Sunday, December 29, 2013

One Last Thing

“But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)

Before this year ends and we plunge into the next one, I want to draw our attention to the familiar story of Mary and her sister Martha. Much has been made of Martha’s fevered service that ended in criticism of her sister and her Lord (v. 40). But I choose today for my final words to you this year (Lord willing) to focus on these words of Jesus to Mary that speak so profoundly to my own heart. There are three thoughts laid out here, I think, that can help us set a course for the coming year, and all of life, for that matter.

One Thing is Needful

“But one thing is needful…” These four words stop us in mid-sentence when we are tempted to say, “But what about__?” Other things are good, but only one thing is needful. Other things may reach a high level of importance; but only one thing reaches the level of supreme importance. In this case, it was service to the Savior that clamored for preeminence, but fell miserably behind in standing before Him. In the great scheme of things, our service to God does much more for us than it does for Him. And I must say, any service to Him has brought me great joy through the years. But I have found that what I receive from the time I spend time in His Presence is like food, water, and air to me. In short, I need it. In truth, as Jesus told those in Mary and Martha’s house that day, I need it more than anything else in this world.

One Word is Pivotal

“…and Mary hath chosen that good part…” The pivotal word here is “chosen.” Mary was neither commanded by Jesus to sit and listen at His feet, nor was she encouraged by those around her to do so, as far as we know. Whether or not you put fellowship with Him above all else is a choice that you alone make. In the end, you set your own priorities. For all the many texts in the Bible that assure us of the Sovereignty of God, there are a surprising amount of others that make it clear most of life is determined by our choices; and whether foreordained or the result of free will, we’re still called upon to make them. Devotion to the Person of Jesus Christ is not mystical; it’s methodical. Deliberately choosing the path of unbroken fellowship (stumbles and all) may not be popular, especially with non-stop saints; but the fact remains, Jesus said, when you do it, you’ve made the right choice.

One Principle is Undeniable

“…which shall not be taken away from her.” The undeniable, over-riding principle that gives credence to the argument that communion with Christ is the only truly needful thing, is that it’s the only thing that cannot be taken away from us. The day will come when you will not be able to render service to God as you want, or in the way to which you’re accustomed. For many of us, this day has already arrived. When that day comes, it’s important to have one area in our Christian life that remains constant and familiar, something that has already taken its place as the most important part. And we have it on good authority—the best authority—that the most needful thing is a reserved spot at the feet of Jesus.

And so, my faithful friends and readers, my one last thing for 2013 is merely “a variation on a theme.” For if my writings have a theme at all, it’s the importance of maintaining (to the best of our ability) unbroken fellowship with God, through the intermediacy of His Son, Jesus Christ, the intercession of the Holy Spirit, and the infusion of His infallible Word in our life. My words may be more homespun than homiletic, more pertinent than profound; but if God can use them to glorify Him and inspire love for Jesus Christ and His Word, I’ll forge ahead into 2014. How about you? Let’s begin again; we’ve only scratched the surface!

What shall I wish thee! treasures of earth?
Songs in the springtime, pleasures and mirth?
Flowers in thy pathway, skies ever clear?
Would this insure thee a happy new year?

Peace in the Savior, rest at His feet,
Smile in His countenance, radiant and sweet;
Joy in His presence, Christ ever near—
This will insure thee a happy new year.
                                                      - Frances Ridley Havergal

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Joy To The World

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Luke 2:10

My husband and I were in Wal-Mart a few days ago, and he suddenly stopped and said, “Where’s the joy?” It’s true; there was little music, few smiles, and much frustration. But it only makes sense, doesn’t it. The part of Christmas associated with joy is the part that is becoming less and less prominent and in come cases, actually banned; which makes about as much sense as banning flags on Flag Day. Santa Claus, decorations, presents, and goodies are all lots of fun; but if it’s heart-clutching joy you’re looking for, you’ll only find it “in a manger in Bethlehem.”

For those who decline to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ for religious reasons, I honor your conviction, but cannot share it. In a recent article, my son, Andrew, points out that the early Church chose to celebrate the birth of Jesus to reiterate that fact that He was both God and Man, and experienced a birth day, just like you and I. The date wasn’t important, but the event was too momentous to neglect. It could not accomplish redemption, but there could not have been a redemption story without it.

