Saturday, April 30, 2011

Life Experiences

“Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.” (Job 32:9)

There is much to be said for life experiences; and much has been said. For instance: “In youth we learn, in age we understand”; “By far, the best proof is experience”; “One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try it.” It has been elevated to a status, however, far beyond its potential or capabilities. Like every other humanistic philosophy, it considers our own estimation of things to be equal with God’s. It has no more accurate claim on infallibility than anything else in life. As Mark Twain wrote:

We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again - and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore. ~ Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Following the Equator, 1897

The trouble is, we all tend to put our own slant on the experiences we have, generally based on previous ones, as Twain suggests. For that reason, it would be foolish to put our experiences on the same plane with truth. Based on this premise, I’d like to make two more observations about life experiences.

1. Experience is only helpful if we learn from it. As the cited verse in Job tells us, it’s possible to reach a ripe old age without the benefit of good judgment. Just because one has experienced life does not mean he or she has been paying attention. We all make mistakes, and will until we are delivered from these bodies of sin; but, as children of God, to make the same ones over and over may not indicate a weak believer (1Cor.8:11), but a carnal one (1Cor.3:1). As someone has said, there is only one thing worse than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience.

2. Experience is not the same as qualification. Qualification for what? you ask. Many things, but especially those things that have to do with counseling or giving advice. Our experiences of suffering and trials may make us better comforters (2Cor.1:4); but beyond that, our bad experiences and encounters with the things of this world can only be a help to someone else if we have learned from them. And to assume that one can only learn about the wages of sin from someone who has paid them is to minimize the counsel of godly parents or other saints in the body of Christ. We’re all sinners, and the whole idea of being in the family of God is feeling comfortable with our brothers and sisters, whatever their experiences. As I look back on my own life, it wasn’t the people who knew life that helped me the most; it was the people who knew God.

You can learn from experience; but you might not. Or you can follow the perfect law of the Lord and be sure of the way to go (Psl.19). In the final analysis, a single truth is of much greater value than a thousand experiences.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Repentance: John the Baptist Style

“Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees…” (Luke 3:8-9a)

Repentance is a lost art. I have written elsewhere about repentance that came too late (Judas), and repentance that came too often (Israel); but in both cases, it was a shallow repentance (if there is such a thing), to say the least. True repentance will be both timely and rare by the very fact of its sincerity. It requires enough Spiritual depth and intellectual honesty to recognize personal sin; and perhaps that is why it has become a lost art.

I used to hear a great deal about repentance when I was growing up in church; but, somehow, it has been relegated to the same closet where they put a lot of old-time gospel songs, heart-penetrating preaching, and, in many cases, the power of God. Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t pine for “the good old days,” but anyone who sacrifices the best of the past in order to accommodate the worst of the present is a fool, wouldn’t you say? Repentance is a cardinal doctrine of the Scriptures, a necessary component of salvation. If you doubt this, check “repent” and “repentance” in your concordance. But, for some reason, we have devolved into creatures of introspection and psychoanalysis in a vain attempt to eradicate feelings of guilt that only repentance can alleviate.

One Bible preacher, John, gives us a good explication of this important Bible doctrine in Luke 3:8, where he pinpoints one of its often overlooked characteristics, and something that can be a hindrance to its achievement.

First, he says, “Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.” And here I would remind us that fruit can be seen. In fact, in the next five verses of the chapter, John even provides his listeners with some examples of some of these fruits: unselfishness, financial integrity, non-violent behavior, being a true witness, and refusing to strike for higher pay. All of these are observable behavior. Repentance that starts in the heart always works its way out and is manifested in our lives.

Then, John cautions his hearers against looking to the past to predict future behavior. “[B]egin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father.” In this case, the Jews were offering their lineage as a failure-proof advantage, just as some today try to lay claim to spiritual favoritism because of godly parents.

On the other hand, others point to their heritage as a crippling disadvantage in order to rationalize misbehavior. But when it comes to your life, it is what it is, and you are what you are, because of the choices you made. It’s as simple as that. We sin, not because of our immediate parents, but because of our original parents; and we waste precious time in our quest for victory when we seek to over-analyze our temperaments or actions. It’s like refusing to submit to the cure until we find out what made us sick. That can come later (if need be), but it won’t get you well now.

Repentance is a gift from God (2 Tim.2:25), but like all of His gifts, it must be appropriated by an act of the will. When we submit, God makes it a reality. Then, “the axe is laid unto the root of the tree,” says John, and we can be guaranteed, good fruit will follow.

