Saturday, February 25, 2012

Having the Last Word...Or Not

           "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." (Prov. 25:11)

            This verse tells us that where and when words are placed in a conversation—where we fit them in, if you will—can be as important as the words themselves. For most of us, this would include two places especially: at the first and the last, with the latter having a slight edge. To be the instigator a conversation has the advantage of setting the direction; and having the final word is presumed to be the final resolution of any argument...or so most of us think.

            I corresponded with a friend sometime ago, who was agonizing over the fractured relationship she sometimes shares with her husband, because she seems to always have to have the last word. I told her I could identify with this, perhaps not to the same extent she pictured, but enough to turn plenty constructive, congenial conversations with my husband into unpleasant standoffs, in over fifty years of marriage. See, here's the thing: the longer you live with someone—even a wonderful someone—not only do you come to appreciate even more his or her “lovability,” the more you find out how to tap into his or her vulnerability, when an occasion of disagreement arises. This is when you make a choice. Is my vindication more important than my precious relationship with the man God gave me to love and cherish?

            Besides this important principle, here are a few more reasons I would like to put forward to minimize, if I can, the importance of that dearly fought for last word:

1.  The last word is not always the right word. Where an argument is placed in a conversation does nothing to bolster its innate accuracy. If you watch debates much, you know that something true and meaningful is never really lessened by any foolish inaccuracies that may follow it. "How forcible are right words" (Job 6:25). This is especially true when the Word of God is honestly and lovingly employed. No one trumps God, no matter how loudly or long they talk.

2.  The last word is often an unkind word. More often than not, it's when a biting, personal argument is thrown in the mix that all conversation is stopped in its tracks. Sometimes a spouse or friend simply stops putting forward any counter arguments or suggestions when the other party has begun reasoning with his or her emotions, instead of his or her head. According to Ephesians 4:15, the emotion most compatible with truth is love.

3.  The last word may turn out to be the ending word. This is sad. There may come a time when our insistence on having the last word has shut all doors to any further conversation on this, and many other, subjects. Unless important principles are at stake, some arguments are too painful to repeat. There may not be a physical separation (though there may be), but there can still be a cloud over a relationship that stifles any meaningful, intimate communication in the future.  

4.  God is the one who will truly have the last word. It's He who will be the final judge as to whose words were "fitly spoken." It all depends on whose vindication you regard most highly. When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, He "answered nothing." And Mark says, "Pilate marvelled" (15:5). So do I. If anyone had the right to speak, it was Jesus Christ, and yet he allowed Pilate to have the last word. He knew the last word is not nearly as important as the final word. And the final Word will be His, for time and eternity.

             I wrote this, not to inflict guilt, but to inspire change—in myself especially, since the desire for self-vindication only grows with age. By God's grace, I want the last words in any encounter in my life to be His, not mine.

        "Let the words of my acceptable in thy sight, O, Lord..." (Psl. 19:14)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Love and the Progressive Overload Principle

“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men…” (1Thess.3:12); “But as touching brotherly love…we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more.” (4:9-10)

            There is a physical training principle that says, “Placing increasing amounts or stress on the body causes adaptations that improve fitness.” In other words, by gradually asking more of our bodies than we’re comfortable with, we can extend our “comfort zone.” This is called the “Progressive Overload Principle.” Which would seem to be a nice way of saying we’re being asked to do more than we can! But in reality, the outcome should be that we end up being able to do more than we could, or rather, more than we thought we could.

            Paul taught this same principle, not only in the cited verses, but also in others, as when he acknowledged to the Christians of Philippi that his prayer for them was that their love might “abound yet more and more” (1:9). Love was never meant to be static, showing little or no change. I was meant to be dynamic, characterized by change and especially, progression. In other words, love should never be allowed to stagnate.

