Thursday, May 31, 2012

Flattery: Weapon of Choice

“…the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.” (Proverbs 6:24)

            In his book, Disciplines of a Godly Man, R. Kent Hughes has said, “Gossip involves saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his or her face. Flattery means saying to a person’s face what you would never say behind his or her back.” I find this to be a very good way of determining if what I’m saying is a sincere compliment or lying flattery. If the compliment I give to my husband is a way I would never describe him to others, then the so-called “compliment” is simply a lovely lie. And lest you doubt this, I would refer you to Psalm 78:36, where the two are used interchangeably.

            I chose to challenge us today on this topic because I happen to think that although flattery may be a genderless trait, it is especially developed to a fine art in the feminine gender. When it’s seen in men, you generally see other more feminine characteristics. This is not to say such men are less men, only that as society fondly points out, they have been able to connect to their “feminine side,” as well. But as I say, it just seems to come natural to you and me. It’s easier for us to praise our children as they grow up, while fathers often find it hard to find just the right words. This should also teach us, those most susceptible to flattery are those most immature, or as the Bible calls them, “simple” (Prov. 7:7 & Rom. 16:18).  

            Solomon was obviously one who knew what it was to succumb to the charms of a flattering woman, and he warned his own son about her in chapters six and seven of his Proverbs. And you will read in chapter seven that it wasn’t her kisses or her inviting bed that finally broke the simple young man down, but it was her “fair speech “ and “flattering lips” (v. 21). Flattery was this woman’s weapon of choice and it proved to be invincible. I point this out not to suggest you or I have such conquests in our sights, but simply to show you the lethal potential of this trait that comes so easily to us.

            And mark it down; flattery always has an ulterior motive. This woman’s goal was not the wellbeing of the young man but the satisfaction of her own desires. And when our compliments and praise run to excess and morph into flattery, we’re satisfying a personal need or seeking a personal advantage. We may be looking for attention, friendship, love, or material gain; but you’ll be hard pressed to find anything noble in flattery.

            I find several unintended consequences to flattery:

  1. It often engenders envy as in the case of David and Saul (1 Sam. 18:7-9). The foolish flattery of these women severed both a friendship and a kingdom.

          2. If we find it easy to lie to others by inordinate praise, we most certainly will do the same thing for ourselves. “For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful” (Psl. 36:2). There is nothing less attractive than a self-deceived braggart.

           3. Our children are harmed by our penchant for flattery. There is an enigmatic verse in Job that I don’t fully understand, but I do accept it as a warning from God that our flattery can so distort our children’s discernment that they are less likely later to see people as they truly are. “He that speaketh flattery to his friends, even the eyes of his children shall fail” (Job 17:5).

         4. Saddest of all, our flattery can degenerate to the point of our trying to use it on God. “Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues” (Psl. 78:36). If you read this entire chapter you will see that the “him” in this verse is God. Their praise of Him was mere flattery, not because what they said about him was untrue, but because they didn’t really believe it. Their hearts and lives said just the opposite (v. 37). They might say it to His face, but not behind His back.

I don’t know about you but I have been very convicted in my own heart while writing this. I have had to stop periodically to ask God to forgive me for succumbing to this little considered, but potentially dangerous sin. I think if you and I can understand how easy it is to reach for it as our “weapon of choice” to get what we want, we’ll be more hesitant to pull it out.

Someone has said, “Some people go through life with their hands on the holster”; and in all probability, as women, the thing in our holsters is…flattery. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Spirit of Remembrance

For God is not unrighteous to forget your labor of love which ye have shewed toward his name…” (Heb. 6:10)

            Tomorrow is Memorial Day—a day of remembrance; and this verse in Hebrews tells us that failing to remember those whose lives evidenced a “labor of love” is to an example of “unrighteousness.” God Almighty is not guilty of it, nor should we be. On this day, we remember all the men and women who have served, or are now serving our country as part of our armed forces. Especially we remember those who have given their lives in this service. But I am convinced that we should also breathe a prayer of thanksgiving for those men and women of the Faith, whose blood became “the seed of the Church? For example:

  • Polycarp… who was told as they prepared to light the fires of martyrdom at his feet, “If you will just utter one little word against Christ, I will release you”; but whose voice rang out in reply, “Eighty and six years have I served Him and He never did me any injury. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?...Hear my free confession…I am a Christian!”

  • Betty Scott Stam…who had written this covenant with God as a college student of nineteen:  “Lord, I give up my own purposes and plans, all my own desires, hopes and ambitions (whether they be fleshly or soulish), and accept Thy will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all, utterly to Thee, to be Thine forever. I hand over to Thy keeping all of my friendships, my love. All the people whom I love are to take second place in my heart. Fill me and seal me with Thy Holy Spirit. Work out Thy whole will in my life, at any cost, now and forever. ‘To me to live is Christ and to die is gain’” (Philip.1:21). And it was this same young woman whose body, only nine years later, would fall dead across the lifeless body of her husband—both of them murdered by the Chinese Communists in 1934.

