Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Does Hope Look Like?

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” (1 Pet.3:15)

Well, what does hope look like? This verse says, if people around you are conscious of hope springing inside of you, sooner or later, they’re going to ask why. Hope catches the attention of people, especially when they’re fresh out themselves. Two things stand out to me in this verse.

First, genuine hope has a reason behind it. We’re not talking about, “I hope, I hope, I hope” here. That wouldn’t impress anyone. We’re talking about the “hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Heb.6:19). The kind that turns heads—and hearts. I don’t think I need to enumerate all the reasons behind the hope you and I as believers share. Suffice it to say, when you consider the alterative to being a true, Blood-bought child of God, everything—and everyone—else is hopeless, in the true sense of the word, by comparison.

The second thought that occurs to me is what I referred to at the beginning. Hope is visible. You don’t have to accost people with the news that you’re its proud possessor; they will see it and want to know from where it came. This is not “Soul-winning 101.” This is soul-stirring on the run! It’s ordinary people like you and me, in the ordinary situations of life, displaying extraordinary faith and hope. Not just in what we say, but also in how we look; because, if our words say one thing, and our countenance says another, most people are going to believe what they see. That’s just the way it is. Oh, I’m not talking about a mindless grin, and I don’t just mean a turned up mouth. I’m talking about a real smile that comes through the eyes, from the soul. This may not cover the whole implication of the verse, but it sure makes a good place to start.

I saw this played out once in a college English class. After several weeks, the professor asked me, as I entered the class one day, “One of these days, I want to find out what’s behind that smile.” And I can tell you, over the remaining weeks of that course, I told him, early and often! I was even able to present my testimony in song.

Be ready, says Paul, to give an answer when someone asks you why, in the most hopeless situations, you still have hope. First Peter 1:3 tells us that through Jesus Christ, our risen Savior, you and I have been “begotten again unto a lively hope.” Not just a living, but a lively hope…alive and kicking.

What does hope look like? It looks like the God of Hope living inside hopeless humanity. If it’s in there, say so; and, for goodness sakes, show it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Good Sense of Timing

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the sun… A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.” (Eccl.3:1,6)

Where is that point in life where we stop collecting and begin discarding? It’s often a subtle move we are only conscious of after it has already begun. I have come to learn through the years that one of life’s little secrets is that God gave us the concept of time not just so we could mark it, but so we could work it. It’s for good reason the Psalmist says, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (90:12). Not just keeping track of their number, but having a realization of God’s predetermined timing.

It is possible to become fixed in one mental time frame, as it were, and find oneself almost incapable of change. This is one result of an underdeveloped sense of timing: inflexibility. This not only limits us, but it affects those around us, who are not hampered by this ball and chain. Another loss that comes with this kind of shortsighted living is the joy of anticipation, which life should always hold for a child of God. One reason people dread old age is the change that it brings. But if you and I can see change as a new adventure with God, physical limitation (and even breakdown) can be greatly overshadowed by new spiritual possibilities.

Is one season of life better than another? To hear some people talk, you would think so. But I’m not one of them. Oh, I may reminisce, as Job, about the time “when my children were about me (29:5); but if they had not grown up and married, I wouldn’t have my wonderful grandchildren and great-grandchildren! No, I will not pine for the past seasons of my life, because I know it’s what we do with those seasons that makes the difference between frustration and fulfillment.

The last half of verse one tells us how we should see and navigate through every season of life. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” You see, every season has its purpose. Therefore, to say, as we age, “My life has no purpose,” is to deny the Word of God. My life may have had a different purpose forty years ago, but it has no less purpose today. And if my sense of timing is on track, I will be of as much use to God today as I was forty years ago. Who knows? perhaps more so. Now, that’s exciting!

Larnelle Harris sings a song along these lines that always brings a tear to the eyes of my husband and me. It’s called, “More To the Story,” and here are some of the lyrics:

The pews were always full on Sunday morning;

They used to hang on every word you said.

And though each year of life has added wisdom,

You feel more like a chapter that’s been read.

You’re wondering if you’ve still got something left to give.

I want you to know that as long as you live…

There is always more to the story;

Each new sunrise brings another chance to shine.

