Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ulterior Apologies

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

You've heard the saying, I'm sure, "Confession is good for the soul." This is always true if the confession is made to God; but I would contend that if the confession benefits your soul while wounding another's, it may be more selfish and self-serving than good.

I have seen this played in personal encounters between individuals as well as in so-called, "confess your faults" services in churches. Sentences that began, "I confess to having had bad feelings toward so-and-so because..." were always a dead give away that grievances which might have sounded petty otherwise were now going to be aired in a way that gave them more importance, while at the same time, giving the confessor the aura of profound humility. I have heard everything from perceived personal slights to sexual inadequacies in a mate pointed to on occasion. Things that could and should have been taken care of privately and individually. Otherwise, it becomes little more than a confession of our feelings about someone else's failures.

Frankly, I will have to say I've seen this tendency more often in women than men, which is not to say this is a gender-based trait. It's not. But perhaps because we women are more adept at sharing our feelings, we are, for that reason, more in danger of sharing them too often. An apology should not be taken lightly, whether it is given or received; but you will be hard pressed, I think, to find a directive from God to apologize for having "bad feelings" toward another. We are told to confess our faults (James 5:16), not our feelings.

It is God who searches the heart, and there are some things that should remain between the two of you. To do otherwise may, instead of eliminating bad feelings, only create more. It may make me feel better to tell "Jane" that I always felt hard toward her because she ended up getting the husband I wanted; but now God has given me the grace to face my sin and ask for her forgiveness. But, truthfully, if you're "Jane," what kinds of feelings toward me have now been aroused?

Don't forget, God is the only one who can—or has—promised, "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A "Thank-ometer"

“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” (Col.3:15)

Our pastor suggested this past Sunday that thanksgiving is a poor substitute for "thanks-living." I agree. Talk's cheap, even when we're talking to God, or maybe, especially. I appreciate a conscientious child or adult who is careful to say, "Thank you," for great or small favors; but I question my own, or others' genuine gratitude when our lives are played out otherwise. I began thinking of attitudes that (to me) indicate very little gratitude and came up with five. There are others, I'm sure, but these are for sure.

We are not thankful, when we are:

1. FRETFUL - "...and it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God..." (Isa.8:21). Why is it that some people are so quick to blame God or others when they suffer need, yet are the last to acknowledge the grace of God and the kindness of others, when life is smooth sailing? When we are easily agitated by circumstances or people we show disregard for past blessings.

2. BOASTFUL - "For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them...In God we boast all the day long..." (Psl.44:3,8). As long as we are more conscious of our own actions in any victories we may experience, we will be less inclined to give glory to the hand of God that caused us to triumph.

3. WASTEFUL - "When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments hat remain, that nothing be lost" (John 6:12). When we are filled and satisfied, it is easy to assume "there's more where that came from"; and, indeed, Jesus could have made loaves and fish all day long if He had wanted to. But He didn't. He wanted them to be as thankful for the fragments as they were for the fish. This is just as true for our lives as it is for our leftovers. To waste the fragments that remain is to display ingratitude for the fullness that came before.

4. JUDGMENTAL - "Then his lord...said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt...shouldest thou not also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?" (Matt.18:32-33) Let me make it clear; God expects us to make good judgments—about things and people; and when necessary, and called upon, these judgments should be expressed. What I am questioning here is sizing up and pigeonholing people, with no regard for all the facts or any mitigating circumstances. To refuse forgiveness of a moral or spiritual "debt" that has been repented of and forsaken, is to forget the heavy debt we ourselves owed, making us ingrates of the worst kind.

5. UNCHEERFUL - "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" (Heb.13:5). By uncheerful (Okay, I know it's not be a word.), I mean discontented. When the Bible ranks contentment with godliness (1Tim.6:6), one is forced to take it very seriously. I wrote something a few years ago that is still true today, I think: "As we used to say, "Make do." Make do with your husband or wife, children, possessions, health, temperament, looks—all of it. Not because they are all you have, but because they are truly all you want. We may say we are thankful for our husbands, but if we are constantly trying to correct or change them, our words belie our actions. We may profess to be grateful for the children God gave us, but when we insist upon comparing them unfavorably with the children of others, they feel little appreciation. And when we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to upgrade our possessions, health, or looks, our discontent has smothered any vestige of gratitude we might profess." Ouch! I hate it when I "preach" myself under conviction!

