Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Divine Art of Prioritizing

“But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end...” (1 Cor.15:23-24a)

            I remember the first time I faced the daunting task of changing from a larger to a smaller purse (for now). At times like this, you are forced to choose between the handy and the essential, right? Fortunately, I have ceased trying to play the role of the universal donor for every minor crisis! Now that my children are gone, there is less need for the virtual first-aid kit I used to carry. This same kind of thing is called when in all of life, I think.

            The longer I live, the more I see that the people who accomplish the most in life—spiritually and otherwise—are the ones who know how to effectively prioritize. God Himself, Who has neither beginning nor ending, nevertheless works with man in an orderly fashion, putting first things first, as the text in 1 Corinthians shows. The trick is recognizing first things. And it all goes back to mindset and goals.

            If my goal is temporal, if I seek to get all I can out of life and experience all that my physical senses are capable of, this will determine what I put first in line in my choices. On the other hand, if my goal is eternal, putting all I can into life and experiencing the exhilaration of holy purpose, then this, too, will be manifested by the position of importance I give to the kingdom of God. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt.6:33). C.S. Lewis once wrote in a letter: “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.”

            The thing to remember is that in most cases, the “second things” are quite legitimate. It’s simply that they are of less consequence than the “first things.”
This is probably why so many people get it wrong. It takes maturity to discern good from better, and there are many immature people, both in and out of the church.  

             To go back to the purse thing, as you might imagine, through the years now, I’ve played this little scenario of bigger to little many times. Consequently, I know now what is truly important and what only amounts to clutter. And perhaps the best thing about perfecting the art of wise prioritizing in life is that when the time comes to begin downsizing, you will already know where to start. Like the smaller purse, I am finding that I need less and less to maneuver through these final steps in my walk of faith; because, in the truly final analysis, much of life is just clutter.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Real True Witness

“A true witness delivereth souls: but a deceitful witness speaketh lies.” (Prov. 14:25)

            When we find ourselves trying to convince lost people that they need what we’ve got, because they would never ask us what we have on their own, something is wrong. Like you, I’ve heard in-your-face kind of witnessing coming from individuals whose lives would never spark any spiritual interest otherwise. By no means am I touting what some have called “life-style evangelism” as being all that is necessary in carrying out the Great Commission. Still, evangelism without a corresponding “life-style” would seem to be a good example of salt that has lost its savor (Matt.5:13,) and, as a consequence, ends up being “good for nothing.”

            We read in Acts 4:13, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” People could have assumed that because Peter and John were obviously common laborers, and not learned scholars, they were, therefore unworthy of their attention. But the obvious fact that they spoke from first-hand knowledge of Jesus made it impossible to ignore them. Their authenticity demanded an audience. When you have spent time with God, and in His Word, it shows—not in pious platitudes, but in conscious and unconscious witness. It’s knowledge that works itself out in daily living.

Probably one of the highest compliments I have ever given my husband is that he has a “working knowledge of God.”  He never refers to Him in the abstract. He witnesses for the Lord with the same familiarity as when he talks about his family. In one day, at a hotel where we were staying, I watched him witness to a ninety-year-old woman and an atheist attending a conference on world religions. The latter, who, of course, didn’t believe in God, nevertheless, willingly accepted a tract and a “God bless you” from my husband, and then replied, “And God bless you!

            None of us is perfect; and because of that, are always capable of sin and failings. But there should be a difference between the world and us — not necessarily in the way we look, but more importantly, in the way we live. Prayer should be as natural as breathing; praise should be a normal part of our conversation; integrity should be the mark of our dealings with others; and love (especially for fellow believers) should be a reality, not a rule. In short, our witness should ring true. Our walk and our talk should not be sending mixed signals.

      A real true witness has first-hand knowledge, not just hearsay.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Moment of Affliction

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Cor. 4:17)

         I have a friend who has suffered nearly incessantly for some thirty-eight years as a result of injuries received in an automobile accident. Besides being a paraplegic, she lives with constant infections and fevers, Addison’s disease, the loss of one leg from the knee down, spinal degeneracy…and pain. And I’m sure there are other problems of which I am unaware.

         Now, what would you think if I said to her the next time we were together, “Oh, Tina, I’ve been praying for you during your moment of pain!” You would probably think I was trivializing what to her has been a life of pain. I’ve never actually said it to her, but I have no doubt that if I did, she would understand what I meant and would agree with me. She has allowed her suffering to “perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle” her (1 Pet. 5:10).

         This whole verse in Second Corinthians is a study in priority and balance. On one hand, we have light afflictions in a moment of time counter balanced by an eternal weight. A fleeting featherweight on one side of the scales and an everlasting heavyweight on the other. To recognize the contrast doesn’t trivialize the former, especially when we read that it’s actually adding to the weight of the other. The affliction makes the glory that much weightier.

         I don’t pretend to understand this, but I do know that when I say it, it doesn’t carry nearly the “weight” that it does when someone in Tina’s condition says it. The words are no truer, but the application is more visible. I also believe the verse is a glimpse into the glory awaiting the child of God. Not personal glory, for that all belongs to the King of Glory, but experiential glory. As I said, I’m out of my depth here. I don’t understand this, but I accept it by faith.

         The Bible speaks of various kinds of suffering; but to most of us, the word “affliction” speaks of physical suffering, and I see no reason to try to expand this particular verse beyond that. We all suffer physical pain throughout life, but for some of us, it has seemingly been a perpetual way of life. To these, Paul offers the promise that one day the scale will tip so heavily on the “Glory” side that the affliction will go from being “light” to weightless!   
Until that day, may those of us riding this teeter-totter of life, by faith, look beyond the moment to the eternal, and see beyond the affliction…the Glory.