My husband and I discussed this idea once as he was pondering 2 Corinthians 12:15: “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” The problem with these people was not that they loved Paul less, my husband pointed out, but that as Paul’s love grew, theirs remained stagnant. While Paul was willingly spending his life for them, (“I will gladly spend”), they were selfishly taking it (“and be spent”).

Did I forget to mention that one of the by-products of progressive overload in physical training is temporary pain? That’s when you know you have begun to “overload” a muscle, asking more than that with which it’s comfortable. And again, when it’s hard—when it hurts—that’s when we know we have pushed love into overload. Now we have the opportunity to stretch it even beyond its present capacity, to make it “increase more and more.” If we do this, however, we must realize, as Paul did, that progressive love is a choice, and not all Christians, or people, choose it. Therefore, there will always be occasions of disproportionate love. But our sentiment should be that of this favorite little verse of mine:

               If equal loving cannot be,
                  Then let the greater love be me.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Loveliness of Jesus Christ

“…yea, he is altogether lovely…” (Song of Sol. 5:16)

"I don't know what word to say!" This was the lament of one of our great-granddaughters, which is understandable since she's only two and a half years old. J She was trying to tell a story and had reached a point where she realized there was no word in her limited vocabulary to express what she wanted to say. I know how she feels. As a writer, I find myself grappling for just the right word to convey my true meaning, and as a last resort,  reluctantly resorting to a thesaurus. Even then I'm not always satisfied. This is especially true when it comes to describing the Indescribable One.

I sometimes feel like the bride in Song of Solomon, who, after extolling all the physical beauty of her Lover, finally reduced it all to four words: "He is altogether lovely." Of all the words used to describe Jesus Christ —Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Lamb of God, Son of God, etc., I think the choice of this bride, who was rapturously in love, is mine too. "He is altogether lovely."

Unlike her, however, I am not speaking of the physical appearance of Jesus Christ, because that is relative, and relatively unimportant, since Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:16 that you and I have no physical bond to the God/Man who walked this earth two-thousand years ago. Our knowledge of, and union with, Him are not "after the flesh." It's a Spiritual knowledge and union that is not dependent on either His flesh or ours. No, He personifies the word "lovely," because His is the only perfect love, and He is the only One deserving of our highest love.

"He is altogether lovely." His loveliness is all encompassing, at all times, under any circumstances, without exception. There is nothing about Him that is unlovely. There is no flaw in His character, nothing that has to be excused. Unlike the godliest person you know, there is not that one side to Him that you could wish weren't there. Beat Him, scourge Him, spit on Him, hang him naked on a cross, He is still lovely.

It would only stand to reason that such "altogether" loveliness should call forth all-consuming love. If you and I can become enraptured with earthly beauty, how much more should we be exhilarated by the loveliness of our beautiful Savior? It was said of some old preachers that they were "God-intoxicated." That's what I want to be with Jesus Christ. I want to live and write and speak and sing "under the influence" of a breathtaking love for Him. And if I can gaze upon Him by faith through His living, breathing Word, and linger in His presence, without condition of consequence, I know I will be overwhelmed with His loveliness.

Oh, I think I've found my word, little Ava. The perfect word: lovely. "He is altogether lovely," and I am altogether in love with Him! 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Lowliness of Jesus Christ

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”  (Zech.9:9)

            This Old Testament prophecy to the nation Israel about the coming King was fulfilled when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on “an ass’s colt” (Jno.12:14-15), along a path strewn with palm branches instead of a red carpet. He did not ride in an ornamental chariot, or even sit astride a conqueror’s steed. Instead, His blessed feet dangled on either side of a small donkey. Zechariah says that this King comes to us “lowly.” Neither His position nor His kingdom is lowly; but, rather, it is his demeanor that calls for this unlikely adjective. “I am meek and lowly in heart,” said Jesus. That is why when we meet Him in the gospels, this King washes feet, holds little children in His arms, tells stories, cries at funerals, sings with friends, fries fish over a camp fire…and rides into town on a donkey.

