Saturday, June 30, 2012

They Always Know What To Say

“The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable…” Proverbs 10:32

These words say two things to me: 1) There is an acceptable and unacceptable way of speaking. 2) The man or woman who walks in the way of righteousness knows the difference.

This involves more than just how one says things; it goes further to when, where, and two whom he or she may speak. A word spoken in “due season” is a good thing, says Proverbs 15:23, but just as there is a time to speak, there is also “a time to keep silence,” (Eccl. 3:7). To point out someone’s flaws to him or her in the presence of others is not acceptable, but to speak the truth in love to an individual in private, is. (Exceptions only reinforce this.) And, further, truth spoken to one may not be acceptable for all. Paul told the Corinthian believers that there were things he was unable to say to them because they were “not able to bear it” (1Cor. 3:2). This doesn’t always depend on growth in grace either. Don’t assume that everything God says to you is meant to share with the next brother or sister you encounter. Some of it may be a “Lover’s secret” between Him and you.

         I think one of the most helpful passages on how one should speak is found in Solomon’s sometimes frustrating book of Ecclesiastes: “The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of the assemblies, which are given from one shepherd” (12:10-11). Any speaker or writer knows what it is to search for just the right words—the “acceptable” words—that will convey his or her meaning in the most effective way. (“How forcible are right words! Job 6:25) These verses tell us they should be words of truth that “goad” the thinking, that fasten themselves like nails in the mind of the hearer, so that they are remembered later. In addition, they should be words that are gleaned from our own thoughts (“from one shepherd”), not just the rehashed platitudes of others.

         Now, I hope I haven’t scared us all into utter silence! There are many times when failure to speak can be just as wrong. After all, the verse that I excerpted earlier says in its entirety: “A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!” (Prov. 15:23)
The gift of speech is a gift of God for our enjoyment, edification, and to give adoration to Him. Like all His gifts, it can be abused. But the man or woman who lives and walks in paths of righteousness will know what is acceptable. They will always know what to say. 

“For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (Matt. 12:37

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Comfortable in His Own Skin

“Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body thou hast prepared me.” (Hebrews 10:5)
Jesus Christ was “comfortable in His own skin,” as they say, because He knew His Father had prepared it for Him. He never once questioned its limitations (Lk. 4:2) or its weaknesses (2 Cor. 3:14a). This is especially astounding when you stop to consider it would be something like trying to stuff the oceans of the earth into a teacup. Humanly speaking, it’s an impossibility. And to place God within the confines of flesh would be to stuff eternity into time, which is exactly what happened.

He, who was the “brightness of [God’s] glory, and the express image of his person” (Heb. 1:3), was incarnated within a body “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). If anyone should have been uncomfortable in His skin, it should have been Jesus. Yet He wasn’t. First, as I mentioned, because He knew that particular body was uniquely made for Him. We don’t know what it looked like, but we do know it worked just like ours does, which is what makes Him infinitely capable of sympathizing with you and I, while at the same time capable of representing us before God (Heb. 2:18; 4:14-16). As it turns out, the body prepared for Jesus, was prepared for you and I, as well; for it was “the body of his flesh” that reconciled us to God (Col. 1:21-22).

Not only was Jesus comfortable in His own body because He knew it was custom made for Him by His Father, but also because He knew it was only part of who He was. He was always conscious that He was God. He knew it when He was raising the dead and when He was washing dirty feet (Jno. 13:3-5). He knew it when He was praised by those who worshipped Him and when He was tortured by those who despised Him. He was always God, and He always knew it. With Jesus Christ, it was never, “What you see is what you get.” He was always much more than what they saw.

Finally, He was comfortable in His skin, because He knew it could never keep Him from returning to His Father. When He rose from the dead, He rose bodily. It was a glorified body, to be sure, but recognizable to those who loved Him. The Apostle John, on Patmos, was privileged to see Him as He is now, and has described Him vividly from head to toe (Rev. 1:12-15). When John fell at his feet as a dead man, Jesus laid His hand on him and said, “Fear not.” Oh, we can be sure He’s still comfortable in His own skin!

It comes to me now that there is something in these words for you and I to take for ourselves. Put these texts into the context our own lives, as it were. If God could prepare a body in which He could be comfortable, don’t you think He could make one you and I could be comfortable in? Maybe the reason why people are so discontent with who they are is because they never see themselves as God’s creation, and as believers, not God, nor even a god, but indwelt by God. The body, the flesh, the skin that you and I have, was prepared personally for us by God and chosen by Him for a holy habitation (1 Cor. 6:19). And we can say with Job, “…in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:26).

Jesus Christ was comfortable in His own skin. Are you?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Weights and Sins

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay side every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

         Most of us tend to label as sin things that may facilitate sin. In other words, we can’t differentiate between weights and sins. Weights are things in our lives that slow us down in our walk of faith. They may be harmless to some, but with you or I, they often lead to sin. But the inability to see the difference between the two can become a weight in itself with the potential to drag our spiritual growth down to a crawl. Here are two reasons why I think this is true.