I find it ironic, humanly speaking, that a Man of such a lowly beginning, with (to the world) questionable credentials, who was prophesied to be a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3), could, from His Birth to His Ascension, bring such joy to the hearts of men and women (Lk. 24:52). He was, and still is, the great Joy-Giver. As Isaac Watts’ Christmas song says, wherever Jesus is King, there is joy. To take Christ out of Christmas is blaspheme. To refuse to allow Him to rule in your heart is treason. And both are joy-killers.

I’ve just decided something. I’m no longer going to say, “Merry Christmas!” I’m going to say, “Joyful Christmas!” to anyone, anywhere. Want to join me? Have a Joy-filled Christmas, my dear, faithful, encouraging readers, from a fellow worshipper at the Manger.

There’s a tumult of joy
O’er the wonderful birth,
For the virgin’s sweet boy
Is the Lord of the earth.
Ay! The star rains it’s fire while the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem cradles the King.

                                                                - J. G. Holland

Friday, December 13, 2013

They'll Be the Death of You

"And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.” – Genesis 30:1

When Rachel asked Jacob to do what only God could—open her womb (v. 2), she told him she’d die if she didn’t have a child; but, as it turned out, she died when she did. The labor during the birth of her second son proved to be so hard that it ended in her own death (35: 16-18). Let me share something with you that you may or may not agree with, but I’ll wager, more will than won’t.

From the time a woman becomes pregnant, till the end of that pregnancy in a birth, she will experience pain of one sort or another. It may be nausea, headaches, back pain, or contractions. And Rachel was not the only woman who drew her final breath during that “valley of the shadow of death,” we call labor. You may say this is because of the “curse” put upon Eve in garden’ for her rebellion against her Creator God. But as far as I’m concerned, as a mother who finds Paul’s admonition to love my children to be simple enough to follow, labor is the easiest part of being a mother. This is not to say that a father is any less capable of deep parental love than a mother, it’s simply that I can only express my own feelings and those of other mothers I have known through these many years.

The woman who is determined to live out her own dreams and ambitions through her children, instead of allowing them to find God’s will for their own lives, is still fighting for air. When her own physical, spiritual, and emotional needs take priority over those of her children, she is nurturing self-preservation. I’m not saying a mother should not have time and resources of her own, and especially the ability to build a loving, lasting relationship with her husband, which is one of the most important gifts she can give her children. I’m just saying, some women become mothers to round out their resume, while others take on this blessing as a life-changing and life-giving role. Believe me, a mother who has to watch her child go through pain, suffering, persecution, or (God forbid) rebellion against Him, dies a thousand deaths.

I know of more than one mother who offered God her own life if it could be used to bring her son or daughter back to God…and God took that offer. Would you be willing to do that? Would I? When I said in my title that they (your children) would be the death of you, I meant it. If you’re the kind of mother whose children will one day rise up and call her “blessed” (Prov. 31), it will be the death of you, one way or another. The only question is, whose life is more important to you…yours or theirs?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Too Much Information

“I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness.”  (Eccl.7:25)

Just because information is more accessible, doesn’t mean that truth is more abundant. On the contrary, information can be very effective camouflage for truth.

One may argue that we are not much smarter than our predecessors, but it cannot be refuted that we have greater access to knowledge than ever before in the history of the world. I never cease to be amazed at how questions that would have taken hours of research can now be answered in a matter of minutes just by turning on the computer, connecting to the World Wide Web, inserting a few pertinent words in a search box, and then clicking the “enter” key. But as helpful as our present means of communication is, we run the danger of slipping into overload.

The wise man gives us an all too common scenario in this verse from Ecclesiastes. Wisdom may be a noble quest, worthy of diligent searching, but when we find ourselves fixated on finding the reason behind all God’s workings in His world, we become spiritual cranks, who assume that if we can’t conceive of something, neither can God. Or in real (or professed) zeal to search out and label wickedness, we can end up being, if not participators, at least connoisseurs, hardly a godly distinctive.

