Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Pattern

“Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern…And David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of a good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee, he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished…” 1 Chronicles 28:11 & 20

David wanted to build a temple for God; but in His wisdom, God chose to give his son, Solomon, the task. Instead of begrudging his son the honor, David immediately set out to make sure he would have everything he needed to complete the task God had given him. He saw to it that the young man had the tools, the finances, and the blueprint—the pattern—for his future service to God. And in laying down a pattern for Solomon, David has left a pattern for the rest of us.

The tools, money, workmen and other essentials would have been of little use without a pattern. And the same is true with the children God has given us. We can give them everything they need, humanly speaking, to live a meaningful life for God; but if they have not had the benefit of a workable pattern around which to structure their own, individual lives, their edifice will always be shaky. Give them a good education, by all means; but make sure their instruction Book for life is the infallible Word of the Living God. Teach them how to make and use money wisely, for sure; but make sure they also know money is a good servant but a poor master (Matt. 6:24).

But most important of all, give them a good pattern. And the pattern is not what you’ve taught them, but what they’ve seen. It’s not instruction; it’s inspection. Generally speaking, the Bible, the house of God, the pastor, and the people of God will be as important to them as they are to you; and God Himself will be as real to them as He is to you. There are exceptions to this, obviously. Some children develop a stronger, more devoted Christian life than their parents; and some young people choose to disregard their “goodly heritage” (Psl. 16:6). And that’s my final point.

The best pattern in the world won’t do you an ounce of good if you don’t follow it. A child can be given everything needed to build a godly, purposeful, satisfying life, but he or she must be the one to build it. David could do everything for Solomon but build the temple. He could encourage him (v. 20), but only Solomon could do the building. And as parents, after we have provided for our children as best we can, given them the spiritual tools they will need, and laid down a godly (not perfect) pattern before them, then…it’s up to them to build it. To try to step in later and repair all their mistakes and missteps is to belittle all that came before and usually ends in frustration or alienation.

Solomon did not begin to build until David, his father, died; and perhaps, spiritually speaking, that’s what some of us parents need to do. These are sobering words, I know; but I felt constrained to write them…for you and me

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

With My Body I Thee Worship

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God…” – Romans 12:1

Under the Old Testament economy, the children of Israel were instructed to sacrifice various animals and fowl, but no fish. The reason, one writer has pointed out, was that a fish could not be sacrificed alive. And God still requires a living body for a “living sacrifice.”  The fact that Paul begged or beseeched the Christians at Rome to present their bodies to God for service to Him is proof that they had a choice. After his glorious dissertation in the first eleven chapters on the wonder and grace of Christ’s finished work of redemption for lost sinners, Paul finishes this verse by saying the presentation of our bodies to God is merely “reasonable service.”

I choose to use the words “body” and “flesh” interchangeably, as Paul so often does (Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor. 6:16; Col. 1:22, 2:11, 2:23); and, without going into the doctrine of the “two natures” of the Believer, I would acknowledge that the Holy Spirit that lives within our mortal bodies (1 Cor. 6:19) is in direct contention with our adversary, the devil (1 Pet. 5:8), who constantly and falsely lays first claim. After all, if he dared to seek worship from Jesus Christ (Matt. 4:9), do you think he doesn’t claim it from you and me? For all practical purposes, we can say, our bodies are “up for grabs.” That’s why Paul says in Romans 6:13, “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God…and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.”

Let me insert something here. Our body has legitimate needs and desires, but it also has illegitimate lusts (Gal. 5:16-17). For instance, the body needs to eat, but given its way will eat anything and everything it wants, and as much as it wants. The healthy, mature human body will crave intimacy and physical touch, but unharnessed, it will indulge in unbridled, uninhibited, unmarried sex. The body must have sleep, but it’s capable of being its downfall (Prov. 20:13). It would be wrong to condemn ourselves—or our bodies—when we enjoy good food, desire intimacy, or succumb to well-earned drowsiness. This is why one of Paul’s favorite themes is “moderation.”  All of these things, and others like them, are basic needs of the bodies God has fashioned for us, and can be satisfied “to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

Finally, the key word in Romans six is “yield.” When it comes to our bodies, we’re in charge. Even addicts make the initial choice. It’s a choice that becomes a chain. We decide to whom we will yield our bodies. Both God and the devil claim them for worship and service. We can yield them “as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin,” or “as instruments of righteousness unto God.” Either way, it requires allegiance, obedience, sacrifice, and devotion. We can choose to follow biblical principles or worldly trends, the leading of the Spirit of God, or deceitful feelings and emotions, the way of the Cross or the way of social acceptance. I agree with George Morrison, who says the body can be “the best of comrades” or the “deadliest of enemies,” depending on who has been given control.

