Monday, January 31, 2011

Wisdom With Sweat On Its Face

“Then wrought Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whom the LORD put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all manner work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the LORD had commanded.” (Exo.36:1)

It’s easy to get the impression that wisdom stays cloistered in a corner, meditating, and that understanding is more readily heard than seen. But verses like the one above, and others like it, make it abundantly clear that God imparts wisdom not only to be shared verbally, but also seen publicly. Evidences of a gift in manual labor are every bit as worthy of respect as is a gift that touches our minds and hearts. And women who create beauty and comfort with their hands are just as wise as those who minister the Word of God in song, writing, or teaching (Prov.31). Both these gifts come from God, and neither is profitable to the Body of Christ if it not used for His glory.

We like to say that for the believer there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular, but it is easy to only associate wisdom with the parts of our lives that call for profound answers and decisions. However, those parts that deal with the routine and everyday can suddenly become profoundly consequential, and it is then that “work-a-day wisdom” is called for.

It’s good to remember that the same wisdom God gave to Aaron and his sons for the service of the altar was given to Bazaleel to build it. Wisdom may come with the voice of a prophet or the pen of a ready scribe, but it can also come with a chisel in its hand and sweat on its face.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Promises, Promises!

“And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.” (Romans 4:21)

It’s easy enough to say you can or will do something, but the question is, can you, or will you, actually come through? With you and me, the best intentions do not always guarantee the best of results. As Paul himself admitted, the will to do good may be present, while the ability to actually perform it may prove illusive (Rom.7:18).

God, however, does not suffer from these kinds of limitations. According to Romans 4:21, He never makes promises He can’t keep. They may, at times, be conditional, but the condition has nothing to do with His capability, only our obedience. In this case, it was a promise to Abraham that he would have a son; and it may have been some twenty-five years later before the son was born; but, by George, the promise was kept!

This same God, who has the ability to save and keep us (Heb.7:25) has the ability to make good on every promise He makes to you and me, whether it is a general promise to all in the Body of Christ, or one that He gives to us individually as unique members of that Body. God’s performance abilities can be seen and known both intellectually, in the Word of God, and experientially, in our everyday lives. They are unquestionable.

Furthermore, the God who can keep His promises intends to. As Paul says later on in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” In the case of you and me, not only has God promised us, He has promised Himself! “For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself” (Heb.6:13)There is a covenant of love between God and us that if for no other reason than to protect His good name, He will not default on. He put them in writing, so you and I could hold Him to His Word. A man is a good as his word. So, saint of God, you can mark it down, big, plain, and bold: When God makes you a promise, He’s good for it! (Num.23:19)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reaching the Cut-Off Point

“But Daniel purposed in his heart…” (Daniel 1:8)

I read recently that the word “decide” comes from the Latin word, “decidere,” meaning, “to cut off.” It was suggested that this might be why some people have such a hard time coming to a real decision. It cuts off the possibility of other options.

I agree.

So, if a true decision involves a cut off, I think it’s safe to say, some of us spend most of our lives trying out options instead of making decisions. We live in a time when it’s much easier to go from job to job, relationship to relationship, even spouse to spouse, without much of a hassle, than it was when our parents and grandparents lived. Now, it seems, it may be just a matter of finding our niche or true “soul-mate.” And I understand that a snap, or ill-advised choice may need to be abandoned from time to time; but what I am saying is that purposing in our hearts, like Daniel, describes precious few of our so-called decisions. Many of us say, “Here’s what I’ve decided to do,” as easily as we say, “Here’s what I’ve decided to wear.”

We like to say, “Choices have consequences,” and this is true. But not all choices have irreversible consequences. Some people have learned from childhood how to weasel out of their poor choices. In their case, the most obvious consequence is a marred, weak character; and why, when they are faced with a truly dire, irrevocable consequence, they’re devastated.

One sure way to know that we have not truly made one of those cut off decisions is if we find ourselves experiencing, not necessarily feelings of regret, just those nagging thoughts of “what if.” I’ve heard my husband say, “Every thing in our lives that is not settled is where Satan will fight us.” In fact, he has a message taken from the first six words in Luke 2:14, entitled, “Settle It Therefore.”

I am exercised about this in my own life. Every choice may not—should not—be a cut-off decision; but some should be, and treated as such. There ought to be decisions I have made in my life that are not up for discussion. I have some of them; but I am convinced I should have more. I have an idea that the stability of our lives is strongly linked to the strength of our decisions. If they are shallow, so will be our lives.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

How Deep Are You Willing to Clean?

“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)

Well, it’s that time of year again when we think about cleaning and/or throwing away. You can tell it by all the storage and organizational products on display in the stores. Time to take stock and do some deep cleaning, not just the regular dusting and straightening of those things on display. Whether or not this is part of your home routine, it might be a good time to think about looking past the outward demeanor of our lives and peering into the dark recesses of our heart. Are you up for a little deep cleaning?

Paul tells us in this verse that “filthiness” is not just skin deep. It can describe either our flesh or our spirit. Anyone who is willing to give the Word of God an honest reading will not find it hard to identify “sins of the flesh,” a term Paul uses in Colossians 2:11. These obviously need to be cleansed. But, unfortunately, spiritual sins are not so easily spotted, and can be passed off as temperament, personality quirks, or acquired traits from childhood. The trouble is, Paul says these inner stains are just as filthy; especially when you realize they’re like a dormant cancer, ready to metastasize throughout the body.

A good picture of this verse in 2 Corinthians is the story of the Prodigal Son. He was a prime example of someone who displays overt sins of the flesh. A typical party-goer, whoremonger, and finally, “skid-row bum.” Anybody could see this boy was filthy! But how about his self-righteous, unforgiving older brother, who whined because his father dared to celebrate his kid brother’s sincere repentance? We can make all the excuses in the world for his rotten attitude (after all, he hadn’t broken his father’s heart), but according to Paul, he was a candidate for a good cleaning, too.

