Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sensitivity Training

"[H]ow then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9)

I'm all for sensitivity training. Not the kind Augusta State University has ordered as a requirement for student, Jennifer Keeton, before she will be able to graduate from their graduate Counselor Education program; but the kind that is only accomplished by the Holy Spirit, using the Bible as a textbook. In this young woman's case, her supposed intellectual and societal flaw comes from her lack of empathy for sexual perversion. According to Fox News, she will be dismissed from the program unless she "alters her 'central religious beliefs on human nature and conduct.'" In other words, she must be willing to recognize homosexuality as an inborn trait, not embraced debauchery. This young Christian woman has chosen to challenge this egregious assault on her First Amendment rights in court. Good for her!

The kind of "sensitivity training" with which these people are trying to intimidate this college student, and which is routinely foisted on business people, policemen, teachers, religious workers, etc, anyone deemed to be "unaware of his or her innate prejudices and unmindful of the feelings of others," is not the kind I would be naive enough to afford any credibility. It is just another means of instilling a herd mentality that, in most cases, seeks to indoctrinate insensitivity to sin.

However, as I say, I am wholly in favor of the right kind of sensitivity training. The kind that makes one so sensitive to sin that its appearance shocks and its indulgence sickens. These are strong words, I know, and I am keenly aware that none of us is immune from the presence—and practice—of sin; but I do think it is possible to train oneself to recognize and react flinchingly to it, in many cases.

As to offending the feelings and sensitivities of others, it would seem to me that the "offendee" in question, and the legitimacy of the offense itself, make a great deal of difference in the seriousness of the offense. For instance, Jesus offended His hometown folks by simply preaching parables illustrating the Kingdom of God (Matt.13:57). The fact that it personally offended them was a reflection of the condition of their own hearts, certainly not any prejudice on His part. It was understandable, I suppose that what He said to the Pharisees in Matthew fifteen would be offensive to them, but were they really undeserving of His accusations? I don't think so. Then, He knew His death on the Cross would be offensive to even His disciples (Matt.26:21), but without the "offense of the cross" you and I would never have had access to God (Gal.5:11; Heb.12:2). This was an "offense" that was surely worth perpetrating!

Although I have no desire to offend anyone needlessly, especially a brother or sister in Christ, I am more exercised about the very real possibility of offending God. He has done nothing to offend me. On the contrary, He has done everything to bless me. To grieve His heart, or offend His "sensibilities," if you will, by ignoring His commandments, neglecting His precepts, or seeking to thwart His will, would be to sin against the Custodian of my eternal soul and the dearest Friend I have.

Is it any wonder then that I strive to attend "sensitivity training" daily in the schoolroom of prayer and Bible reading, under the tutelage of the sweet Holy Spirit?

"If there are no spiritual senses exercised, seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling; no sense of burden in sin, no taste of sweetness in the Word of God, no sight of invisible things, no ear to hear the voice either of word or rod, then the soul is dead." — Phillip Henry (1631-1696)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

People or Pigs?

“And it came to pass, that, when Jesus was returned, the people gladly received him: for they were all waiting for him.” (Luke 8:40)

What a difference this reception was from the one Jesus had just left in Gadera! In verse thirty-seven of the same chapter, we read, “Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them…” What had offended these people was Jesus’ apparent assumption that people are more important than pigs. He had dared to send demons that held a poor, wretched maniac in bondage, into a herd of swine. You may think this is a textbook example of perverted priorities, but there are some today that might not agree with you.

For instance, my brother once sent me an article about an amendment that had been passed by the Florida Legislature protecting pregnant sows from being housed in stalls too small for unhampered movement. These cramped circumstances may have needed attention, but did they really rise to the need of a constitutional amendment?

Now, before we get too judgmental in either of these cases, let’s make sure you and I do not harbor petty grievances in our own lives against the Lord for upsetting our plans or intruding on our good times. I heard of one Christian who has suffered hardships in her life, and is now engaging in activities that are in direct violation to the Word of God, her reasoning being, “I deserve to be happy.” But my response to that would be, “No, not if it takes sin to make you happy.” A “save my soul, but don’t cramp my style” kind of Christianity is either counterfeit, or, at the least, another textbook example of perverted priorities.

