Thursday, December 30, 2010

The End

“Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof…” (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

Our endings say more about us than our beginnings. None of us have any control over how we begin; but the way we end lies squarely on our own shoulders, in one way or another. The caterpillar has a truly humble beginning, yet it’s ending is so brilliant and beautiful that the lowly worm is all but forgotten.

A poor ending is always sad, but if it commenced from a rich beginning, it is especially tragic. Absalom began as the son of a King, but ended hanging from the limb of a tree by the hair of his head; Jephthah started out life as the son of a harlot, an outcast from his father’s home, yet he ended by winning a mighty battle for God and his family. In the end, neither man’s heritage proved to be either an advantage or disadvantage. The former can be wasted, and the latter overcome.

On what, then, does the quality of the ending hinge, if not the beginning? Why, the middle, of course. This is the place of power, the realm of possibility. This is where choices swing the pendulum one way or the other. How many bad choices does it take to determine the ending? No one knows. But certainly, some are more consequential than others; for instance, what one does with God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Those who disavow His Lordship set an irreversible course of destruction.

I would not squelch the prospects of a new beginning and a new year; but as I grow older, I find myself challenged more by the vision of a dazzling finish than the possibility of a series of new beginnings. I do want to grow both Spiritually and intellectually; but I want my short term goals to enrich my one great goal: the approval of God.

Like many of you, I was blessed with a good beginning — a godly beginning; but that isn’t good enough. I am determined that by God’s grace, my ending will be better than my beginning. I know one thing: I’ll be with my Savior, Jesus Christ; and, hey, it doesn’t get any better than that!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

He Chose To Die

"...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners..." (1 Timothy 1:15)

"Jesus Christ was the only human being ever born who chose to die." I'm not sure where I read this, but I do know it immediately struck me. People may choose when they will die, but everybody will die. We all have our "rendezvous with death," as the poet wrote. I realize Adam chose to die, but he was not born; he was created. No human being, born of a woman, has ever been, or will be, exempted from death (Heb.9:27).

Except for One.

Jesus Christ, as God, is untouchable by death. And this was true even in His body of flesh, as He told the mob that came after Him in the garden (Matt.26:53). He could lay down His life; but it could not be taken away from Him. Sooner could they extinguish the sun than they could snuff out that ever-existing Life.

Jesus had a virgin birth, and lived a sinless life, but He died a sinner's death. As Isaiah 53:6 says, God laid on Him "the iniquity of us all." His life was a wonderful example of love, integrity, humility, and good works, but none of that would have appeased a righteous God, who requires, and exacts, a higher payment for sin. "For the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). We needed more than an example; we needed an exchange.

And so He chose to die.

He chose to be born as a Baby, so that He could identify with us, in every way, from infancy through maturity. As Hebrews says, "He became us." Then, in the prime of life, He suddenly died. You could say, "It was either Him or us"; and Jesus said, "Me." And He showed that His death was sufficient to pay for our sins by rising from the dead three days later. "I lay down my life that I might take it again" (John 10:17).

Here's the good news: This exchange is not just about death; it's about life, too. We may not be able to choose whether or not we will die, but we can choose whether or not we will live after we die. Christ's death and resurrection made it possible. All that's required is for us to agree with God about who and what we are: sinners; and be willing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

So, when you think of the Christ child in the manger, remember it was a "cradle in the shadow of a cross." He was born to die—by choice. And I will (literally) be eternally grateful for His choice, because I'm a benefactor that blessed "exchange. He chose to die; and I chose to live.

The Babe in the manger was God's only Son,

Who came to the world to die;

The Babe in the manger could never have done,

The work of His God on High.

The Babe left the manger and went to the Cross

To pay the wages of sin;

Your way of forgiveness is not by the Babe,

But the Christ who died for your sin.

Friday, December 17, 2010


For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son..." (Romans 8:29)

Many years ago, when my husband and I were traveling in evangelism, we were sitting one day at the dinner table with a pastor friend and his family. While we were eating, he related a sweet story about a delightful, young man in his church, who happened to have Down's syndrome. The boy attended school with others like him and enjoyed it very much. He shared with his pastor that he had even acquired a girlfriend at school.

"Oh, that's wonderful," exclaimed our friend. "Is she pretty?"

"Oh, yes!" came the quick reply.

"What does she look like?"

"Me!" he answered, proudly.

As you know, people who have this disorder share unique facial features that are easily recognized; and to this young man, who was evidently "comfortable in his own skin," seeing himself in another especially endeared her to his heart.