Besides wickedness, which Paul says he’d just as soon we were all na├»ve about (Rom.16:19), I think there are other things about which we have (or want) way too much information. For instance, past sins, our own and those of other people. We think the more we know about our previous sinful thought processes, the less likely we are to entertain them now. But that isn’t even reasonable. Sinful thoughts, whether they are conjured up memories or present realities, are still sinful thoughts. In any case, for the child of God, it’s not an analysis; it’s an autopsy! To my way of thinking, the reason I sin is not important. I sin because I’m a sinner.  What I do need to know is that God has forgiven me, and I am now free to go the opposite way. Anything else is too much information.

Not only that, but familiarity that borders on intimacy has come to be considered standard behavior among individuals who have no rightful expectation of it. I’m not only speaking of sexual intimacy, but also friends and acquaintances who are not satisfied until inmost thoughts and longings have been laid open for inspection. Husband and wife relationships are often examined and evaluated as you would a garden plant. With some, it is not enough to tell them what you know, or even think; now, you must tell them how you feel, as well. If you watch today’s news interviewers, you will soon find out it’s not facts they are looking for, but how people react to them. (“How did that make you feel?”) Again, too much information.

There is one more thing I can think of as being better left “un-fleshed out.” Jesus said, “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matt. 6:34). Trying to put a fine point on our future, or this world’s, is an exercise in frustration; and it is another mindset that can immobilize us. As my husband says in one of his sermons, “Some people refuse to do the next thing because they don’t know all things.” I love the way Jesus points out that we have enough to do taking care of today without worrying about the future. George McDonald has written:

It has been said that no man ever sank under the burden of
the day. It is only when tomorrow’s burden is added to the
burden of today that the weight is more than a man can bear.

Ignorance may not be bliss, but neither is having too much information. Sins and failures of the past are not even pertinent, much less worthy of present scrutiny. Wickedness of the day deserves little more than a passing glance, and intimate sharing should be reserved for valid intimates. God’s long-range plans for our provision and pathway are strictly on a need-to-know basis, and when we need to know, He’ll tell us. In the meantime, you and I should be like the Apostle Paul, who knew so many things, yet was content to say, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1Cor.2:2). And when all is said and done, that’s all any of us need to know.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When Jesus Gave Thanks

You will find at least three occasions in the life of our Lord here on earth when we are told He gave thanks to the Father. This was brought to my attention in a sermon by one of my favorite writers, George Morrison. It was said only in passing, but it spoke volumes to my own heart. Perhaps it will to you, as well. The three occasions I want to address speak of three categories of life that should illicit gratitude to God.

Ordinary Things

“And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise all the fishes as much as they would.” (John 6:11)  We take things like food and drink as an ordinary part of life. Unless disaster strikes, in the majority of countries in the world today, the kind and quantity of food may vary, but abject hunger is not the problem it once was. When you and I pray for “big things,” I doubt food is on the list. But when Jesus told His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” He also showed us the need to thank God when that prayer was answered, no matter how often. Life is made up with all kinds of ordinary things. If you’re thankful for them, that’s a lot of gratitude going on there!

Ordinary People

“In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” (Luke 10:21) What could be more ordinary than children? They’re not likely to add to our standing or wealth in this world, but Jesus wanted us to know that God thinks so much of them, He loves to reveal Himself to them in a way that makes us often say, “Oh, to have the faith of a child!” I have a strong suspicion that many of us are tempted to overlook their potential, for all our patronizing words. And we don’t just do it with children. It’s easy to underestimate the value to our lives of ordinary friends and family. Therefore, we often forget to (truly) thank God for them. Jesus didn’t suffer from such shortsightedness.

Extraordinary Trials

“And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it.” (Matthew 26:27). In the prelude to the darkest hour of Jesus’ life on earth, He thanked His Father for not just the bread and wine he was sharing with His friends, but what it represented: His own soon to be broken body, drained of all its life’s blood. If there was ever a time when one might be excused for lack of gratitude, this was such a time. But He looked beyond the Cross to the Glory. Oh, what hope and peace His hour of trial brought to you and me! And if you and I can look beyond the pain to the “joy set before [us]” (Heb. 12:2), we, too, will say to the amazement of those around us, “Thank you, Father.”

Ordinary things, ordinary people, and extraordinary trials. May you and I follow our Lord’s pattern in thanksgiving.

                                      Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!