Thursday, March 29, 2012

Going Beyond the Word of the Lord

“And Balaam answered and said unto the servant of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more.”  (Num. 22:18)

         But he did, of course, go “beyond the word of the Lord,” that is. God had already told Balaam in no uncertain terms not to go with the men of Balak, king of Moab. And he sent word that he wouldn’t go—at first; yet he relented later, for one reason or another. It may have been a thing of money, since that’s what he mentions in verse eighteen. I don’t know. I do know he was right when he said it’s possible to disobey a direct command from God by either coming short of, or going beyond it. And one is as bad as the other.

         There are those among us who soft-soap definite breaches of Divine mandates laid down in both the Old and New Testaments, by insisting that the grace of God overlooks sin, especially weaknesses of the flesh. Lying, stealing, murder, fornication and adultery, etc., may have mitigating circumstances under civil law, but they do not under Divine. Matthew Henry said of such audacity: It is a very great affront to God, and a certain evidence of the dominion of corruption in the heart, to beg leave to sin.” As children of God, it’s important to remember that sins such as those mentioned have to be recognized, judged, and put away, if we expect to receive forgiveness. To do less is to receive less. 

         On the other hand, some people go beyond the Word of God by doing—or expecting—more. It’s one thing to allow the Spirit of God to apply the Word to our own lives in a singular way. It’s quite another, however, to assume this constitutes a pattern for other believers. My older son once told me of a dear saint who could not see how others were able to do something that she herself felt so strongly to be wrong. When he pointed out that the Bible no where condemned this action, she replied, plaintively, “Yes, but don’t you think we should have a higher standard?” Of course, my son’s response was, “Dear lady, there is no higher standard.” When you and I put our own interpretation on the same plane with Divine inspiration, we go “beyond the word of the Lord.” Especially when it comes to questionable things.

         Both of these extremes indicate a presumption of superiority. “God has spoken, but He didn’t really mean it,” says the one extreme. “God has spoken, but He didn’t say enough,” says the other. Either way, we’re going “beyond the word of the Lord.” And Balaam’s sad story shows us what comes of it. 

           If you will take the Bible as it is, it will meet you where you are.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Don't Be a Loser

"But godliness with contentment is great gain. " (1 Tim. 6:6)

            The story is told of a king who could not sleep at night. He was told by one of his wise men that if he could sleep just one night in the shirt of a contented man, he would be cured. As you can imagine, he immediately sent men out to find this contented man, wherever he might be. But when they returned, they had to report that the most contented man in the kingdom had no shirt. And if you've lived any length of time at all, you already know this principle is true. The elusive treasure of contentment was in the man, not his shirt.

            But perhaps you're someone who has learned to be content with discontent. You may see those who don't seem to have your drive, ambition, or aggressiveness in general as being uninspired...even lazy. But I would contend there's a difference between apathy and peace, just as there's a difference between drive and direction.

            What I'm talking about is inner sufficiency, no matter what the outward circumstances may be. As Paul said in another place, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am in, therewith to be content" (Philip. 4:11). As I live and serve God, stewarding faithfully what He has given me, I can be content with where I am at any given point in time, no matter where I am, what I have, or who I am with. It's a component of what I like to call "Spiritual poise." I put the word "spiritual" in upper case, on purpose, because what I'm talking about is not "New Age Spiritism" but Holy Spirit indwelling.

            Notice that in the verse, godliness + contentment = great gain. In order to have a balanced equation, both components are necessary. Obviously godliness would be a gain to anyone, but I, for one, believe that the addition of contentment is the ingredient that produces "great gain." You may consider this nit-picking, but I've seen too many Christians who considered godly living to be more of a chore than a joy. Instead of giving them wings to soar like an eagle, it seemed to clip their wings. As far as I'm concerned, godliness - contentment = great loss.

            So, are you a winner or a loser? Do you possess both ingredients: godliness and contentment? They're both important and equally rare. For instance, are you content with where you are? Are you content with your husband or your lack of one? Are you content with yourself as God made you? If you answered "No" to any of these I claim the right to ask, "Are you content with God?" The writer of Hebrews tells us that the argument against any discontent in the life of a believer is the reality of God's everlasting promise to remain when everything and everyone else is gone (Heb. 13:5). You and I will never lack for provision, companionship, or peace as long as God lives.  When you know and truly believe this, you'll be content.

            I read something in an old book recently that was quote from a poor Methodist woman from the 18th century. I think it catches the essence of what I've been trying to say about contentment:

"I do not know when I have had happier times in my soul, than when I have been sitting at work, with nothing before me but a candle and a white cloth, and hearing no sound but my own breath, with God in my soul and heaven in my eye...I rejoice in being exactly what I am--a creature capable of loving God, and who, as long as God lives, must be happy. I get up and look for awhile out of the window, and gaze at the moon and stars, the work of an Almighty hand. I think of the grandeur of the universe, and then sit down, and think myself one of the happiest beings in it." 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Only One Seat

“And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee.”  (Exodus 25:21)

         There was only one seat in the tabernacle in the wilderness, and it was God’s. When the priests ministered in either section of the tabernacle, they always remained standing. They were never seated for any reason. Besides being God’s exclusive resting place there, what else do we know about this holy “seat?”