In the marriage ceremony from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, when the groom places the ring on the finger of his bride, he proclaims, “With my body I thee worship.” Worship always involves the body. It’s all we have with which to glorify and serve our living, loving God. It houses the Holy Spirit of God to implement that worship and warn us of possible immanent defilement. The question is this: To whom shall we present it? For me, even though I gave myself to God, lock, stock, and barrel, many years ago, I still want to tell Him every day,

“Father, with my body I Thee worship!”

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Mystery of the Body

"...he is the saviour of the body." Ephesians 5:23

"Can't live with it and can't live without it." At least, that's the way most of us feel about our bodies. About the time we're old enough to stop flaunting and abusing it, we find out, like everything else, it wears out. And it seldom looks or functions to the level of perfection we've come to expect. What's worse, as a new Believer, one of the first things you find out is that the default setting on your body hasn't changed; it's still vulnerable to the temptation to sin. You and I can "walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25); but we'll have to do it in the body. But, if I may, I'd like to put forth an argument in appreciation, if not praise, for the body you and I inhabit. I promise not to give it any more recognition than God does.

To my mind, the greatest endorsement for the body is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. As one writer has asked, "If human flesh and sin were indistinguishable, do you think the Word would have become flesh?" Sin starts much deeper, and works it's way out through willing flesh, in the same way that an apple rots from the inside out. It was not Christ's body that made Him sinless; and I would contend it's not our bodies that make us sinful. They're merely "instruments," says Paul, of righteousness or unrighteousness (Rom. 6:13). In the case of Jesus, they were ever and always "instruments of righteousness." He lived a life of perpetual sinlessness; and He did it in a body like yours and mine.

Not only that, can we not see Christ's high estimate of the body by the was He compassionately healed the sick and raised the dead? It may be argued that He only did it to prove His Deity and authority, but one time would have sufficed for that. He did it over and over, to the point that He could hardly rest. He would not bother to settle a dispute between two brothers over property (Jno. 11); but when He saw a poor widow following the corpse of her only son, He had such compassion for her that without being asked, He raised the boy back to life (Lk. 7). She would have seen that boy again one day, no doubt, just as Mary and Martha would have seen their brother, Lazarus, again in the resurrection. But Jesus knew these people felt an attachment to the bodies of their loved ones. And I can tell you, He understands when you and I feel that same attachment. As my young niece said at that graveside of her father, my brother, "I know he isn't in that body, but I loved that body!" And so did the Lord.

Finally, God has promised to raise our bodies one day, so that we'll have them when we meet Him. Paul says in 2 Corinthians five that our bodies that were the temple of the Holy Spirit of God will one day "clothe" again the souls that inhabited them. We will share with our Savior the glory of an empty grave! Jesus Christ is the Savior of our souls and the Savior of our bodies. He has claimed them both for His own.

Now that I've pled my case for the body in which you and I live, I want to see if I can help us understand how God...or  Satan...can use it; because, remember, for all practical purposes, it's an "instrument." How and by whom will it be used, and what will be the outcome? We'll make that our goal for next time, I promise. See you then!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Our Extravagant Savior

“And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.” – Matthew 14:20

There are so many wonderful lessons to be found in this story from the life and ministry of our Lord, and I’m sure you’ve heard them expounded at one time or another. For instance, when we read John’s account of this story in John 6: 5-13, we see the skepticism of Philip, who was sure there would never be a way to feed 5,000 people with what little money they had on hand. Then there was Peter, who was resourceful enough to find a little lad who had five loaves of bread and two “small fish,” though this wouldn’t be much help either. And, oh, the wonderful sermons I’ve heard about the unassuming little boy, who was willing to share his lunch! I could go on, but not long ago, I read a sermon by one of my favorites, George H. Morrison, who pointed out something else in the story that I had not thought of. I immediately determined to share this blessed truth with you.