I know it’s hard believing, but don’t worry

He is God of all our days, and there’s always more to the story

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wounds and Scars

“For he maketh sore, and bindeth up; he woundeth and his hands make whole.” (Job 5:18)

I suspect that often what we treat as wounds are really scars that we have allowed to dredge up painful memories, opening old wounds, as it were. God never meant for our wounds to be perpetual. That’s why He promised to “make us whole” again. Whether our hurt comes from others or is self-inflicted, we can be sure that God could have deflected the blow. And we can also be sure that His loving heart will work all things concerning those of us who love Him for our good and His glory.

This may be especially hard to accept when the wounding comes in childhood. No child deserves to be hurt; yet many of them (us?) have been. But we’re not talking about getting something we deserve. We’re talking about fulfilling God’s eternal plan. God displays a special kind of anger for those who harm children, and drowning them in the deepest part of the sea would be kindness compared to what He must have in store for them (Matt.18:6). I read that younger skin has a tendency to “over heal” when it has been wounded, leaving a larger, thicker scar, and I’m sure that’s true of emotional scars, as well. Yet, you and I have met men and women who suffered unjust treatment as a child, but who now live victorious, productive lives; while some others who were reared in happy, godly homes now live in dysfunctional, ungodly misery. In the case of the former, they allowed God to bind up their wounds and now, though they live with scars, the pain is gone.

That’s what I’m talking about here: pain. Scars are not painful, unless you open them up and reproduce the wound. They’re a natural part in the healing process, and the fact that we have a scar is testimony to the healing that has taken place. My daughter, Leah, shared a song with me that the group, Point of Grace, sings, called, “Heal the Wound, but Leave the Scar.” And that’s exactly what God does. He never leaves open wounds. He binds us up and makes us whole again. He leaves the scars to remind us of the work of grace He has wrought in our lives…and to remove the pain.

Oh, hurting soul, if you think your pain comes from an “old wound,” you should know this: There are no old wounds for the child of God. There are fresh ones that God is able to bind up and heal, taking away the pain; and there are scars that can only hurt if you open them up and handle them again.

Don't mistake a scar for a wound.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Legitimate Needs and Illegitimate Means

“…to add drunkenness to thirst.” (Deut. 29:19)

As this excerpt from the verse in Deuteronomy suggests, it is possible to satisfy legitimate needs by illegitimate means. A drink of whiskey might keep you from dying of thirst, but to claim thirst as an excuse for the sin of drunkenness is illogical and hypocritical. Alcoholics and gluttons do not overindulge because they are thirsty or starving; they do it because they have chosen to periodically defy Biblical directives. But this is true of other needs and other means.

Sexual desire, like hunger and thirst, is God-given. And God has made provision for the satisfaction of all three. He has provided both meat and plants to assuage our hunger and oceans of water to satisfy our thirst. And, in the same way, He instituted the covenant and bond of marriage, for both procreation and pleasure. But when this real, physical need is satisfied by illicit means (even in the name of “love”), again, it’s adding “drunkenness to thirst.” Fornication and adultery are not legitimate ways to allay the desire for physical intimacy. They are merely manifestations of “inordinate affection” (Col.3:5) and moral inadequacy.

Not only that, using unscrupulous means to make money is a brazen mockery of the Bible’s instruction to provide for ourselves (2Thess.3:10,12) and to prosper, to the best of our ability (3Jno.1:2). Get rich quick schemes that prey on unsuspecting, less clever people; on the job pilfering; unfair or intimidating union practices; and unfulfilled agreements are just a few of the ways an individual can use illegitimate means to satisfy a legitimate need. In this case, a way to acquire enough money to provide for oneself.

I could go on, but I think I have argued sufficiently for my premise. No one can deny these legitimate needs: food and drink, intimate contact (either physical or emotional, in the case of a single), and money. Yet, all three of these forfeit their legitimacy when they are satisfied in illegitimate ways. Drunkenness, gluttony, fornication, and thievery are all affronts to the God who has promised to supply our needs.