It's quite possible, though we would never admit it, that we might find acknowledging Christ to be bad for business, or a drag on our preferred lifestyle. Therefore, we might wish Him to quietly “depart” out of our lives for a little while, at least till we need Him again.

On the other hand, we could be like those people on the other side of the lake who “gladly received him." The ones who were actually “waiting for Him."

I hope so.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is That Relevant?

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)

It is very easy to find oneself intimidated by the fear of becoming irrelevant in an ever-changing world. But I sometimes see raised eyebrows that seem to ask, "Is that relevant?" when, in a room full of unbelievers (or even Christians!), I dare to interject a Biblical principle into the conversation. It is then that I am tempted to ask, “Relevant to what?” Or perhaps more accurately, "Relevant to whom?"

Something is said to be relevant when it has some bearing on the matter at hand, which leads us to the obvious conclusion that it does not take long for something that was once relevant to become irrelevant. Therefore, the way I see it, the quickest way for me to become truly irrelevant is to focus so much on current culture and its popular ideas of manners and standards of morality that I lose sight of those things that are always relevant.

Such verses as Mark 8:36 serve to put things in perspective for us. There is nothing as important (or relevant) as the relationship of our eternal souls to the God from which they came; for there is nothing one could gain in this life that would make up for the loss of our never-dying soul. If that be the case, failing to bring the unchanging reality of God and His Word into any conversation of substance is the epitome of irrelevance, wouldn't you say?

I understand the need to be aware of what is going on in the world around us at any given time, but I also know that the fashions of this world soon go out of style, and lust items change with the seasons. According to 1 Corinthians 7:31 and 1 John 2:17, only men and women fulfilling God’s eternal purpose for their lives are truly on the cutting edge of reality. They are the ones who are now—and always will be—relevant.

"[F]or the fashion of this world passeth away" (ICor.7:31)

"And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever" (1Jno.2:17).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Flexible in the Holy Spirit

"...not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth..." (Isaiah 58:13-14)

In his little book of essays, Rest for the Weary, Vance Havner shares something he heard old-time preacher, "Pappy Reveal, say many times. Reveal was the founder and director of the Evansville, Indiana Rescue Mission for many years, and during his tenure he brought in men of God like Billy Sunday, Gypsy Smith, Billy Graham, and Vance Havner to minister the Word of God to men women housed there. According to Havner, when you were in his presence, it would not be unusual to see "Pappy" suddenly drop his head and address his Lord about something that had just occurred to him. And hardly a day would go by, he said, without hearing the man say, "Lord, make us flexible in the power of the Holy Spirit."

Inflexibility may be a virtue when it comes to Biblical truths that deserve steadfast adherence, and personal convictions that call for personal loyalty; but it is only another word for stubbornness when the only thing in jeopardy is personal power and vindication. The inclination to "fight to hell and back" over things that have little to do with either Heaven or hell reveal more rancor than resolve. I'm not saying we should be so compliant that we are more like an echo in a discussion than a respondent. No one enjoys a one-way conversation for very long. But those among us who feel that the only worthy argument is our own, and the only methods worth adopting come from our own personal experience, are the least among us with whom others enjoy serving the Lord.

The danger of inflexibility is two-fold, I think. First, things that will not bend are in greater danger of breaking. Sturdy, unbending branches are great for climbing on, but it is the more flexible, bending trees that stand up to high wind and storms. They are able to spring back, usually to their original condition. The same is true of the unbending individual. He or she may appear always sturdy and confident, but storms that only sway others, may break him or her.

Second, things that will not bend can really hurt when you run into them! Sometimes we do need to be stopped in our tracks; but other times, we only need to be challenged to see all sides in our thinking. It is refreshing to be around someone who is willing to listen to our ideas without a kneejerk objection.

God, speaking through the prophet, Isaiah, gives a promise to those who are not dead set on having things their own way, or don't always have to be the one who's pleased, or who do not consider their own words more important than others': "Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth..." Pretty good reward for not always having to be "top dog," wouldn't you say?

I think I've decided to make old Pappy Reveal's prayer my own: "Lord, make ME flexible in the power of the Holy Spirit!"