You just can’t beat true repentance. It works every time it’s tried.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Forgotten Promises

“Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.” (Matthew 28:63)

The disciples may have forgotten that Jesus promised to rise on the third day—but His enemies didn’t.

They feared that Jesus’ disciples might try to fulfill His prophecy themselves by stealing His body from the tomb sometime during the three days after His death. They thought this because they themselves would have used such deception to their own ends. But as it turned out, the disciples had gone into seclusion to mourn the death of Jesus, and, no doubt, ponder their own fates.

In reality, all these religious leaders managed to do was add even more credibility to the Resurrection. Verse sixty-six says they “made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone and setting a watch.” They were doing what the great escape artist, Harry Houdini, used to do: make an escape humanly (it would seem) impossible, to make his final getaway even more spectacular. We know from verse eleven that the garden tomb was watched day and night until the third day; and when they ran to tell the elders that in spite of all their precautions, Jesus had indeed raised from the dead, they had to go to Plan B. The soldiers were paid to lie and say the disciples had stolen His body away.

And from that day to this, you can be sure anyone who says Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead is still a liar.

My burden today, however, is not the conduct of the enemies of Jesus, but His disciples. Whether they had forgotten about His promise to raise on the third day, or just that they thought it was too good to be true, the fact remains, they spent three days of needless grief and despair because they were not sure Jesus could (or would) do what He promised. They had seen Him raise Lazarus after four days, yet they doubted He could break the chains of death Himself. Those around the Cross had said, “He saved others, himself he cannot saved” (Matt.27:42). Perhaps they thought, “He raised others; Himself He cannot raise.” We know, of course, that their doubt turned to belief and joy when they saw their risen, conquering Savior. So, as they say, “All’s well that ends well.”

But what about you and me? Are we guilty, as the disciples, of “forgetting” the promises of God to the point of living fruitless, defeated lives? Are we like the disciples on the Emmaus road walking with the risen Lord, yet sad of heart? Of all the promises Jesus made, none was greater, or more seemingly impossible, than His promise to rise on the third day. If He could do that, He can do anything.

And don’t you forget it!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

He Who Remains

“And Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest…” (Heb.1:10-11)

Here God reminds us once again that He is the One responsible for the world around us. The heavens, illuminated with the glory of the sun, moon, and stars, and the sturdy, fertile earth that sustains our lives, humanly speaking, are all the creation of His mind and hands. You and I are here only because God thought us into existence and set in motion what would be needed to bring us into being.

Then, in verse eleven, He reveals what science was not convinced of until the late 19th Century: For every action there is a loss of energy, and our universe is running down (2nd Law of Ihermodynamics). It is waxing old, verse eleven goes on to say, “as doth a garment.” It isn’t evolving; it’s devolving.

But against this backdrop of seeming futility, however, the writer of Hebrews shines one great ray of hope: “…but thou remainest…” Everything in this life comes to an end—good or bad, except for Him. He is the only Constant in this universe, and any others there may be. And it is for this reason I have chosen to “gamble” everything on Him. My soul, my life, my future, my eternity.

When my health is gone, He remains;

When I have lost everything, He remains;

When my friends and family are gone, He remains;

When my memory fades, He remains;

And when the last breath of life is squeezed from my lungs, He remains.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Don't Give It a Thought

“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithall shall we be clothed?” (Matthew 6:31) “Take no thought for the morrow…” (Matthew 6:34)

“Don’t give it a thought.” That seems to be what what our Lord is saying in verses twenty-five through thirty-four of Matthew six. Someone has suggested verses nineteen through twenty-four that deal with finances and investments, speak more to men; while the last ten pertain more to women. You and I may question this broad distinction, but, frankly, these ten verses do ring my bell when it comes to things to worry about, which is what these verses are all about. I may not wear my worry out in public very much, but I can carry it around as excess baggage as good as the next one!

Obviously, coming to grips with actual needs and responsibilities is part of a responsible person’s character; and that requires a certain amount of thought. But when these thoughts turn into ghosts of fear and dread, or even just feelings of uncertainty, all joy is strangled and all usefulness to God, others, or ourselves has gone out the window. As I see it, there are three areas of potential worry that God has singled out for us here:

FOOD “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat? or, What ye shall drink?” (v.31)

One of our inherent instincts as living creatures is the drive for self-preservation, and an integral part of that is hunger. Our bodies have a way of telling us it’s time to eat; and if we’re deprived for any length of time, the red flags go up and our minds say, “I’m going to starve!” But, so far, we haven’t, have we? I understand there are some who have, but you and I know these are exceptions. As verse twenty-six says, if God makes it a point to provide food for insignificant creatures like birds (and some of them starve, too, by the way), surely He will make provision for His highest creation: Man.