Gratitude, like love, is a choice. "Be ye thankful," or not. I thank the Lord every morning for numerous blessings, and often I ask the blessed Holy Spirit to help me live that day as if I really meant what I said. I can testify, sing, write—praise God, in general—for all His mercies to me; yet the "thank-ometer" of my life can show some fairly low readings from time to time.

But, thank God, every day is a new beginning, and you and I have the opportunity of not only offering our thanksgiving, but more importantly, our thanks-living. May God make it real in our hearts—and lives—today!

It's good to give thanks; but it's better to be thankful.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's All About...Who?

"We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves...For even Christ pleased not himself..." (Romans 15:1,3)

I realize this whole idea is foreign to today's society; but there it is. "People-pleasers" are characterized as being insincere, at best, or neurotic, at worst; and, to some extent, this can be the case. But the fact remains: Christianity, as portrayed in the Bible, is anything but self-centered. And I would contend that the principle laid down in these verses in Romans, if heeded, have the power to transform our personal relationships.

Nearly all real or perceived offenses would be forgotten if our own feelings of comfort were not so important to us. But, alas, we are drawn to those people who stimulate us, entertain us, and affirm our personal worth. Granted, no one likes to be around someone who constantly criticizes or demeans you; but, on the other hand, requiring perpetual confirmation from others is just as much a sign of maladjustment, to my way of thinking. And this is exactly why some of us flit from friend to friend, by the way. When someone bores us, or hurts our feelings, we simply turn to another.

But think: How stimulating could our conversation be to the God who created the universe? And yet, He invites us to talk to Him and offers to talk to us. The Lord of Glory—the One who dwells in the company of angels—has proclaimed that He even desires our company for all eternity (Jno.17:24). And talk about reason for hurt feelings! Not only was Jesus Christ rejected by the world He came to save; but to add insult to injury, as it were, His fellowship and communion with His redeemed saints now are often sporadic and unenthusiastic. This is exactly why Paul's people-pleasing admonition here is both reasonable and legitimate: "For [or after all] even Christ pleased not himself."

Here's the thing: If Jesus could come to earth for the sole purpose of pleasing His Father and endure all the ridicule, misunderstanding, and torture, to bring us to God, surely you and I can "bear the infirmities of weak." In short, not please ourselves.

Instead of asking yourself, "What's my life all about?" try asking, "Who's my life all about?" It may be an eye-opener.

Monday, November 8, 2010

When Your Ways Please the Lord, You Can Do What You Please"

"For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." (Colossians 1:9)

Pretty snappy title, huh? Well, to my way of thinking, it's not just an aphorism; it's a principle. When your ways please the Lord, you can do as you please.

Remember the verse with which we began all this? "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philip. 2:13). God's will is all about incrementally transforming us into "God-pleasers." Every decision we make ultimately falls into that criterion. As Kevin DeYoung says, "God always gets His way" (DeYoung, 19). His will cannot be thwarted, but it can be resisted. Pharaoh did it. The angel told Mary, "Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son..." That was God's will, and nothing could have stopped it. Mary answer to this was, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1). This was Mary's will, and it displayed her obedience.

I would submit to you that you are in the will of God only to the extent that you are pleasing Him. If your life is void of the God-pleasing attributes enumerated in the second article ("God's Will and Our Wills: Mutually Exclusive?"), you are not in His will, no matter where you are or how much good you may think you are accomplishing. For instance, fornication is direct defiance of the will of God, whether you're a pastor's wife or a pole dancer (1 Thess. 4:3).

As I see it, there are four things that go into Biblical discernment of the will of God for one's life, with another important ingredient that gives credibility to the four.

1) Providence — both kinds: There is God's invisible providence that "works all things after the counsel of his own will" (Eph. 1:11). As the old song goes, "There is an unseen hand to me/That leads through ways I cannot see/While going through this world of woe/This hand still leads me as I go." And we also have visible providence, as Paul experienced in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18, when his desire to talk face to face with the believers of Thessalonica was hindered by Satan. As far as he was concerned, the door was shut.

2) Prudence: Jesus said in Luke 14:28, "For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it." Does this mean we should never venture anything for God without sufficient funds or reasonable hope for success? Not necessarily. But it does mean it should not be a way of life with us. Count the cost.