Notice Paul instructs you and me to “cleanse ourselves.” Obviously, we’re not talking about anything that will gain you entrance into Heaven, because that deep of cleansing can only be done by the Spirit of God, utilizing the Blood of Jesus Christ. This makes us fit for Heaven. No, the cleansing Paul is talking about makes us fit to live with here in this life. And this goes way beyond man made, pick and choose standards, to hard-core sins, like bitterness, hatred, lust, envy, lying, cheating, grudging, discontent, and unbelief.

As you well know, cleaning is an ongoing project. The table you dusted two days ago is already dusty again; and I would venture to say, the closet you cleaned a few months ago doesn’t look now the way it did then. Which one will you get to first? The dusty table, right? Partly because it’s easer, but mostly because that’s what people see. And the same is true of our lives. We all want to be known for our “clean living.” If Paul had just not thrown in that part about the “spirit,” when he was talking about filthiness!

“…for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). I guess it all depends on who it is you’re trying to impress… and how deep you’re willing to clean.

“God is not deceived by externals.” C.S. Lewis

Friday, January 7, 2011

The One Requirement

“Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” (1 Cor. 4:2)

This text goes right to the heart of what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. It’s simply a matter of faithful stewardship. A steward is one who ministers or manages the affairs of another. It’s a charge given to you by someone else, and you are ultimately responsible to that person alone, as the next verse indicates. In Paul’s case, he was a steward of the “mysteries of God,” he said. The things God showed Him were to be shown to others in a responsible, faithful way. And in the same sense, we as believers are given the responsibility of presenting the claims of Jesus Christ in our own place in God’s vineyard, using the talents and abilities He has given us with which to work, the one supreme qualification being faithfulness.

Sadly, though, we tend to equate faithfulness with a willingness to participate in certain scheduled activities in which our church or group may be involved, at any given time. These (nearly always) good and worthy endeavors may or may not indicate a love for God, however. They may only symbolize loyalty to a man or an organization; in which case, we are in danger of becoming disillusioned with the worthy endeavor when we become disillusioned with the man or organization. See what I mean?

True faithfulness, as described in the Bible, is to only one Person. Let me illustrate it this way: Let’s say you’re married to a man who comes home every night, provides for all your needs, always speaks highly of you in public, and is generally kind to you at all times. But unfortunately he has one flaw. At times, he succumbs to temptation and is sexually intimate with other women. Would you consider him to be a faithful husband? Before you say, “No,” I would remind you that he is faithful to all his obligations (activities, if you will) as a husband. The only problem is, he isn’t faithful to you.

The thing is, as a good steward of God, faithfulness is only applicable to activities to the extent that it reflects our faithfulness to Jesus Christ. And this requires literal faith. It is seen when we follow Him, sight unseen, and when we continue on, when we have every good reason to give up. It is seen when we say, “No,” to temptation, and when we cross the finish line as true to God as when we started.

Here’s the bottom line. As far as God is concerned, if your spiritual resume begins with the word, “faithful,” you’ve got the job.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Goal to Go!

“They shall still bring forth fruit in old age…” (Psalm 92:14)

“What are your goals now? Any new projects?” There were four of us sitting at a table in a local restaurant—son Andrew, and his wife, Sharon, along with grandson, Richard, and me. You might assume these words were directed to Richard, who is finishing his Masters degree in Philosophy at Brandeis University, in Boston. But you would be wrong. Actually, it was Richard who proposed the question, and it was me he was addressing. I mentioned wanting to do more reading, writing, and adding to my computer skills, among other things, and Andrew added another project for me, as well. So, as you can see, there shouldn’t be much grass growing under my feet, metaphorically speaking. J

Later, as I thought back on our conversation, I realized what a wonderful compliment my grandson had given to me. He took it for granted I was still looking for a challenge at sixty-seven. And he was right. I realize this doesn’t make me rare, by any means, but it does make me happy and thankful. First, because I understand that I could not look ahead so confidently if I did not have good health and an understanding husband. God has blessed me with both, and I don’t take it lightly. Second, because, as the Psalmist says, age need not bring a halt to my productivity for God. At this very moment, as I sit here before my computer, I am positively giddy with the thought of possibly being able to encourage, enthuse, and empower women to adore Jesus Christ, live in His Word, and cherish their God-given role in life.

Young Richard put this on his Facebook status recently: Goals are dreams with a deadline. And that’s true. There are things we wanted and planned to do when we were younger that may not be beyond our reach now that we are no longer young. They just require shorter deadlines! Maybe they can’t be long-term; but they can still be far-reaching. I’m reminded of David’s prayer in old age: “O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation and thy power to every one that is to come” (Psl.71:17-18).

That’s what it’s all about. When I started writing these articles, those many years ago, I called it “For the Girls,” because that’s who they were for: my two girls. And the fact that others, of all ages (and both genders) have joined the ranks of the recipients has not dulled my purpose. It’s about those who are following behind. I was admonished by something Charles Spurgeon said along these lines in one of his sermons:

Call your children and your grandchildren together and tell them what a great God you have served…or write it down that their eyes may read it when yours are glazed in death. Reach out your hand to the ages yet to come and present them with the pearl of great price. Pray God to enable you to set your mark upon the coming generation

Oh, that is my prayer, too. I want to set my mark upon the coming generation. I have a message to share and a commission to fulfill. I may not be important, nor my skill especially unique; but I must not fail. And I can’t quit now. After all, I don’t know how many plays I have left, and the goal posts are in sight.

So, yes, Richard, I have some goals—important ones—and you and all the others are part of it.