From the pen of Martha Snell Nicholson (1889-1957):

“The Redeemed Shall Walk There”
Isaiah 35:9

Some glad day I shall walk again!
Sometime my eager feet,
Sensing a blessed Presence near,
Shall turn and run to meet

The One who, dying on a cross,
Redeemed my flesh and soul,
Straightened this twisted spine of mine,
And made me new and whole!

All memory of helplessness,
Of crutch, or iron brace,
Will melt like mist when I behold
The beauty of His face!

And so I wait. On swift wing comes
That blessed moment when
He’ll take my hand, and smiling, teach
Me how to walk again!

         I love you, Tina!”

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Fads of the Faith"

(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)  (Acts 17:21)

         I once heard my son use this term [“Fads of the Faith”] in a sermon, referring to a new idea being hyped in Christian circles. It reminded me of just how “Athenian” we as Christians can become in an effort to stay on the cutting edge of spiritual trends. Whether it’s a new tool or a new taboo, we all like to think we are “current.” The trouble is, trying to keep up with the Jones’, spiritually speaking, leaves precious little time for sincere soul searching. Undoubtedly, conferences, campmeetings, seminars, and “feminars,” no matter how beneficial they may be in other ways, are prime enablers of this phenomenon. It is one thing for my pastor and my friends and fellow church members to follow a set of guidelines, but if a preponderance of pastors and church members also do it, it’s easy for guidelines to turn into binding rules for all.

         This is not to say that you and I should be suspicious of anything new. On the contrary, new methods that reflect current technology, if they do not seek to transcend the Spirit of God and the individuality of salvation, are a wonderful means to spread the Gospel. For instance, I’m able to reach out to women like you over the World Wide Web with words of encouragement and exhortation in a way that I could never have done in my earlier days, as glorious as they were.  My husband and I could have stubbornly hung onto old methods, unavailable to us now; but we chose to use new means at our disposal to share the same old message that is ever new: Christ is the Answer.

         The danger I’m trying to point out here is the nearly overpowering seduction to be like everybody else. None of us likes to feel dated; I don’t care how old we are. If Dr. So-and-So says the best way to witness, if you really want “results,” is his method; and if Preacher Pointy-Finger warns that his ever growing list of “sins” is today’s best hope; and if Miss or Mrs. Spirituality is offering to show you her way of always pleasing your husband…and God—stop and take a deep breath.

Don’t ever give up your way for somebody else’s way, until you are sure it’s God’s way. Nobody is more qualified to direct your walk with God than the Spirit of God within you. When He’s calling the shots in your life, you won’t fall for any of those “fads of the faith,” no matter how “spiritual” they may look.

Friday, January 13, 2012

No Risk, No Reward

“…if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)

         There is a saying in the business world: “No risk, no reward.” You and I might say, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” But we all know there are different degrees of risk. To risk a dollar on a raffle ticket is not the same as risking your life’s savings on a business venture; and to risk jumping from a low hanging tree limb is not the same as running into a burning building to save someone.

         The truth is, we are indebted to the world’s risk takers. Our lives have been greatly enriched by those brave souls who were willing to try something different, think out of the box, even when it cost them ridicule or personal loss. Thomas Edison may not have been easy to live with, but I’d hate having to live in a world without him, wouldn’t you? J Not all risks pan out, and some may have adverse results, but it’s for sure, you’ll never know until you try. The ultimate question, of course, is whether the venture is worth the risk.

         In Esther’s case, the lives of thousands of people hung in the balance, and her only decision was whether or not it was worth the possible loss of her own to try to save theirs. You and I may not be faced with such a risk, but I would contend that much of our lives, and surely the most important parts, is a risk. And failure to take action is the greatest risk of all.

         What the world calls risk, you and I know to be faith. And everyone has it, either in the God of the Bible, another god, or the god of self. The ultimate risk is the eternal place of the soul; but beyond that, I think there are other risks God calls upon us to take in life, a leap of faith, if you will.

         Marriage is a risk. Notice I didn’t say love is a risk. One is a choice; the other is a commandment. I love many people, but I am only married to one. And we all know that the best choice, spiritually and every other way, doesn’t always guarantee perpetual blue skies. The most promising marriage can be sabotaged by sin. And the prospect of widowhood always looms. But I have always felt marriage to be a good risk, and not just because of the good man I married. I can assured you we have not always seen eye to eye, but we’ve both always had our eyes on God; and because of that, our love has become more reliable — and robust — through the years.

         No risk, no reward; and the rewards of marriage are well worth the risk!
         There are many other risky points in life I could mention, but I only have one more to add here. Parenting is a risk. Speaking as a mother, childbirth, with all its life-threatening aspects, is a piece of cake next to child rearing! This little person who crowded us from the inside over those last few months will crowd our thoughts and lives from the outside from now on. From the time we hold them in our arms at birth, the fear of letting go is almost smothering. And yet that is what God asks us to do.

         Hannah was granted the gift of a child, only to be called upon to give him up to a questionable environment after he was weaned. And young Mary, who was given the honor of being the vehicle for the birth of God’s Son, was, in the end, called upon to witness his torture and death, unable…and unwilling…to beg for His life. I have to remind myself from time to time that to stand by and allow God to work in the lives of my children, without interference, is to risk everything on Him, Who does all things right (Gen. 18:25). That removes a lot of the risk, wouldn’t you say?

         No risk, no reward; and the rewards of being a parent are so much worth the risk!

         A great missionary once said, “Risk everything on God,” and I am determined, by the grace of God, to be one of His “risk-takers.” I want my faith to grow steadily till I can say, like Vance Havner,

“I’m stranded on God and shipwrecked on Omnipotence!”