“It’s never right to do wrong to get a chance to do right.” Dr. Bob Jones, Sr.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Straight Talk

“Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left…” (Prov. 4: 25-27a)

In our culture of tolerated perversion, one word for the opposite of straight has come to be “gay.” In point of fact, however, the real opposite of straight is “crooked,” which, come to think of it, could actually be a synonym for the afore-mentioned “lifestyle.” But the fact remains; God expects straightness. He expects us to talk straight (v.24), look straight (v. 25), and walk straight (v. 27).

When we are asked a question, we should give a straight answer. (If you can’t do that, you need to get into politics!) Lying is not diplomacy; it’s deception. An honest question deserves a straight answer, and people who cannot give it to another person probably do not give it to God either

Looking straight will call for personal censorship, no doubt, but it also indicates there are some things that should only be seen one way—the right way. The direct commands of God are not up for discussion, and if we cannot look at them straight on, it only means our thinking is crooked, as well.

Then, we are to follow the Christian life by walking straight ahead. The scenery may change, but the road is unending until we reach Home. It may seem narrower at some places than others, but it never peters out. They say, “Consistency is the virtue of fools,” but not when it comes to the walk of faith. Only those who walk straight ahead, turning neither to the right hand or the left, have the promise that their ways will be established.

To describe someone as being “straight as an arrow” is still a high compliment. And, as I said, God expects us to be straight—in every way. I may not be perfect, but I can be straight; I may be weak, but I don’t have to be crooked. Like the poor woman in Luke thirteen, who was unable to stand upright because of a physical infirmity, I can claim the Savior’s touch.

“And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.” (Luke 13:13)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Those Blessed Well-Diggers!

“Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee…Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well…” (Psalm 84:5-6).

The prerequisite for enjoying water from a well is someone having dug the well. And if you’re dying of thirst, with no strength to secure the precious liquid on your own, that individual is, quite literally, a lifesaver. Any valley can seem confining, lonely, and discouraging enough; but one that is dry and barren would make you feel like an inhabitant in Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones (37:1-2). And the man (or woman) who would take the time to dig a well in such a place is characterized by three things, to my way of thinking.

First, he or she would be a man or woman of faith who can see beyond the immediate need. It would be tempting to dig only deep enough to get water to quench one’s own thirst, and perhaps fill a container or two to take along with you, especially if you were weary from the journey so far. But to see by faith another time and another need, and to prepare for that contingency, is an indication of real maturity and foresight.

Second, people who dig wells are not afraid of hard work. We’re talking about dirt, sand, maybe even roots here. This kind of work leaves you with sore muscles and need for a good bath. And who knows how long it could take? This is not work for the casual laborer. It’s backbreaking, callous producing hard work that calls for a dedicated individual.

Third, it goes without saying, well diggers are thinking of other people. I suppose you could say that if someone planned on living nearby, a personal well would be important to have. But may we not assume that few would want to stay in this valley, and so its main purpose was just part of getting from “A” to “B?” If so, those, following behind would appreciate having a well there, ready and waiting to quench their thirst. And the man who took the time to leave more than just a sign reading, “Dig Here For Water,” would be somebody’s hero, don’t you think?

And, as a matter of fact, the man in Psalm eighty-four is one of mine

I won’t go into the background of this “valley of Baca,” except to say that the meaning is “the Valley of Tears.” It represents those times in our lives when sorrow makes us feel as though we are surrounded by mountains of despair, languishing in a dry and barren valley, with only tears to quench your thirst. But then to raise your head and find a beautiful well within reach, with sparkling water literally springing up from its depth, would indeed change your despair into delight. No wonder the Psalmist calls the one who left the well “blessed.” He would be gone now, because, as the verse says, valleys are places we pass through, not places of permanent residence; but he was one of those “blessed well diggers” who have faith to see the future, not afraid of hard work, and who care more for the well being of others than his own comfort.

We often hear it said that our valleys are times for learning and growing as Christians, but I think that’s a one-dimensional view. Maybe it’s not just about me and my personal growth and fellowship with the Lord. Maybe it’s about digging wells of testimony and triumph to quench the desperate thirst of those who will stumble into that same valley behind me. If that’s the case, I need to be asking myself, “Am I digging wells, or just scooping up handfuls of water for myself?”