         First, when you’re busy trying to hold down all the apples in a barrel, it’s hard to see the rotten ones. I have long suspected that when we throw all our preferences and pet irritants in with Bible sins, we may elevate recognition of questionable preferences; but for those who see them as being just that—questionable—we have also lowered true sins to the the same plain. Christian historian, Paul Johnson, has observed, “History teaches it is a mistake to have too many convictions, held with equal certitude and tenacity. They crowd each other out.” I agree. And from what I’ve seen, it’s the true, biblical convictions that most often get crowded out by personal preferences.

         Second, weights are sometimes easier to spot in others and ourselves. The immoral activity of the Sunday School girl may be hidden behind “modest apparel,” while the moral girl in the questionable, trendy outfit is singled out for censure. This is not to belittle modest apparel, by any means, only to point out that it’s not a guarantee of purity. On the other hand, “suggestive” clothes are always in danger of doing just that: suggesting something to the opposite sex.

         Personally, when I’m fixated on my own personal rules, I lose sight of God’s. But pleasing Him has to be my goal, not living up my own standards. They should never be an end in themselves. And they’re my weights, maybe not yours. It’s never pharisaical to condemn sin, but it is to condemn weights, because they can be either questionable or non-questionable.

Bob Jones, Sr. gives an illustration of a man running down the street with a jug of whiskey under one arm and a grindstone under the other. He can throw down the questionable whiskey jug; but if he hangs on to the grindstone that no one could condemn, he’ll be just as slowed down!  

         May God give us the grace to lay aside every weight and sin—and the spiritual discernment to know the difference.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Affairs of the Heart

       “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Prov. 4:23)

         The book of Proverbs has much to say about the heart—not the all-important organ of the body that is the hub of its circulatory system, but the inner essence of a man or woman that decides which details of knowledge their mind has acquired will become a part of themselves. To know something is true, and then to “take it to heart,” are two very different things. Together they provide both zeal and knowledge, the combination of which should determine conviction.

         The heart has been called “the citadel of man,” which is appropriate when you consider that a citadel is a fortress within a city that serves to both protect and preside over it. When the Bible says, “out of it are the issues of life,” I see two meanings for the word “issue” that you and I are familiar with. Not only the Biblical truth that whatever is in the heart will finally issue forth out of the mouth (Matt.12:34); but also the idea that those issues of life that are of greatest consequence, and that require definite decisions, are most often heart decisions. It’s been said that if you can get a man to think your way, you’ve won the man. But I would contend that unless you have persuaded his heart as well as his head, you still only have a spectator, not a true participator. To quote the Puritan writer, Charles Bridges:

               “If the citadel be taken, the whole town must surrender.
                If the heart be seized, the whole man—affections, desires,
                motives, pursuits—all will be yielded up.”

         This is why Solomon advises us to keep our hearts with “all diligence.” It’s too important to leave to chance or whim. Love is too important to fall into and out of; zeal is too essential to waste on nonessentials; compassion is too consuming to shower on those who are unworthy; and allegiance is too demanding to give to anyone except God. An undisciplined, unguarded heart will bring much harm and hurt to itself and to others. On the other hand, a great, tender, but guarded heart is capable of the most gratifying love, while inspiring it in others. Just as the word “hate” should only be used in the most extreme circumstances, so should the word “love” be reserved only for those people and causes that reflect the principles of Scripture.

         The heart that is right will show itself (eventually) by what the mouth says (v.24), where the eyes look (v.25), and where the feet go (v.26). The touching, but naive saying, “Follow your heart,” is unnecessary; you will. Who and what you love tell who and what you are. Whatever things in life you treasure, says our Lord, are what you will set your heart upon. So it’s vital that your heart, not just your head, be grounded in Spiritual truth. That’s why Solomon told his son in verse twenty-one to keep his words “in the midst of [his] heart.”

         You’ve heard someone characterized as having his or her “heart in the right place.” How about you and me? Do our hearts rest within the confines of the will of God, or are they wandering aimlessly, open to those people and things that would steal our love for God and things holy?

We should guard our hearts as we would guard our very lives, because that’s exactly what it is. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”

Friday, June 8, 2012

Internal Nitpicking

“… I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself…” (1Cor. 4:3b-4a)

The inclination to introspection is merely a morbid exercise in internal nitpicking.

         By nit picking, I mean finding flaws and inconsistencies, big and little, with no obvious cure in mind. And that’s how most, if not all, of our self-analysis is conducted. We pick some sin or failing from our past and carefully lift the scab left over from the last “examination,” supposedly, trying to find the source of the original infection. When all the time, leaving the thing alone would speed healing, which is what we’re after, right? Or is it?