  • Jim Elliot…who as a young man had written in his journal, “Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be aflame. But a flame is short-lived. Canst thou bear this, my soul?” And, indeed, his flame was short-lived, for eight short years later, South American Indians, to whom he had come to bring the gospel, speared him to death. 
Would you not say that to forget such men and women as these, and others like them, who gave their “last ounce of devotion” for the Kingdom of God, would surely be near desecration of the Faith? Nor should we forget our brothers and sisters in Christ who live today under atheistic regimes and languish under great persecution, simply because they dare to witness to their faith in Jesus Christ. When you pray tomorrow, ask God to give them grace…and deliverance, if it is His will. Then join with me in asking Him to give us all an abiding spirit of remembrance.

                      “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”  (Psl. 116:15)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Bible Lesson in Grammar

“And they glorified God in me.” (Galatians 1:24)

         Whenever I read the last verse of the first chapter of Galatians, I often think that the Holy Spirit is giving me a refresher course in priorities by means of a lesson in grammar I learned many years ago. Here’s what I mean.

The subject of this little six-word sentence is “they,” a pronoun referring to the churches of Judea (v. 22). The verb—in this case an action verb—tells us what the churches did. They “glorified” someone or something. When you see an action verb, the first thing to look for is a direct object, a word that receives the action of the verb or shows its result. In other words, we need to find out who was the recipient of the glory these Galatian Christians were offering. In this sentence, we’ve been given three little words from which to pick, to fulfill that role: “God in me.” But we can narrow it down further because the direct object must a noun, which leaves the little preposition “in” out of the running.

Now we’re left with only two candidates to receive the action of the verb “glorified.” To put it simply, who received the glory, God or Paul? Now, if you’re really slow on the pick up here, and still finding it hard to decide (and don’t act as though you haven’t wavered between the two in your own life), I can settle the whole thing by reminding you that the before mentioned preposition “in” has already tapped “me” to be its own personal object, thereby leaving only one Person left to receive the glory—God!

         This is an important lesson, however you learn it. As a lively, if not yet master, grammarian, the Holy Spirit reminds me that as well as being the supreme object of my affections, God should be the direct object of any glory that might otherwise come to me. Paul says of these believers, they looked at him and glorified God…not him. And isn’t it humbling to realize that God would give us an opportunity to make Him look good? We can’t do this, however, as long as we’re jockeying for the position of “direct object.” God shares many things with His children, including His love and His home; but the one thing He refuses to share is His glory.

        Mark it down; when the verb is “glorify,” the only acceptable direct object is God.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Get a Life!

“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

         This is a term often said to someone who seems to be so hung up on nonessentials or non-truths that he or she is unable to live any kind of meaningful life. Obviously, the person is alive, but the extent of his or her living is questionable.

         The same can be said of Jesus’ words to the crowd surrounding Him in this chapter. Obviously, these people were alive, yet Jesus told them He had come for the express purpose of giving them life. One could argue that He was speaking of eternal life, which is indeed the quality (and quantity) of the life God gives His children; but Jesus goes on to say that the life of which He is speaking is abundant life. In the New Testament, God uses the word “abundant” to describe honor, mercy, grace, affection, labor, service, and rejoicing—all things we experience in this life. I would argue that the life Jesus is speaking of here is the life we live here on earth…in Him, as well as our life in Heaven.  

         We hear people talk about living a “fulfilled life.” They especially like to insinuate that the woman who settles for only a husband and children, without benefit of a career outside the home, is less than fulfilled. But it could just as easily be argued that a woman who settles for a career without, or instead of, a husband and children is less than fulfilled. The truth is, if God has given you the privilege of loving and nurturing a husband and children, or if He has given you the privilege of serving Him without “distraction” (1 Cor. 7), while laboring outside the home—either way, your life will be fulfilled and abundant in direct proportion to the reality of your relationship to God through Jesus Christ. You can be as unfulfilled and bored sitting behind a desk or selling a product as you can be preparing food and changing diapers 24/7.

         The verse says Jesus is offering repentant sinners life, abundant life that starts here and continues into eternity. Life in Heaven may be free from such evils as sin, heartache and sickness, but it won’t be any more abundant than what He has promised me here. It’s only Heaven because God is there; and if He lives and reigns in my heart and life, can Heaven be far away? 
         Jesus is saying to this spiritually lifeless world, “Get a life! Get eternal, abundant life.” We hear people ask, “How’s life treatin’ you?” To which I would answer, “It all depends on which life you’re talking about.” My life in general may be pretty rocky at times; but my life in Jesus Christ is sure and abundant. It started nearly sixty years ago, and it’s still going strong.