You and I, who name the name of Christ, were bought (and brought) out of bondage to Satan for the distinct purpose of being "conformed to the image of [God's] dear Son." This is what our verse tells us. And God had this planned long before our world was ever created. It's part of the explanation for the previous verse. Everything that happens to those of us who love God is working for our good, because it is conforming us to the image of Christ. We are being lovingly whittled and molded into the Spiritual likeness of His dear Son. Not sharing in His Deity, but sharing in His identity, bearing the family resemblance.

One day, according to 1 John 3:2, God will be able to ask, "Son, is your Bride beautiful?" And the Son will say, "Oh, yes, without spot or wrinkle or blemish (Eph.5).

"What does she look like?"


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Hasty Heart

“Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5: 2)

An old preacher once said, “Never make your Christian life so hard you can’t live it.” And you can do that, you know, by making promises and setting goals that even the angels could not achieve! In the first six verses of this chapter, Solomon is talking about vows made before God that have not been adequately thought through, but the principle stands true for any important decision. It's interesting, I think, that the place where these hurried decisions are more apt to be made, is in “the house of God” (v.1). Here, in an atmosphere of praise and adoration to God, it is easy to only see ourselves “[sitting] together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph.2:6), forgetting we are called upon to live our lives in this earthly place (Eph.6:3).

I realize Solomon often lapses into carnal cynicism in this book; however, he does point out some of the realities of life that are more practical than philosophical (e.g., 8:11). Another obvious but sometimes forgotten, observation is what he says in verse two: “…God is in heaven, and thou upon earth.” He's there, and we're here. Our affection must be where He is (Col.3:2), but our attention must be where we are, since this is where the display of our affection for him will have to be played out.

When we lived in Northern Ireland, although we were still citizens of the United States, we lived, for the most part, as the Irish did. We did not frequent the pubs or become embroiled in their internal affairs, of course; but we did eat their food and visit their Gospel Halls. To have alienated ourselves from them would have defeated our purpose, which was to make disciples for Jesus Christ. We were separate from them only when it came to sin or matters that had no bearing on our own lives as Americans. As believers, you and I are citizens of a heavenly Kingdom, but we live in what amounts to, for all practical purposes, “foreign territory.” We can walk in the Spirit (Gal.5:25), but we’ll have to do it in the body of this flesh.

Because of this reality, Solomon warns us not to make decisions on Sunday that cannot stand the light of Monday. “Be not rash with thy mouth,” he says. Hasty words come from a hasty heart. Decisions of the heart call for deliberation. It is easy to forget that mere feelings of love do not (and should not) always lead to commitment. The path of God’s choosing for us, and the conduct of our Christian lives, requires sober consideration and not just while the choir is plaintively singing, “All to Jesus I Surrender.” The decisions we make that are truly Spirit-directed will be as workable at home and on the job as they are at church. Christianity is not a Sunday-go-to-meetin’ religion; it's a 24/7 life. If it isn’t, we might have more show than sincerity; and we might be more religious than real.

Jesus said, "My yoke is easy..." If yours is too heavy, you didn't get it from Him.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Who Can Tell?

"And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live?" (2 Samuel 12:22)

Part of the consequences of King David's adultery with the wife of another man was the death of the child their liaison produced. The prophet, Nathan, pronounced God's judgment in no uncertain terms, yet David went immediately to prayer, asking God to spare the life of his child. After the death, David's explanation for his seemingly futile petitions to God was simply, "It doesn't hurt to ask. Who knows, maybe God would change His mind." Certainly, David had precedent. God had done just that, when Moses petitioned Him on behalf of Israel.

I learn several things from this story, and the most important one, I think, is this: God is more interested in our communication than my request. Faith is believing in God's integrity (Heb.11:6) not His generosity. Answered prayers may encourage my faith, but (seemingly) unanswered ones deepen my Christian walk. When I can say, like Job, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him" (Job 13:15); God can say, as He did to Abraham, "Now I know that thou fearest God" (Gen.22:12).

We often say of a parent who gives his or her child anything he or she asks for, "That's not really love. Real love does what is best, not always what is asked." As a matter of fact, David had another son on whom he lavished this kind of harmful love, and it ruined both the boy and his sister (1Kings 1). Are we to think God is such a parent? I think not. God always does what is best for His children.

Another obvious lesson from this story is that prayer is always profitable, to answer the question in Job (21:15), even when it seems futile. To pray for a wayward son or daughter, even though we know the disposition and consequences of their lives lie solely at their doorstep, would seem to be a waste of time. Yet as the words of David indicate, where there's life, there's hope; and as he says, "Who can tell whether God will be gracious to [us]?" And in the meantime, we are learning the blessedness of trusting in the good hand of our God. We know that David's unanswered petition did not leave him bitter, because he was able to comfort his wife, the child's mother, during this trying time in their lives.