As you recall, when everyone had been fed, not just enough to ease their hunger, but enough that they “were filled,” Jesus instructed the disciples to gather up “the fragments that remained.” This turned out to be twelve baskets full of leftovers. Now, the question is, did our Lord not know how much would be required to feed this group? Of course, He did. But while you and I, shortsightedly, see frugality in our Lord’s instructions, Morrison sees uncalculating love. As he puts it, “He took no nice and precise measurements of what the hungry multitude required. He did not think of the minimum of need; He thought of the maximum of love.”

This was true of His whole ministry here on earth. People asked for healing and received the forgiveness of sin along with it. When He gave the parable of the Prodigal Son, He pictured for us a father who not only welcomed his wayward son back home, but who was lavished upon him a new robe, shoes, and a ring, music, dancing, and a steak dinner! All the son requested was forgiveness, but he was given everything. And who could forget the high words of praise Jesus gave to the woman who “wasted” all her precious ointment in an alabaster box on the Savior she loved so dearly? (Mk. 14:3-9) Her act, He said, was not only a “good work on me,” it was a memorial to her and her extravagant love.

Finally, 1 John 2:2 tells us plainly that Christ’s death on the Cross was the payment not only for our sins, as believers, but “also for the sins of the whole world.” I don’t question that. And from what I read of the love of God, especially as manifested in the life of His Son, Jesus Christ, I’m not especially surprised. Although they will not all accept it, there was enough saving Grace in the death of Jesus Christ to save every guilty sinner who lived or will ever live. It’s only efficient for those who receive it by faith, but it’s sufficient for the whole world. No lost man can ever say, “There was nothing provided for me.”

You and I can never match such extravagant love; but we can try. We can live our lives as the woman who poured out her greatest treasure upon Jesus, and the widow who gave all that she had to God. May we, like our Lord, forget about the minimum of need, and focus on the maximum of love.

If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” – David Livingstone (1813-1873)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Prepared For Delay

“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.”  - Matthew 25:1-5

If you had met these ten virgins coming down the road, you wouldn’t have known there was any difference between them. They were all going to meet the bridegroom, and each carried a brightly burning lamp. As you parted, you would have assumed they all met the bridegroom and arrived safely at the wedding. But you would have been wrong. They all had lamps full of oil, but only five had brought extra oil. Then the unexpected happened.

The bridegroom delayed his coming.

And when the cry finally rang out announcing his appearance, they all scrambled for their lamps, only to find them burned down. The wise virgins quickly added their extra oil, trimmed their wicks, and were on their way. There was not enough to share with the foolish five, who could have brought extra too. And you know the sad ending. While they rushed to buy more, all the wedding guests arrived, and the door was shut…finally.

As the first verse indicates, this was a parable Jesus gave of the kingdom of heaven, and the need to be prepared for its appearance. I’m not interested here in looking for doctrinal truth. I just want to point out one principle and apply it to our lives. It’s the idea that the only difference between these virgins was that half of them were not prepared for a delay in their expectations. They all wanted to see the bridegroom, and they all had oil, but they didn’t all have enough oil to last until the bridegroom arrived.

How well do you and I handle delayed expectations, perhaps anticipating marriage, a move, or a new ministry? What if God in His wisdom chooses to postpone these till later, till we’re older maybe? Or till we’ve given up clinging to them? Have you ever noticed that a third of the nine listed categories of the “fruit of the Spirit” have to do with patience: longsuffering, faith, and temperance. Each of these calls for endurance.

And what of delayed answers to prayer? Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Hebrews eleven talks about a group whose faith received high marks from God, but who didn’t receive the promises they were looking for (v. 39). I have only two things to say about this. God keeps the score; and things are not always the way they look. When Paul said, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), he was saying there’s going to be plenty of times when you’ll be tempted to quit. At such times, you’re going to need lots of oil in reserve to keep you praying.

Finally, and more in keeping with the parable, as signs of our Lord’s near return begin to multiply, do you have enough oil to keep your going, if He chooses to tarry (v. 5)? I often say, “I plan to be ready for either: Rapture or Return!” As the old song I love to sing says it, “My lamps are lit; I’ll watch and pray.” First John 3:3 says you can tell the man or woman who truly lives in the hope of the Second Coming by how much he or she strives to live a pure life.

How’s your oil supply of gladness and joy (Psl. 45:7; Isa. 61:3)? Have you got enough to last you…for the long haul, if need be? Are you prepared for delay?

“Delay never thwarts God’s purpose; rather, it polishes His instrument.” – V. Raymond Edmon