But before I leave this thought, I’d like to suggest that things like what, when, or even how much we eat should not take up disproportionate time in our thoughts. Hear me out here. I think it is possible to regulate our eating habits to the point of obsession and worry, if there are any deviations. If you’re like me, you’ve spent years counting calories, carbs, and fats, etc., weighing and pondering “religiously.” I’m not saying this is wrong, necessarily; I’m only saying, Jesus said that whatever role food may take in our lives, it can become a worry. What I do find is Biblical exhortation to moderation (Philip.4:5) in all things, which amounts to a way of life, not a set of rules. I’m just sayin’…..

FINERY“Take no thought saying…Wherewithall shall we be clothed?” (v.31)

Here again, Jesus uses nature to show how unreasonable our worry can become. If God can dress up a field with lilies and any other kind of flower He chooses (vv.28-30), surely He can make sure you and I have sufficient to clothe ourselves. I daresay, our worries today run more to having the right outfit for the right occasion than having enough covering to keep us warm. And if you tell me this never applies to you, don’t be surprised if you see me roll my eyes.

As a little aside, I’ll share with you that I never read verse twenty-nine without remembering how that as a teenager my girlfriends and I would march into the choir loft on Easter Sunday morning, turn and look at all the ladies in the congregation with their new dresses, shoes, hats, purses,and gloves, then turn to each other and intone: “Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” J

FUTURE“Take therefore no thought for the morrow…” (v.34)

Finally, Jesus cautioned us against the sin of worry when it comes to the future. The reason for this is simple, He says. We’ve got enough on our plates taking care of today without adding tomorrow’s problems to it. If you think about it, worry over what we’re going to eat or wear both have to do with the future. Look at it this way, if we can manage be thankful for something to eat and something to wear today, without needless fretting about tomorrow’s menu or outfit, we’ll have lots of time left to worry about other things! (I’m being facetious, of course.) But you see what I’m driving at, don’t you? I think George McDonald said it best:

It has been said that no man ever sank under the burden of the day. It is when tomorrow’s burden is added to the burden of today that the weight is more than a man can bear.”

Jesus said in verse thirty-three of this chapter, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” But the truth is, we won’t be seeking the Kingdom as long we doubt that the King will keep His promises. Jesus has told us not to worry about food, finery, or the future. He has everything under control. So when we worry, we are saying, in effect, “I’m not so sure.” When you look at it like that, worry becomes an ugly blot on our Christian life, doesn’t it?

Worry: Don’t give it a thought!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Fool-Hearted

“He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool…” (Proverbs 28:26a)

People who follow their hearts are fools. That may not be what Oprah or your friends or even your mother says, but that’s what God says. The mantra of our post-Christian, neo-pagan culture is love, therefore the guiding principle is simply to follow your heart, which makes about as much sense as jumping over a precipice because the view is so nice on the way down.

Your heart is a poor leader for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it is a deceiver (Jer.17:9) and, as a consequence, is itself so easily deceived (Deut.11:16). Our affections are the least reliable barometer for any decision in our life, especially decisions of the heart. This may sound as though I’m talking in circles, but I’m really not. So-called “decisions of the heart” need not originate there. As my husband often says, we need to let our heads sink into our hearts. Then the love that springs from this knowing, steady, principled heart will be purer and most lasting. Don’t settle for anything less.

By the way, this is also true of our love for God. This is why Jesus challenged his disciples, “Learn of me” (Matt.11:29). Love for God based on how He makes us feel is immature and erratic. Love for God based on what He has revealed about Himself in His Word gives legitimacy and longevity to the feelings.

Jesus said, “Follow me,” not “follow your heart.” Which one are you following?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Give In or Give Up

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

Growing up, I can remember preachers admonishing us to “give up and give in to God.” I know what they meant, but I’ve come to see a distinct difference between the two, mainly in the lives of people who would rather give up the fight against sin than give in to God.

As I see it, the two directives in this verse are an example of what I’m saying. The promise of being able to roust the devil and put him on the run is dependent on giving in but not giving up. To give in is to submit or relinquish claim to a higher authority; to give up is to lose resolve and willfully quit. Submission and resistance are two very different things. It’s the difference between letting go and letting God, and just plain letting go.

Those who are too quick to throw in the towel when it comes to living for God are either floundering under manmade goals and standards or kicking against the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In either case, they need to give in to God’s rule, not their own or anyone else’s. Then resist the devil, and don’t give up…ever.

The only legitimate time to give up is when we “give up the ghost!”