Have I got a life? You bet I do!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Come With Singing

“Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.” Psl. 100:2

         It would seem to me that singing in the Word of God is always connected with joy and victory. This jaded world loves to immortalize mournful, defeatist music that gives voice to our sorrows, frustrations, and failures; and even some Christian music can leave one with more tears of sadness than tears of joy. I’m thinking now of such songs as “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” when clearly 1 Corinthians 10:13 teaches that troubles, trials, and temptations are common and curable, by the grace of God. I’m not saying that such songs are all bad; but I do say that this world expects the songs of Zion to be songs of “mirth” (Psl. 137:3), and the Psalmist says, “O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation” (95:1).

            It is evident from even a cursory reading of the Bible that singing should have a central place in our praise to God. He is the highest and ultimate recipient of our praise in whatever form it takes. As I read recently on the entranceway to the Fine Arts building at a large Christian University, “Come sing, come play, but know this; your audience is but ONE.” If this is true, talent and ability have little to do with it. Understandably, you and I may be especially moved by someone to whom God has given a beautiful voice, but I cannot think He would be any more impressed, since He is the one who gave the individual his or her ability. This must be the case, since He expects every one of us—with or without talent, possessing perfect pitch, or tone deaf—to sing praises to Him (Psl. 100).

         As with all things in the Christian life, it would be nice if spiritual maturity coincided with the peak of our abilities, including vocal prowess; but this is not always the case. Fortunately for me, I was blessed to have a voice instructor who not only gave me excellent vocal training, but who taught me the significance (and potential power) of a particular song I was singing. We studied the message, and pondered the best way to get it across, making sure any ability or talent I might have never overshadowed that. I learned in my many hours of practicing, I was perfecting the instrument for praise God had given to me.

         Still, with all the insight that good man passed on to me as a young girl, I find that the message of the songs I sing today (in some cases, the same songs) now burst from my soul, past aging vocal chords, in a way the young singer, worried with correct intonation, etc., could never have imagined. And perhaps, that’s as it should be, for as I often say, I’m only rehearsing for heaven anyway. And, no doubt, by the time I get there my heart will be so full, and my love so overwhelming, I’ll be ready to take my place with the others with complete confidence. I’ll come before His presence then, as now, with singing. And I promise you; I’ll know the song!

         “Then in a nobler, sweeter song I’ll sing thy power to save,
          When this poor, lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.”    

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The (Real) Ties That Bind

“And Rebekah said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth: if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these which are of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?”   (Gen.27:46)

         I wonder how this made Isaac feel. Of course, neither of them wanted their sons to marry heathen women, but for a wife to admit that the only thing she is living for is the well being of her children would certainly not make a husband feel very special, it would seem to me.

I wrote in another article about the invisible cord that binds a mother’s heart to her children all their lives; but in it I cautioned that the cord needed to be non-binding (“silken, with lots of slack for individual growth,” I believe is how I described it). The natural bond between a mother and child should never be as binding as the supernatural one that binds her to the husband God gave her. I think I’ll say that again: The natural bond between a mother and child should never be as binding as the supernatural one that binds her to the husband God gave her. I sense you questioning the word “supernatural.” Let me try to defend its use.

         Why do you think we are not required to recite vows of fidelity to the children to whom we give birth, like we are to the spouses we take? (Though, maybe we should.) It’s because unless a parent—especially a mother—is spiritually and emotionally deformed, he or she will love his or her child. That child is an extension of one’s own body—bone of bone and flesh of flesh. This is a natural phenomenon. But for a man and woman, who have no physical bond, to become bone of bone and flesh of flesh in the sight of God has to be supernatural.

A stranger once asked me if I was related to Richard Sandlin, and I jokingly replied, “Only by marriage!” But the truth is, I’m actually more related to him than anyone else on earth. That is why I follow him wherever he goes and stand with him against anything or anyone that would threaten our union. My children have my undying love, but my husband has that and my undying allegiance, as well. 

         There is one more tie, however, that is the most binding of all, by virtue of the fact that it is eternal. The threads that bind my heart and mind to the family I cherish will be dissolved when I leave this earth, but the scarlet cord that binds me to Jesus Christ can never be severed. It is tied with the promise of His Word and knotted with the integrity of His character. It supersedes and gives credibility (and durability) to all other relationships.

         I can’t speak for every woman, but I’m one who does not mind being tied down. The ties that bind me are cords of love and cables of joy. And I bless them.