Prayer may not always get that for which is asks, but it always gets the attention of the Father; and for the child who loves the Father more than the answer, that will be enough.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wanted: True Worshippers

“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the father seeketh such to worship him.” (John 4:23)

This Samaritan woman, of whom we read in verses four through twenty-nine of John four, found Jesus to be a Man who knew all about her, yet did not refuse to converse with her, even though the Jews at that time had “no dealings with the Samaritans” (v.9). After sweeping aside ethnic arguments and pointing out her moral (or, rather, immoral) condition, He shot down her assumption that worship is confined to a certain place, by saying, “[T]he hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet in Jerusalem, worship the Father” (v.21).

We who are believers are not beyond making the same mistake. We are tempted (and sometimes programmed) to limit our worship of God to a particular time and place. But the only prerequisites for worship as laid out in this passage are 1) that it be in line with the Word of God; and 2) that it be accompanied by the presence of the Spirit of God. There are at least two dangers connected with this mistake.

First, it will rob us of precious, daily worship. The same Holy Spirit we are often more conscious of in church, is the same Holy Spirit we brought in the door with us! And I can assure you, God is every bit as worthy of praise and worship on Monday as He is on Sunday, regardless of how we may feel on either day.

Obviously, then, the second danger would be in thinking that the only place to worship is with our brothers and sisters with whom we worship in the local church. Make no mistake; it is needful, even imperative, for us to assemble with the people of God (Heb.10:25) and to participate in collective worship. But if that becomes our sole point of worship, we can easily flounder spiritually if it is taken away. As Jesus said in verse twenty-one, things do change. And we change. But our worship should be constant amid any and all change.

God has made Himself available to us at all times, not just for help but for worship, as well. Jesus said true worshippers worship Him in spirit and in truth, anywhere, anytime, any place, under any circumstances. That’s the kind of worshippers the Father is looking for. Are you one of them?

"If you cannot worship the Lord in the midst of your responsibilities on Monday, it is not very likely that you were worshiping on Sunday!" ~ Whatever Happened to Worship? A.W. Tozer

Friday, December 3, 2010

What Does Love Look Like?

"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10)

If God is love (1Jno.4:8), the answer to my question can only be found by looking at what He has said about it. If I want to know something about economics, I'm going to consult Thomas Sowell, not Bernie Madoff; and when I want to know something about love, I'll ask God, not Oprah Winfrey. I have said before that even though God is love, not all (so-called) love is of God. All that glitters is not gold and all affection, attraction, or even altruism is not love.

Before I tell you what I think love looks like from the mirror of God's Word, let me tell you what I think love is not:

1. Love is not even. In the picture the Apostle John gives us in the cited verse, there was an Initiator in the relationship. Someone loved first. In the case of God, had He not made the first move, there would never have been a relationship at all. For all the sermons and songs about "searching for God," there would have been precious little to preach or sing about, without the wooing of the Holy Spirit. (Incidentally, feel free to apply any of this to human relationships, as you will.)

2. Love is not always reciprocated. John 1:11 says, "He came unto his own, but his own received him not." When "love came down at Christmas," as the old song says, there were those who said, "So what?" Thankfully, the next verse tells us that those who were ready to accept the gift of God's Son as their Messiah and Lord, were able to claim God as their Father, too. Not as the "only begotten Son," but as dearly beloved children of God. But rejection did not contradict the authenticity of the love that was offered.

3. Love, like life, is not complicated. Only people are complicated. Paul's desire for the Corinthian believers was that their life would exhibit "simplicity and godly sincerity" (2Cor.1:12); which leads me to think that the more complicated a relationship is, the less sincere it is. We dissect frogs not jewels; and those things that are most precious to us should elicit the least handling. God's love for us culminated in one supreme act. He does not ask us to analyze His love, just to accept it.

4. Love is not unconditional. John says later in this epistle, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments" (5:3). As my mother used to say, "Pretty is as pretty does." God says, "Love is as love does." God did not merely say He loved us; He proved it. He may not expect perfection, but He does expect participation. "Love" that flagrantly and unrepentantly breaks God's rules is counterfeit.

So, what does love look like? Well, from what John says in our verse, it's not a pretty picture. The one supreme act in which God's love culminated, was the torture and excruciating death of His Son on the Cross, as the payment for our sins. If there is one word that characterizes love, it is the word "sacrifice." Our pastor once said, "If you have a relationship that does not involve sacrifice, it is not a loving relationship." The sacrifices may be big or small, but the principle is the same: giving up my needs or wants for someone else's.

Without this, there is no love.