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Teachableness: A Lost Virtue

"And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." (Acts 18:26)

The man referred to in this verse—Apollos—was certainly no novice or first-year Bible student. His resume, according to verses twenty-four and twenty-five, would have read something like this: "Mighty in the Scriptures; eloquent and fervent in speech; diligent in the things of the Lord." Verse twenty-five ends by saying, however, that there was a gap in his knowledge. He knew only the baptism of John. By this, I take it that his conception of baptism did not go beyond John's physical to the Holy Spirit's (Luke 3:16), a serious deficiency in any believer's Bible knowledge.

Now Apollos could have reasoned, "Hey, I've got a great ministry going here. I'm being used, aren't I? What could this couple, who're just tent makers, add to me?" To his credit, however, he did not reason that way; and because he was willing to allow Aquila and Priscilla to expound the Word of God "more perfectly" to them, we read in verses twenty-seven and twenty-eight that he was able to be even greater help to the brethren and make an even more convincing argument for the Deity of Jesus Christ from the Scriptures.

If this Bible teacher and great orator needed instruction and correction, wouldn't it be safe to say our own Bible knowledge is always going to need some perfecting? The catch, however, is whether or not we are willing to allow God to use whomever He chooses to do the teaching and/or correcting. Pastors, elders, and teachers, to be sure; but we must never forget to be on the look out for that humble man or woman—whatever their occupation or station in life—who knows God, lives in His Word, and therefore, may be well qualified to perfect what is lacking in our Christian experience.

The word, "teachableness" has lost favor in today's vocabulary, and, sadly, so has the virtue itself. But you and I should constantly be nurturing this grace in our lives, since it is obvious that our usefulness to God will always be in direct proportion to how teachable we are.

He who will not learn from the unlikely is unlikely to learn at all.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ah, Sweet Mystery!

“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Eph.5: 31-32)

It is not without significance, I think, that the definition of a Church has become as ambiguous as the definition of a marriage. And under the same attacks, I might add. Both are often seen as merely incidental to the reality of a personal relationship with someone. I refer here to the Church as we see it manifested in a local body of believers, in doctrinal and practical fellowship with one another. Just as some Christians today look upon affiliation with such a body as being optional, at best, and a hindrance, at worst; so, too, there are those who look upon marriage as only one option (and not necessarily the best one) in an intimate relationship. But in both cases—Christians and lovers—one will have to look somewhere other than the Bible for justification (e.g., Heb.10:25; 13:4). And in most cases, both do.

The Church of which Jesus Christ is the Head, and the Body of which He is the Savior (v.23), however, is made up of all those who have been reconciled to God by the Cross, whether they be Jew or Gentile (2:16), wherever they are. This is the living organism consisting of individuals who are described as being “members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (5:30). It is this Church that is described in Ephesians and analogized by the marriage of a man and a woman. It is these two entities that are characterized by the word “mystery.”

It is interesting that love itself is never referred to as being a mystery, notwithstanding all the claims of song and story to the contrary. Human love is variable, as well as various; and in many cases, can easily be explained, unless it is perverted. Even God’s love for His creation, and especially man who was made in His image, can almost (though not quite) be understood. But the fact that somehow you and I can become one with Jesus Christ in a way that neither lessens His Deity, nor elevates our humanity, is so unfathomable, it is obvious we will never be able to plumb the depths of its implications.

Are we not guilty of sacrilege, then, as a society, when we stoop to diminish the significance of marriage, or seek to redefine it? And, as individuals, are we not in danger of profanity when we fail to look upon marriage as the natural response to feelings of intimate love? In both cases, societal and individual, one detects a blazing disregard for God and His Word; and, as Ephesians points out, a proclivity for handling sacred matters of mystery with clumsy hands of common irreverence.

The loving union I share with my husband represents an investment I made nearly fifty years ago that has brought me countless dividends, not the least of which are the visible fruits of our love—four children, eleven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren (so far). The union I share with Jesus Christ represents, not so much an investment I made in Him, but one He has made in me. As far as I am concerned, humanly speaking, He's the only risk taker in our relationship! And, to my way of thinking, whatever joy He may derive from our union cannot hold a candle to the delights and dividends I reap.

Paul says, both of these unions—marriage between a man and a woman, and marriage between Jesus Christ and His Church—are great mysteries. And, as one who has experienced both the identification and the intimacy of both, I gladly exclaim, “Ah, sweet mystery!”