            When God took the form of man, He gave us a picture of man at his best; and the Man, Christ Jesus, demonstrated the very attribute that gains the respect of God the Father: “Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly” (Psl.138:6). Ironically enough then, the highest point in our Christian lives may not be when we are the most respected, but when we are the least noticed. But beware: humility cannot be sought after, or else it becomes just one more bid for glory (Col. 2:18). It was Andrew Murray who said, “Pride often clothes itself with humility.” This is why James admonishes, “Humble yourselves in the sight of God,” not in the sight of man (4:10).

            One day Jesus will return to the earth and then He will ride the conqueror’s charger, with all the trappings that are rightfully His as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But I will not fear that King, because with all the pomp and glory and majesty, I will recognize Him as the One Who once lived among us, meek and lowly; the One I came to know and love personally, as a little child. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

You Complete Me

"And ye are complete in him..." (Col. 2:10)

            One of the catch phrases in today's relationship vocabulary is "You complete me." In other words, I'm only half (or less) of what I would be without you. I must admit, the sentiment is touching and endearing; and having lived for over fifty years with the life partner God gave me, and whom I passionately love, it is a sentiment I could easily espouse. That is, if I allowed my life to be governed by sentimental feelings. But since, to the best of my ability, I have determined to allow the Word of God to govern all of my life, I have chosen to place sentiment further down the chain of priority.

            This verse in Colossians assures me that since Jesus Christ is Lord of my life, and He embodies all three Person's of the Godhead (v. 9), I'm complete as I am. Any other relationship I maintain may enhance or embellish me, but it cannot add anything of eternal substance to me. David expressed it even more unequivocally when he told God, "...there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee" (Psl. 73:25b). This is not to say that we should not enjoy, even relish, the company and love of others, but only to recognize the fragility of any earthly relationship.

            Beyond this Biblical truth, may I add a couple of practical ones to bolster my argument? First, when I'm looking for someone to "complete me," I'm focused on my inadequacies and their sufficiencies; and should those roles ever become reversed, I'll have to look elsewhere. Not a good scenario. We all like being with people who make us feel good about ourselves, and who encourage us to do and be our best, but the Bible tells us that feeling inadequate is not such a bad thing: "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God" (2 Cor. 3:5). Anything that drives me to God, the all-sufficient Source, is a good thing. Right?

            Finally, if there is anyone on earth who "completes me," when he or she is gone, I am left as only half a person. Frankly, I cannot believe this is how God would ever want His child to see himself or herself. If a parent loses a child and remains inconsolable, it says to those remaining, "You're not enough." And when God removes someone from our lives, either by death or some other separation, and we remain inconsolable, God would be justified to assume, "I'm not enough."

            I am persuaded that those who are looking for someone to complete them are not ready for a relationship. I have often told wives, it's easy to expect a husband to meet needs only God can meet. After my salvation, my husband is God's greatest gift to me, and I love, enjoy, and cherish him. He loves me, he takes care of me, he entertains me, and he teaches me the things of God...but he doesnt complete me.

            I am complete in Him. And so are you.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Holy Ground

“Then said the Lord to him [Moses], Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground.”  (Acts 7:33)

         I’ve seen preachers take off their shoes before they preached, the idea being that behind the pulpit, they were standing on holy ground. I suppose this could indicate either humility or pride. I do know that when God told Moses to remove his sandals, Moses was not standing behind a pulpit; he was standing in the presence of God.

When we are truly in the presence of God, we feel that anything holding us to this earth is unnecessary baggage, even shoes. Things we thought so necessary, suddenly become superfluous. People we clung to lose their overwhelming influence. And plans and goals outside the will of God fade into oblivion. Nothing or no one can match the sheer joy of being in the presence of God and knowing He initiated the encounter.  

And know this, dear readers: Wherever God condescends to meet with you is holy ground, whether it is behind a pulpit, on the backside of a desert, on your knees…or sitting in a rocking chair with a cup of tea, feasting on the Word of God.

    “…and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”