Saturday, April 27, 2013

It's All About Me

 “And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me…” – Judges 11:35

Because of their ever-recurring rebellion against God, Israel was under siege by a neighboring nation, and in their desperation they asked Jephthah, the outcast son of a harlot, to lead them in battle against the Ammonites. After reminding them that up until now they weren’t willing to give him the time of day, he used their desperation to strike a bargain with them. “If I agree get you out of this mess, I’ll be your leader from now on,” to which they agreed. Jephthah first tried negotiation, but when it became apparent there was going to be war, he struck one more bargain. He made a vow to God that if Israel prevailed, whatever came first out the door of his house to meet him when he returned home he would offer to Him as a burnt offering. You will notice in verse thirty-one, he was expecting a “what,” not a “who” to come running to him. Perhaps a pet lamb? I don’t know. I do know that when he returned home a victor in battle, it was his only daughter that met him at the door.

Now, I don’t propose here to discuss the merits of his vow, or the trusting obedience of his daughter. What has always struck me were his first words to her: “[T]hou hast brought me low, and thou art one of them that trouble me” (v. 35). Excuse me? I long ago wrote these words next to that verse: “No, it was the other way around.” It seems to me the one in real trouble here is his daughter, yet his main concern is how this is going to affect him. You may argue that he simply meant to let her know that he would be suffering with her; but I can just as strongly argue against that, since the text gives us no exact knowledge of his motivation.

Am I being cynical in my personal interpretation? I can only say, having lived all these years, knowing myself and observing others, I think Jephthah only voiced what is in the hearts and minds of many people. I fear that too often when someone near us suffers an illness or calamity, or falls into sin, our first thought is, “How is this going to affect me?” How will it disrupt my life? Will it lead to sleepless nights, needless worry, or even loss of personal prestige? It’s possible to minister to others “selflessly,” while all the time doing so with a grudging heart. Am I only speaking to myself here? If so, it’s still true and I’m glad I said it.

I realize the good we do can be, and almost always is, a blessing to others; and that’s a good thing. But shouldn’t we want to do it for the right reasons? We’ll never have complete purity of motive while we’re housed in this flesh, but Paul seems to be urging us upward by such admonitions as, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philip. 2:3). It was Charles Spurgeon who said, “You will never glory in God till first of all God has killed your glorying in yourself.” As long as it’s all about me it’s never going to be about Him. You can’t have it both ways.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Our Center of Gravity

“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…” (Heb. 12:2a)

         We’re told that balance has nothing to do with age and can be improved no matter how old you are. However, I must say, my own experience seems to run counterbalance to that proposition. J But I do know that the key to standing continuously on one foot, while holding both hands clasped above your head, is to remain focused on one place in the room or landscape. If your eyes begin moving from side to side, so will your body! In other words, if you want to keep your balance, you have to remain focused.

         This same physical principle holds true for our spiritual lives as well. There is a reason why God says in Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth…” Not only does it save you from hell, it also is the way to keep from falling over in this world of spiritual pitfalls and morally uneven terrain. There is a constant tugging on all sides to try to tip us one way or another. Our own personal world, like the earth itself, must revolve around the Son if we are ever to experience equilibrium in this life. The first ten words in Hebrews 12:2 tell us why.

Our faith begins and ends with Jesus Christ. He’s the “author and finisher.” Everything else is just incidental. Even spiritual things. Our church and its doctrines, our ministry and the good things we do for others, even prayer and Bible reading, are all good things; but none of them are an end in themselves. Jesus Christ, the “finisher of our faith,” (I say this reverently) is where the buck stops. His is the face on which we must focus if we want to keep our spiritual balance. And when we set goals for ourselves—and we should—they should be in a direct line with that vision. The answer to any question we have in life will only be right if He has been factored into the equation.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “A body is said to be in stable equilibrium when it returns to its original position after being disturbed,” and a Christian’s Spiritual balance can be gauged by how long it takes him or her to return their gaze to Jesus Christ. For the believer, He is our Center of Gravity, and the only One who can keep us from losing our balance and falling (Jude 24a). Mark it down, big, plain, and tall: When we look away at anything or anyone else, we always run the risk of a bad fall. (Ask Peter.)

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Back Burner

“Therefore be ye also ready…” – Matthew 24:44

         “I stay ready to keep from having to get ready.” Did you ever hear someone say that? It’s a good policy. We all know it’s easier to keep a house clean by doing a little something every day than it is to start at the point of chaos! Yet, how many of us conscientiously follow that regimen? In the case of housekeeping, the consequences may not eternal, or even life altering, but this is not true in others. For instance, in the parable Jesus gave in Matthew twenty-five of the ten virgins, the five foolish ones missed the bridegroom because they weren’t ready in time.

         You’ll look in vain for a reference in God’s Word telling us to get ready, but numerous ones telling us to be ready. Be ready to give and answer about your faith, when asked (1 Pet. 3:15); be ready to give of your finances for the Lord’s work (2 Cor. 9:1-5); be ready to preach the Gospel, if God has called you (Rom. 1:15); to be ready with good works (1 Tim. 6:18 & Tit. 3:1); and most important of all, be ready to offer ourselves in death, when the time comes (2 Tim. 4:6); or as the last part of Matthew 24:44 says, be ready to see Him, if Jesus Christ returns before we die.

         When I think of being ready, I’m reminded of the back burners on a stove, the ones not meant for preparing food, but simply for keeping it warm…and ready. Let’s apply these characteristics of a back burner as I point them out.  First, as I said, a back burner is for food already prepared. Unless you want to spend a very long time waiting, don’t try to start from scratch on one of them. I’ve heard the Christian life described as a crisis that becomes a process. It’s a “new birth” that begins a process of maturity. Whatever preparation of heart may precede it, the birth itself is complete and final, needing only maturation.  