O, Lord, make me one of those blessed well diggers!

Leave a Well in the Valley

To the valley you've been through, those around you must go too;

Down the rocky road you've traveled they will go.

If to those learning of your trial you lend the secret of your smile,

You will help them more than you can ever know.

Blessed is the man who has learned to understand,

And becomes a hand for God to those in need;

Yes, and all the tears he's shed, with God's help, become instead,

A precious balm that will heal the hearts that bleed.

Leave a well in the valley, the dark and lonesome valley;

Others have to walk that valley, too.

What a blessing when they find the well of joy you've left behind,

Leave a well in the valley you go through.

— Gordon Jenson

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Am What I Am

“For by the grace of God I am what I am…” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Someone has said, you can tell a woman is truly confident when she stops changing her hairstyle; but one could argue, I suppose, this is actually just an indication that she has run out of ideas! I once saw a woman I had not seen for a long while and failed to recognize, because I had known her as an attractive grey-haired lady, and now she was a striking ash-blonde. I smiled and asked, “Who are you hiding from?” “Me,” came the quick reply.

The truth is, it takes more than a cosmetic makeover to camouflage the person living within. Piety or perverseness is not attire; it’s an attitude. And a change of hairstyle doesn’t change your thought processes. You and I must live with the person within. As the poet, Edgar Guest, has written, “I have to live with myself, and so I want to be fit for myself to know.” This is why the greater part of our personal preparation for the day should center on the “inward man,” that is being renewed day by day,” instead of the “outward man,” which is perishing (2 Cor. 4:16). As you apply foundation, blush, lipstick, or any beauty aid you may employ, remember that He is “the health of [your] countenance” (Psl. 42:11). Sin ruins the prettiest of faces, while godliness adds beauty and charm to the commonest of features.

I think the root of all dissatisfaction with what we have, where we are, or with whom we live, is our displeasure with who we are. Make no mistake; I’m not just trying to “affirm your self-esteem,” a much overworked, but lucrative, philosophy. For myself, I estimate my own worth from the fact that God loved me enough to sacrifice the dearest thing to His heart—His Son—in order to have me with Him for all eternity. And if that doesn’t give you confidence, nothing will. I mean that.

Paul said of himself in 1 Corinthians 15:9, “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church or God.” If anyone had an excuse for self-loathing, this man who had cruelly tormented the people of God, did. Yet we find him acknowledging who and what he was, on the basis of His standing in God. “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” To deny himself would have been to deny the grace of God.

We should remember it was God who made us for Himself—the way we are; and it’s He who offers to make any changes. To bemoan our looks, our personality, or our physical limitations is to question His creativity. He wants our wills, not our wailing. As we surrender ourselves to His probing, but loving, hand, He will make any necessary alterations. Until then, know that the reflection you see in the mirror is a reflection of His handiwork. Cherish it, for His sake....and yours.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Game of Recovery

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord...Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down.” (Psl.37:23-24) “For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again.” (Prov. 24:16)

The radio personality was recounting a golf game in which he had recently participated. I was only half listening until he suddenly said something that caught my attention. He was playing unusually well, he said, until something happened that threw him off his stride. But he immediately recognized what the problem was and quickly remedied it. “One thing I’ve learned,” he explained, “is that golf is a game of recovery.” When he said that, I thought to myself, “Actually, life is a game of recovery.” Of course, life is not really a game; it’s dead serious. But if I may, I’d like to draw a parallel.

There are many who are able to maneuver through life quite brilliantly, it would seem; that is, until they stumble or fumble. At that point, they simply crumble. Through the years, I have met numerous people whose Christian lives had withered on the vine because of a past failure. They just could not bring themselves to get back up, dust themselves off, and start again. Whether it comes from pride or laziness or even true heart-felt shame, it really makes no difference; because, in any case, it turns a detour into a dead-end street.

There will always be circumstances that throw us off our spiritual stride. It may only be a misstep, or it might be a full-blown flat-on-your-back crash. Either way, the next move is ours. We can lie there and feel sorry for ourselves, or we can let God do a work of recovery in our lives.

The measure of your spiritual maturity is how long you stay out of fellowship