Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Positives of Pain

“But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered for a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” (1 Pet. 5:10)

Pain is an indicator that one is alive and responsive. When nerve damage has taken place, the first question is, “Can you feel this?” At times like this, the pain of a sharp pinprick is a welcome thing. In the same way, the onset of labor pains is the herald that “somebody” is ready to leave the security of a warm, cozy womb to brave the cold uncertainty of the outside world; and the greater the pain, the closer the manifestation of (infant) life.

Why is it that you and I seem to see all the negatives of pain but few of the positives? We somehow cannot see past the suffering, heartache, or loss — the negatives, to the perfection, stability, strengthening and settling that is ripening in our lives, according to Peter. I suspect that if we could only get our life perspectives in line with those of the Bible and the reality of Heaven, we would react with less astonishment and frustration.

For instance, when our two-year-old great granddaughter, Ava, was told that someone she knew had died and gone to live with Jesus, the part that caught her imagination was the second part. After thinking a minute, she suddenly brightened, and began clapping. “Yay!” she exclaimed. “She gets to live with Jesus!”

Has is ever occurred to you that to call the day on which Jesus was crucified “Good Friday” could be considered somewhat cynical, even bizarre? Certainly, what happened on that Friday (or whatever day it was) was anything but good. But we only call it “good” because it was the prelude to what happened three days later. The two are of a piece. The pain of Good Friday culminated in the glory of Resurrection Morning. There was no greater pain; and there was no greater glory.

The positives of pain are not as glaring and obvious as the negatives. Only someone emotionally unstable would seek pain of any kind. It hurts. But pain is real, and as I say, it’s a part of life. Its positives may be shouted down by screaming negatives, but they’re just as real. Pain is a sign of life, and from all indications in the Bible, the greater the pain, the greater the glory.

And that, friend of mine, is definitely a positive.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Don't Just Give Thanks; Be Thankful

“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)

One could easily infer from this verse that peace and gratitude are inseparable. I do know the former cannot be obtained without an ample dose of the latter. The ungrateful soul will look in vain for peace of heart…and mind. To the harried, frantic man or woman, gratitude is a syrupy sentiment that always comes with disclaimers that begin with, “But…” It is also obvious from this verse that gratitude, like love, is a choice. Be ye thankful—or not. The first step to heathenism is ingratitude. The descent into animal worship and animal behavior begins with, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful…” (Rom.1:21). I have two thoughts to help us examine our own “gratitude attitude.”

First, the one prerequisite for being thankful is maturity. As long as one is still looking at life through irresponsible eyes of self-gratification and childish insecurities, he or she will never be able to grasp the true blessings of life. One of our friends, an amateur etymologist, shared with us that the word “thanksgiving” comes from root words that literally mean, “gift of my thoughts.” And that is exactly what is required if we are to nurture our appreciation skills. An ability to think maturely and deeply will invariably result in a spirit of gratitude.

My other thought is the obvious result of the first. The evidence of a thankful heart is contentment. It is not the most articulate or effusive words of appreciation, but the most contented life that truly says, “I am thankful.” The Scripture says, “Be content with such things as ye have” (Heb.13:5). Or 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 all you want.

We may say we are thankful for our husbands, but if we are constantly trying to correct or change them, our actions deny our words. We may profess that we are grateful for the children God gave us, but when we insist upon comparing them 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.

I could tell you today that I am thankful for the good husband God gave to me, and the wonderful children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, with which He has blessed our union. I can say I am thankful for a cozy home, clothes in my closet, and food in the cupboards. I could bless the Lord that I was able to rise from my bed this morning and take care of my own physical needs; and I could smile and say the gray in my hair is not a sign that I am old, just well seasoned! I could say all these things—and mean them, too—but I would rather give evidence of them by a life characterized by true contentment.

It’s good to say thanks; but it’s better to be thankful.

I Give Thanks

Thousands of memories­­—family and home;

Hosts of dear friends—new and old.

Ample supply from an Unseen Hand;

Numberless Promises on which to stand.

Knowledge of the ages; great Truth to ponder;

Stories of majesty, glory, and wonder.

Grace for the journey each step of the way;

Indwelling Spirit to brighten the day.

Victory promised o’er death and its sting;

Infinite ages to dwell with the King.

No need to worry; on this I depend:

God of Creation is my Father and Friend.

Salle J. Sandlin (2003)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"It's All True!"

“He brought me to his banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” (Song of Sol. 2:4)

My favorite contemporary Christian poet is Martha Snell Nicholson (1898-1953). Her poems are not only touching and thought provoking, they are Biblically sound. Her great gift was only enhanced by the experience of great suffering. Through her life, she suffered tuberculosis, angina, cancer, extreme anemia, and crippling arthritis. At one point, her body was so jack-knifed that her ribs dug into her stomach. From that suffering emanated some of the most wonderful poetry ever written, as far as I’m concerned. I would encourage you to search for it.

At one time, I had a copy of her autobiography, His Banner Over Me, but somehow, in all our moving through the years, I lost it. It is out of print, of course, but I was thrilled to find it reproduced on a website. I want to share some of the last words of her book. I know many of you are hurting right now, and her words of victory and praise may well be an encouragement to your heart, as they have been to mine. Savor them!


And now my story is nearly told. God will write the last chapters in His own time, His own way. We know it will have a happy ending. The life story of any Christian ends as does the fairy story of our youth, “And they all lived happily ever afterward.”