         It was the covering (the lid, if you will) for the Ark of the Covenant, a box roughly 4½ by 2½ feet, made of wood and overlaid with gold that denoted the presence of God in their midst. The covering—the Mercy Seat—was made of pure gold, with two golden cherubim on either side that covered the Ark with their wings. Inside the box were three things: the broken tables of the Law, Aaron’s rod that budded, and a pot of manna. It was the only piece of furniture transferred from the Tabernacle to the Temple, where it housed only the tables of the Law.

         There is much symbolism for the Church of Jesus Christ to be found in the Tabernacle and it’s furnishings, as the book of Hebrews points out so vividly, but I want to draw your attention to only two aspects of God’s mercy seat that spoke to my own heart recently.


         First, as I said, the Mercy Seat belonged to God alone. Obviously, it speaks of a place of authority, as in “the seat of government.” When there is a question of who had the final authority on any subject, the answer was, and always will be, God. We may not agree with God’s judgments, but He is the judge of all the earth, and He is right (Gen. 18:25), especially when it comes to how we must approach Him. Once a year, the Ark was approached by the High Priest, who brought blood with Him to sprinkle on the Mercy Seat (Lev. 16:14). There was no other way. And our only route of entry to the presence of God requires the same thing: Blood. Remember I said that the Ark contained the broken Law? Well, the blood-sprinkled Mercy Seat covered that Law. The Blood of Jesus Christ, Who fulfilled the Law, is the only thing that can neutralize the penalty of its demands against us; and now redeemed sinners, you and I can n come boldly to God’s Mercy Seat and commune with Him. (“And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat…” Exo. 25:22).

But wait, there’s more!


         When someone offers to sit down and talk to you, it’s a sign you will have his or her undivided attention. Of course, God didn’t have a human form in the Holy of Holies, only appearing as a cloud (Lev. 16:2); but that cloud served to assure Israel that God was with them in the camp. And our cloud of witness is the indwelling Spirit of His Son within us that cries, “Abba, Father.” (Gal. 4:6). Now, when we approach God as Blood-washed believers, He’ll be there. He won’t be standing around, shifting from one foot to the other, impatiently. He’ll be seated. And it’s not for nothing that He chose to call His chair a “Mercy Seat,” because that’s what He dispenses from there: mercy. Mercy that is great (Num. 14:18), abundant (1 Pet. 1:3), tender (Psl. 103:4), rich (Eph. 2:4), new every morning (Lam. 3:23), high as heaven (Psl. 103:11), and filling the whole earth (Psl. 119:64). God may not give us everything we want, but He will always give us mercy. He can’t help Himself; it’s part of His character (Exo. 34:6; 2 Cor. 1:3). And when He refuses us, it’s only because of His mercy (Psl. 84:11).

         So come to your God of mercy, dear friend. Approach His Mercy Seat with a confident heart and a Blood-cleansed conscience. He is in the seat of authority and you have His undivided attention. And best of all, there is a fresh supply of mercy just waiting for you there.

                 Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
                  Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel;
                  Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
                  Earth hath no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Sins" in Good Standing...With God

I’m being somewhat facetious, of course, but I can see at least four activities listed in the Bible as being negative that if applied another way, are a definite positive in the life of a believer. See if you agree with me.

“But covet earnestly the best gifts…” (1Cor.12:31)

         The first sin, covetousness, is a breach of the last entry in God’s Decalogue of “don’ts” found in Exodus twenty. It is the precursor of many other sins and the basis for discontent that has ruined the lives of so many. Still, Paul, in the twelfth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, where he lays out the operations of spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ, suggests that wanting the best of these would not be out of place at all. And, frankly, I would be glad indeed to posses the spiritual gift of being able to speak a word of wisdom or knowledge (12:8); or to be a woman of faith; or to posses the gift of spiritual healing (12:9), as well as others found in the next verse. I’m glad though that after giving us permission to “covet” any of these gifts, Paul tells us that when all is said and done, however, there is one spiritual grace that outshines them all. Then, as you know, he launches into his great treatise on love. And, yes, I covet that, too.  

“[T]hey have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints” (16:15).

         Let’s move on now to the second permissible sin, which comes from the pen of the same man, and in the same book. There are some people, Paul says, who just can’t get enough of ministering to others. I understand that like any addiction there are pitfalls even here; but frankly, although I question driving one’s body to the limit in any activity, I would rather see it done in ministry to others. Evidently, Paul thought so, too, since he spoke lovingly of the family he accused of this “addiction.” (As an aside, I’ll tell you that I’ve written the name of our daughter, Leah, next to this verse in my own Bible. She’s the worst “offender” I know when it comes to this addiction!)