3) People: One could not read the book of Proverbs without seeing that God expects us to "talk among ourselves," if possible, when we have a decision to make. And should we assume that the only reason we're told to assemble ourselves together is to pray, praise, and preach? Acts 2:42 tells us the primitive Church "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship."

4) Prayer: Most of all, praying that God will help us to be submissive to His will. After all, telling someone the way to go is an exercise in futility if that person is dead set on going his or her own way. The most effective prayers, in the long run, are not the ones that change things or other people, but the ones that change us.

Finally, I have found (and I think the Bible bears this out) that as I saturate myself more and more in the Bible, the easier it becomes to know the right thing to do. It's as simple as that. The will of God is the way of God; and the way of God is found in the Word of God. This is true, even when our choice is not defined in the Bible. There are definite guidelines into which you can plug any decision; and if several choices fall within the boundary of those guidelines, pick one and go with it!

This is why Paul prayed for the Colossian believers to be "filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." The Word of God, illuminated by the Spirit of God, provides the child of God with the wisdom and spiritual understanding he or she needs to discern the will of God. If you're heart is right with God, you can't miss. And that's why I say, if you ways please the Lord, you can do what you please. If we are to wait for God to show us every move to make before we step out, why would He admonish us so often to gain wisdom? Wisdom for what?

Let me finish, not by saying something touching, but, hopefully, by letting Kevin DeYoung put a burr under our saddle, if need be. Perhaps you're someone who has been teetering on the brink of a decision, waiting for the perfect answer for a perfect life. If so, here is his admonition to you:

"So go marry someone, provided you're equally yoked and you actually like being with each other. Go get a job, provided it's not wicked. Go live somewhere in something with somebody or nobody. But put aside the passivity and the quest for complete fulfillment and the perfectionism and the preoccupation with the future, and for God's sake start making some decisions in your life. Don't wait for the liver-shiver. If you are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, you will be in God's will, so just go out and do something."[i]


[i] DeYoung, Kevin. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will. Ch. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009. p.61

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

God Speaks To Me

"God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son..." (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Before you write me off as a spiritual mystic, let me quickly add, God speaks to you too. The difference may come in how we look for Him to speak.

I'm thinking now of the young preacher who was confronted by an old saint in the church, after he preached a fiery, but powerless, sermon. The kindly old lady asked him, "Son, how were you called to preach?" to which the young man replied, "I saw a sign in heaven—two letters: GP. I knew it was God saying to me, "Go preach!" It was then that the dear soul laid her hand gently on the boy's arm and asked, "Did you ever think He might have meant, "Go plow?"

You and I may not have succumbed to the temptation to look for signs in the heavens, but I'll readily admit to having opened the Bible, closed my eyes, and pointed to a Scripture, in my younger days, to see if I could get "a word from the Lord." And some of us have gone the "Gideon" route, as well, putting out the (in our case) symbolic "fleece" to elicit a "yea" or "nay" from God, which could be argued is a lot like resorting to a Ouija board. We may cite Gideon's tactic as preferred procedure, but I was reminded by Kevin DeYoung that Judges is probably not the best book of the Bible on which to base our walk of faith, since it was a time when there was precious little word from the Lord, and "everyone did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25).

But perhaps the most common motivator to action in the family of God is the "impression," not to be confused with dreams or visions. "I felt impressed to do such-and-such." As a matter of fact, you will find all three of these utilized in the Bible; therefore, I refuse to mark them off as leftovers from another "dispensation." But neither am I prepared to elevate them to a place of normalcy in the everyday experience in the Christian life. These phenomena found in the Old Testament through the book of Acts are strangely sparse in the church Epistles. Here we seem to find another principle in play; and it is unequivocally laid down in our text: "God...hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son."

All we can and need to know about God, redemption, and sanctification have come from the words of His Son, Jesus Christ, the pre-existent, incarnate, and inspired Word of God (John 1). How this is translated into our every day decisions will be the subject of my final thoughts on the Will of God, next time.

In the meantime, I want to share something DeYoung said, which I believe to be true. It puts exceptions and out of the ordinary means in perspective, at least for me: "Apart from the Spirit working through the Scripture, God does not promise to use any other means to guide us, nor should we expect Him to." [i]

The operative word here is "expect." God may indeed give us a vision, dream, or strong impression to do, or not to do, something; but to wait for and expect Him to do it is neither Biblical nor practical.

There is a better way.

[i] DeYoung, Kevin. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will. Ch. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009. p. 68