Maybe introspection is a substitute for moving ahead. Examining my motives, appearance, and performance on a day-to-day basis leaves little time for progress in the Christian life. This is no doubt why Paul not only refused to focus on the judgment of others but even refrained from indulging in it himself. He was wise enough to know that he would get it wrong anyway (“I know nothing by myself”). Without the illumination of the Spirit of God, the heart of man is a deep, dark, “desperately wicked” secret that cannot be known (Jer. 17:9).

         Self-analysis has its place, of course, especially prior to partaking of the Lord’s Table (1 Cor.11); but this involves knowable sins that invite chastisement. Oddly enough, though, these never seem to bother the reflective, self-absorbed nitpicker nearly as much as the unknowable and incurable symptoms. These folks would rather scrutinize their temperaments than submit to the Testaments (Old and New, that is)! Why we did wrong is not nearly as important and not doing it again. It may be nice to know the former, but it doesn’t always mean the latter will follow.

         In the final analysis (much better than self-analysis), we should be wielding a telescope, not a stethoscope. “Looking unto Jesus,” the writer of Hebrews says (12:2), leaving all the searching (Jer. 17:10) to the Spirit of God. He is no nitpicker; He never points out a flaw or failure without also providing a remedy. After that, the next move is ours.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (1 John 1:9).

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Not Why, But Why Not

“…but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.” (Genesis 18:22b)

         It’s never right to question God, but He’s always ready to be reasoned with. In fact, He invites it (Isa. 1:18a). His motives are always unquestionable, but His methods are up for discussion.

         In this episode from the life of the Patriarch, Abraham, he is willing to voice aloud to God what he believes in his heart. Simply this: God is running the risk of besmirching his own reputation by destroying the righteous with the wicked (v. 23). Now let’s face it; even thought God did grant Abraham’s request, if He had chosen to destroy wicked and righteous together in one fell swoop, we can be sure it would have been the right thing to do. After all, He has done it. Abraham’s argument to God may or may not have been undeniable, but one thing he said cannot be disputed: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (v. 25).

         On another occasion, when God had decided to be done with His complaining people, Moses appealed to the integrity of His name to restrain His hand of judgment (Num. 14). In this case, as in Abraham’s, the request was legitimate, because it went beyond just personal desire to the ultimate glory of God. And Moses could have cited Abraham’s experience. But again, had God wiped those people off the face of the earth, neither you nor I could have faulted Him.

         But what about personal desires? Are they too selfish to voice? When King David begged God for the life of his child, he could not appeal to God’s integrity, nor his own, for that matter. But He could appeal to God’s love and mercy; and the fact that his request was not granted does not impugn either. The child would be safe in the arms of God, and when you and I read that a man after God’s own heart does not enjoy the privilege of unpunished sin, we’re not as quick to indulge in it ourselves. The fact that David did not question God when he realized his request was not granted, tells me two things.

One, it’s never wrong to ask, even if our appeal is only personal. God delights to please His children, and the only appeal He refuses is the one that will not end up working for our good or His glory. I agree with whoever said, “I have lived long enough to be thankful for unanswered prayer.”
Two, when David was questioned about his submission to the news of his child’s death, he told them he reasoned that there was a good chance God would answer his prayer, so he prayed; but when his prayer was denied, he could console himself with the knowledge that God knew best and, in any case, he would be reunited with that child one day. And only after he submitted to the will of God was he able to comfort the child’s mother (v. 24).

Here’s the crux of what I’ve been saying. Instead of coming to God and saying, “Why is this happening?” it makes more (Biblical) sense to say, “Why shouldn’t something else be happening?” Especially when God would seem to be more glorified, or we have similar examples in the Bible. I’d hate to think the reason my request was denied was because I was too timid to voice it. I want my appeals to God to be legitimate, to the best of my knowledge, so that I can come to God and reason.

The other side of the coin is the little phrase I was careful to insert in my previous sentence: “…to the best of my knowledge.” I don’t know the whole story, and neither do you. We like to say, “God knows the end from the beginning,” but it’s easier to believe He knows the beginning better than the end. That He’s kind of taken His eye off the ball, so to speak, letting things get out of hand. Not true. He is all-knowing…and all-caring. I love that God wants to hear what I want, and wants to hear me make my case; but I love even more that mine will not be the last word. If I thought God was morally obligated to grant every request of mine, I wouldn’t want to pray again.

So pray! Pray to God because you can. Pray fervently and intelligently, but humbly, like C.S. Lewis, who prayed, he said, because he had to, because he couldn’t help himself. But, no, on second thought, pray like you, in your own words. As J.I. Packer has said, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” Tell God what you really think, because He already knows. Reason with Him; haggle, if you will. Be like Abraham: “[stand] yet before the LORD.” You might just win the argument.

But before you say, “Amen,” say, “Thy will be done”…if you mean it.