!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Promises: Yours and/or Mine

“That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6)

This verse makes it clear that God’s promises, until the advent of the Church, were almost exclusively given to the nation of Israel, His chosen. But this and other verses in the New Testament make it also clear that you and I as believers have been added to the will and may claim our own place in its reading.

Having laid this first premise, I would contend, as well, that while there are general promises God makes to all His children, there are others that are lifted from their generality (or should I say, specificity) to speak to a need or situation in the life of one of His children at some particular point in his or her life.

For instance, the promise of salvation to all who call upon His name is a general one, the only condition being repentance and faith. But when God, of whom it is said, “[He] will have all men to be saved” (1Tim.2:4), gives us faith and direction to lay hold of this verse on behalf of someone else, this is something else altogether. In an instance such as this there are two things to keep in mind, I think. If my inclination is overwhelming desire and not Divine compulsion, it’s an exercise in futility. And because salvation begins and ends with God, one way or the other, my prayer has no redemptive quality. It does, however, give me assurance that I was in tune with His will in this particular instance.

I said all that to say this: I believe there are times in the life of a believer when the Spirit of God compels him or her to lay claim on a promise in the Word of God, regardless of its setting. I’m not talking about everyday needs; I’m speaking of extraordinary occasions. In such a case, the prayer and the answer are so individual that no matter who else may be involved, we are keenly aware that God and we are in contact—and contract—with one another. I have had such experiences. Not many, but mighty, in my life. They have been real enough that I do not question their number.

I offer this today, not to encourage thoughtless grasping, but rather to make us aware that God, from time to time, does not merely hand us a blank check; He hands us one with our own names clearly written on it. The English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, spoke to this, when he wrote:

“A promise from God is like a check. If it’s made out to me, the Queen of England or the President of the United States cannot endorse it; only my signature will do.”

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Random Thoughts on Music

“Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding.” (Psl.47:6-7)

I offer here for your consideration a few thoughts on something very dear to my heart: music. In particular, singing, since that has been my personal pleasure, and, I have been told, a personal gift. My thoughts are only original to me, for they are taken from the Word of God, the Creator of music, who alone can bring harmony to a discordant life.

Martin Luther said, “Music is a fair and lovely gift of God, which has often wakened and moved me to the joy of preaching…Next after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor.” There is an interesting verse in 2 Kings, where Elisha, when called upon to give a word from God to the kings of Israel and Judah, requests first for a minstrel to be brought in. And in verse fifteen we read, “And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him" (2 Kings 3:14). And I must tell you that through the years, I have heard many ministers of the gospel say what amounted to the same thing.

Making a quick run through the Bible, I find many examples of the place of music, and especially singing, in the tapestry of life. Here are but a few:

God told Job that in eternity past, before He ever laid the foundations of the earth, “the morning stars (angels?) sang together for joy” (Job 38:7). You will find the children of Israel singing, and on one occasion, with Moses and Miriam taking solo parts (Exodus 15). For a duet, one need only listen in as Deborah and Barack, in Judges five, sing a duet of victory over their enemies. David promised there would be songs in the night (Psl. 42:8); and Paul and Silas proved it when they sang at midnight—in a prison, of all places (Acts 16:25). Jesus and His disciples sang a song of benediction after partaking of their last supper together in the upper room (Matt.26:30), a practice I like to see repeated when we celebrate the Lord’s Table. Finally, there will be singing in eternity future—a “new song” (Rev.14:3) that only a few (relatively speaking) will be able to learn (I know what that’s like!); and then an old song composed by Moses is revived in Rev.15:3. Wouldn’t you songwriters love to write a song worthy to be sung in Heaven?

From the Apostle Paul we learn that singing should take one of three forms (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3: 16): 1) Psalms by God; 2) hymns to God; and 3) spiritual songs about God. Whether audible or in our hearts, this kind of singing is an evidence of the Spirit’s filling. He tells us our singing should be Scripture based as well as Spirit-breathed. Its purpose should not be for entertainment, but for admonition and edification. When I sing, I either want God to know I'm singing to Him, or I want my audience to know I am singing about Him to them. One way or the other, it's personal with me.

I read a story once about a dear old saint who had preached the gospel for many years. For some reason known only to God, he developed cancer in his mouth and tongue. Finally, the time came when the only hope of prolonging his life was to cut out his tongue. Before administering the anesthesia, they asked him if he wanted to say one last thing. The old man thought for a minute then began singing the strains of the great hymn, “There is a Fountain Filled With Blood.” It was said that there was not a dry eye in the operating room, especially when he loudly sang,

Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing thy power to save.

When this poor, trembling, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.

Singing has always been one of my greatest joys and comforts. It has given me a means to communicate feelings and emotions I desperately long to express. Truths I might be hesitant to share verbally, because of "the fear of man," I strangely find the courage to express in song, even in the most daunting company!

By God’s grace, I pledge with the Psalmist:“I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live.
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being”

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

First Impressions

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

Have you heard the little saying, "You only get one chance to make a first impression"? Unfortunately, there is a streak of shallowness in the best of us that makes us want to settle for quick judgments about people, based on appearances alone. And it's then left to those of us who are victims of these instant appraisals to try to achieve a more favorable judgment.

This sad phenomenon may be true when it comes to you and me, but it's not part of God's character. In His infinite wisdom and love, God has chosen to display profound, eternal forgetfulness when it comes to our sin, making each encounter with His forgiven child a veritable first impression, as if we were a "new creation," to quote A.W. Tozer. We who seek forgiveness through the shed Blood of Jesus Christ come to God each time with a clean slate, and a fresh chance to show Him just how much we love and adore Him.

So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead...impress!