Looking back, how clearly I can see from this vantage point, the road which once seemed so shrouded with clouds and darkness. In spite of grief and illness I can truly say I am a happy woman. When I was an inarticulate child, if anyone had asked me why I was happy, I would have replied, “Because it is all true about Jesus.”

And now, with the silver in my hair and with my body bent and twisted, I can still think of no other way to express the reason for my joy than to say, “Because it is all true about the Lord Jesus Christ.” All true that there is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins and that sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains . . .

My happiness is not based upon my own faith, which wavers; nor on my own good works, which as a basis of salvation are in His eyes as filthy rags. Not on my “experience,” which is but a fitful human thing. But on the eternal fact that it is true about the lovely Son of God who sought me, found me, bought me, taught me; who lifted me out of the miry clay and set me upon a rock, accepted in the Beloved. I found that the cleft of that rock was the secret place of the Most High, and the Shadow of the Almighty.

All true that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; that nothing can separate me from the love of Christ. All true that NOW I am one of the sons of God and that it doth not yet appear what I shall be, but that when He shall appear, I shall be like Him.

All true that any day, any moment, He may come for His own. All true that at last I shall be rid of this suffering humiliating flesh; I shall meet again my dear ones; and more than all else, I shall behold with my own eyes that precious Lover of my soul. And so shall we ever be with the Lord.

It is all true that throughout my entire life His banner over me has been love, even though I knew it not. All true that I shall spend time and eternity in His banqueting house with Him whom my soul loveth.

Oh, what does it matter if I suffer a little more here? Of what importance the manner of my going to Him?

O the keen rapture! O dear delight,

When to my longing eyes faith becomes sight,

And my heart whispers, “My Lord, it is Thee!”

O the sweet safety! O the bright glory,

Every word true of that wonderful story;

O the fair morning Dawning for me!

Foundations, Walls, and Durability

“Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that thy may lay hold on eternal life.” (1 Tim. 6:19)

Oswald Chambers observed that doubt is not always a sign of unbelief; sometimes, it is only a sign that one is truly thinking. That may be true in a great many cases. I understand that Christian young people can waver in their faith temporarily as they work their way through “halls of ivy” that are more like jungles of poison ivy! At times like these, it would seem to me that the condition of their spiritual foundations would be the most crucial aspect in the structure of their lives. I wonder if some of us parents who were so busy putting up walls of separation around our children would not have served them better by laying better foundations under them. According to our verse, it’s good foundations that we should be laying up “against the time to come,” when our faith may be put to the test.

Perhaps we are inclined to spend more time on walls than foundations because the latter requires digging. Making sure our children have a workable grasp of Biblical doctrine requires that we are knowledgeable ourselves. Simply saying something is true because I, as your parent, say it is so; or this is right because our church teaches it, will suffice for a child and some adolescents, but the skeptical mind of a teen-ager or young adult needs to be able to start all questioning from the vantage point of “Thus saith the Lord.” The reality of God and the veracity of His Word should already have been pointed out by careful instruction and study under the power of the Holy Spirit. And only those principles laid down in the clear teaching of the Word of God should be attributed to Him. It has been my observation that unquestioning dogmatism in uncertain matters often leads to questioning of unquestionable truths. Think about it.

Familial walls of restriction may be dismantled temporarily (or permanently); but with the benefit of a good foundation, they can easily be rebuilt, or refashioned. On the other hand, thick walls of separation are only as good as the foundation beneath them; for as the Psalmist says, foundational destruction is a disaster that is irrevocable. “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psl. 11:3). Therefore, when it comes to building a sturdy Christian life, excavation and pouring concrete are far more important than framing and dry walling.

“The man whose doctrine is shaky will be shaky in his whole life.” - Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Reward of Deception

“But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Tim. 3:13)

The final condition of a man or woman who trifles with deception is self-deception. Deception is lying; and self-deception is lying, but with the added dimension of the surreal.

I have a little booklet by Watchman Nee in which the latter part deals with the insidiousness of self-deception. As he puts it, “What deceives others is a lie, while that which deceives oneself is an obsession.”[i] In other words, some individuals have tried to convince others of something that is untrue for so long, they have succeeded in convincing themselves to the point of mindless obsession.

A good example of this is found in Malachi one. Here, God through Malachi tells Israel, “I have loved you,” but their reply is “Wherein hast thou loved us?” (v.2). When He says, “Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar,” they counter, “Wherein have we polluted thee?” (v.7). In both cases, they challenged God’s veracity while taking for granted their own. We see from this that it is possible to have an image of ourselves that even the Word of God cannot dispel.

In the same way, we can hold onto a doctrine or principle, not because it has been fairly weighed against an opposing view that has perhaps as much or more Biblical justification, but because it has become inflexibly fixed in our minds. In short, we are obsessed with it.

The Bible gives us the source of self-deception, and you will not be surprised: “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee” (Obad. 3). Once one has offered an untruth in place of the truth, pride reasons that the deception was needful, and therefore, may actually be true. For instance, often the picture we have of our past is the one we have painted ourselves, whether it be in glaring technicolor or dreary grays and browns. Either way, it can become an obsession that we ourselves have come to believe. After all, it’s easier to convince others of an untruth, if we believe it.

The best safeguard against self-deception is a concentrated vigil against any deception. All of us have told a lie; but there are far too many of us who have become really good at it. Once we are truly able to comprehend that the end of deception is self-deception, it will go a long way toward making us shun the any deception.

But if we cannot, it may already be too late.

[i] Nee, Watchman. Spiritual Reality or Obsession. New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 1970. p. 48.