         Second, if the food is kept warm, it only takes a minute or two to heat it all the way up to the perfect temperature for consumption. (If you’re like me, you like good, hot soup.) And if you give it a good stir, the process works even faster. If you’ve been spending time alone with God daily, absorbing the wisdom and principles in His Word regularly, the answer you need and the warmth of Holy Spirit power will be close at hand and heart.

         Last, but not least, the whole idea of keeping food warm on the back burner is to feed someone that’s hungry, because you never know when that “someone” may show up. It may be family, friends, or even a perfect stranger, but everyone, everywhere, is hungry for one thing or another at different times in their lives; and the man or woman who will most likely have what they need at that particular is the man or woman who’s had food for the soul on the back burner, for a long time.

         Now that my husband doesn’t have a busy, public ministry that brings him home at all hours, and my children are all gone, I don’t have to keep things warm on the back burners of my stove very often; but the fire of my “Spiritual back burner” always needs to be burning…low, but steady. I want to be ready with a word of hope or exhortation, a song of praise, or a helping hand. I want to be ready…always ready!

“The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.” – Lev. 6:13

Monday, April 15, 2013

An Unlawful Law

“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” (1 Tim.1:8)

         The law is good—holy, as a matter of fact. Paul says so in Romans 7:12. But in his first letter to the young preacher, Timothy, he places a qualifier on this premise, the ever limiting “if.” This is a sobering thought. By adding it, he is saying, if the law is used lawfully, it’s good; if not, it’s not. Whether we choose to limit this verse to the Law, as given to Moses, or the entire canon of Scripture, as given to us by God through the “holy men of old,” the principle remains the same. Men and women are capable of doing bad things with good implements. It is possible to handle the Word of God “deceitfully” (2 Cor. 4:2) and “wrest” (twist) the Scriptures to the “destruction” of ourselves or others (2 Pet. 3:16).

         For instance, when adherence to the Mosaic Law or the Word of God in general is offered as a means of justification before God, the Scriptures have been twisted in the most perverse way and will lead to eternal destruction. Paul’s dogmatic statement that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified”(Rom. 3:20) and his entire letter to the Galatian church make this plain. And though it may not lead to eternal destruction, nothing can be more crippling to a joyful, victorious Christian life than the deceitful addition of man-made laws and prohibitions to God’s Holy laws.

         For a concise overview of the “lawful” use God’s Word, a good place to look is Psalm nineteen where David talks about the Law and some of its many uses. For instance, it is capable of making the most ill-informed wise unto salvation (v. 7); it can give us joyful hearts and spiritually enlightened eyes (v. 8); it’s altogether true and therefore an infallible final authority for all matters of life and death (v. 9); in short, it provides warning when needed, with promised reward, if heeded (v. 11). We may safely say that using the Bible to these ends is to use it lawfully. And as a matter of fact, one of the best ways to know if we’re using it lawfully is whether we’re using it more on ourselves more than others.  

The law of the Lord is perfect, says Psalm19: 7; but we’re not. The more we try to make it “relevant” (one of my least favorite words), the more we’re in danger of using it unlawfully. It is up the Spirit of God to personalize it. Only the inattentive, unaware, or unenlightened fail to grasp its significance. We need to use it, and use it lawfully, mostly one ourselves. It’s living, breathing organism meant to change us, not our circumstances. And it will.

Take the Word of God as it is, and it will meet you where you are.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Beware of the Snares

“In meekness, instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” – 2 Timothy 2:25-26

         The word “snare” conjures up images of something used to catch an unsuspecting victim, whether animal, fowl, or human. In the case of the first two, it’s usually a wire contraption that often utilizes a noose, which might not go too far afield in the case of the last category, as well. The word is found many times in the Bible and in most (if not all) of the places, it is used allegorically. For instance, it’s used to describe gods (Judg. 2:3); wives (1 Sam. 18:21); fearing a man instead of God (Prov. 29:25); the actions of an enemy (Psl. 140:5); lips (Prov. 18:7); and the temptation of riches (1 Tim. 6:9) to name just a few. But we can safely say, the motivating Person behind all life’s destructive snares is Satan.

         Verse twenty-five of Second Timothy, chapter two gives us two indications of someone struggling within the clutches of the devil’s snare. First, this individual will make self-destructive decisions over and over. They take one step forward and two steps back. They’re like the man Solomon speaks of in Proverbs 19:19, who once delivered must be delivered again. And people say of them, “What is he or she thinking?” That’s just it; they’re not. Someone else is doing the thinking.

         Second, these people may, and often do, know the truth, yet they refuse to “acknowledge” it. They consider the truth to be optional, not actionable. As we often say, you can talk till you’re blue in the face, but to no apparent avail. Which brings us to verse twenty-six.

         As Paul told Timothy, they must “recover themselves.” And as daunting as this seems, it does hold out hope for these individuals and those who love them. This trap—the devil’s snare—can be sprung. But he or she must do it. It is the will that sets faith in motion, remembering that behind it all is God who brings us to repentance (v. 25). Until this point has been reached, little anyone else says will make much difference, no matter how true or well meaning.

         Finally, lest you or I take this lightly, Paul points out that there is another will in play here—Satan’s. His will for all our lives will be to ensnare us within his evil noose. As I read the last nine words of the chapter, I shudder to think that there are those who find themselves slaves to that will. And I’m not a big enough to fool to think I’m incapable of being tricked into his snare. No one knows me like God knows me, but after Him, Satan knows me best. As the old Puritan, Thomas Brooks said, “Satan, like a fisher, baits his hook according to the appetite of the fish.” That’s why God says our relationship to him should be characterized by one word: resistance.

I say to us, one and all, “Beware of the snares!”