“Mortify [kill] therefore your members which are upon the earth…” (Col. 3:5)

         Thirdly, I would submit to you that God does not always forbid murder. In fact, he commands it in Colossians. He goes on then to give us a list of gross sins of which the members of our bodies are capable. James says there is a virtual war going on in our members (James 4:1). If we took literally the admonition of Matthew 5:29-30 about offending a “member,” we’d end up “member-less!” Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:31, “…I die daily.” That’s the result of murder, right? He didn’t actually die, of course, but as far as sin’s claim of authority in his life, he was “dead to the world.” But this is one murder we have to commit ourselves; we can’t hire a hit man. We have to mortify (put to death) continually those inclinations in our members that lust against the Spirit of God.

“He that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster” (Prov. 18:9)

         Finally, although the Bible uses the word “waste” in most cases as the act of destruction, or allowing something to diminish, I would refer you to this verse in Proverbs and submit that “waste,” in the sense of squandering, is not something God is in favor of. Yet the woman in Mark fourteen, who was accused of wasting expensive ointment on Jesus, was praised—even memorialized—by the Son of God. There is, you see, no way on this earth to waste anything on Him. Waste implies using up something valuable for a lesser purpose. Spirit-initiated service or sacrifice to Jesus Christ is never wasted. It’s the least that we can do. It may bring criticism, as the woman in Mark found out, but it will gain us commendation from its worthy Recipient.

         There you have it; my little discourse on “sins” that God is highly in favor of. Would you agree they’re worthy of any good Christian? Well then, when you feel an urge to sin, choose one of these, and then go right ahead…have at it!

         “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might…” (Eccl. 9:10)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Looking For the "Meek and Quiet Spirit"

“But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” (1 Peter 3:4)

         Who wouldn’t be on the lookout for anything considered to be “of great price” to the One who owns the world and everything in it? It would be like finding something to give to the man who has everything. You may think it’s the perfect adornment for a godly woman (as do I), but the fact remains, the only two people named in the Scriptures as living examples of meekness were men: Moses (Num. 12:3), and Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:29 & 2:15). Be that as it may, here it is in a passage especially for you and me, so it’s definitely something we need to look into and consider.

         Before we try to find this pearl, there is a misconception that needs to be laid to rest. We’re talking about something that is generally “hidden.” It’s a spirit, not a sound. Just as someone who is “poor in spirit” does not have to be poor financially, it follows that a quiet spirit does not have to be silent, or even soft-spoken, all the time. I realize no one likes a loud, stubborn, gadabout woman, especially Solomon (Prov. 7:11). But just because a woman is soft-spoken doesn’t guarantee she possesses a quiet spirit, anymore than poverty is the sure sign of meekness. It’s not that easy.

         For instance, the meekest man on the earth in his lifetime was a man who naturally had a temper and an unbending sense of justice that sometimes made him judge, jury, and executioner (Exo. 2:11-12). You have heard it said, I’m sure, meekness is not the same as weakness, and Moses (and Jesus, for that matter) is testimony to this.

I was interested to learn that the Greeks used the equivalent of this word (“meekness”) to describe the training of an animal (especially a horse) for battle. It literally means, “power under control.” As one writer said, “When the Greeks could take a horse, with the phenomenal inherent power that can propel a thousand-pound animal at speeds over 35 miles an hour, and bring that magnificent animal under the total control of just a touch—maybe just leg pressure or knee pressure—and have that horse do exactly what they wanted, then they called that horse praus (meeked). And the term is still used today. Another word for breaking a horse is “meeking.”

I see meekness in a wife as the unusual ability to see past the Biblical headship of her husband to the ultimate authority of God. There is no pulling against the reins, knowing that the hands that hold them are not human, but Divine. She may offer opinion, but never insist on the final option. She is meek, but not powerless; it is power under the control of God. The old Puritan saying is true: “A prudent wife commands her husband by obeying him.”

But what of the “quiet spirit”? If it’s not dependent on either demeanor or decibel, how do you spot it, or better still, acquire it? For this, we need to search the Scriptures for clues. I find in Isaiah 32: 17-18 that quietness and peace come in one package. “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever. And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.” Even today, when we’re overwhelmed with this noisy world, we look for “peace and quiet.” And isn’t it interesting that quietness is one of the effects of righteousness, unlike “the troubled sea” that follows wickedness (Isa. 57:20)? I read also in Isaiah that quietness is coupled with confidence “…in quietness and confidence shall be your strength…” (30:15). It’s a deep-seated trust in God that remains calm inside during life’s storms like a buoy that bobs all around above turbulent waters but remains steadfast underneath.

Again, I see the woman of quiet spirit that Peter is speaking of as bringing calm, as much as being calm. She is a woman whose very presence makes you feel that the situation, no matter how unnerving, will not always be so. She may or may not speak, but one way or the other, her confidence in God is always unmistakable. It can take the edge off a disagreement, add reason to the irrational, and bring us back to the reality of living and abiding in Jesus Christ. 

See what I mean when I say the woman with the “meek and quiet spirit” is not the mousy, two-steps-behind wisp of a creature you may have pictured? This woman is controlled, confident, and content. She will overwhelm you with her understated strength. You will remember her long after you’ve forgotten what she wore, because she’s so much more than what you see (1 Pet. 3:3).

Her meek and quiet spirit is “of great price to God.” What’s it worth to you and me?