Saturday, October 12, 2013

It Isn't the Way It Was

“I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress…” (1 Cor. 7:26a)

The situation was not always going to be the way it was then. Paul knew that, but do we? He was instructing the Corinthian believers on such interpersonal subjects as celibacy, marriage and divorce, and the servant-master relationship. During those trying times for the Early Church, when husbands, wives, and children were being separated and persecuted, it might be better for unmarried men and women, he suggested, to remain unmarried, something contrary to accepted Jewish teaching. Staying single, however, would not break any of God’s perennial laws; therefore, present circumstances could influence present actions.

As a matter of fact, to insert cultural practices of the past into present day dogma is to repeat the mistakes of the majority of the New Testament Jews. They were so fixated on the outward ritual of the past that they didn’t recognize the Lamb of God who stood behind it all, and who now stood before them. I say this reverently: they couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

For instance, we trivialize our submission as Christian wives if we gauge it by such things as the length of our hair, the quietness of our speaking voice, or the number of children we have produced. Believe me, it reaches much farther and deeper than that! When I read about the virtuous woman in Proverbs thirty-one, is God trying to tell me to make my own clothes or make a godly, loving home for my family? Is it about the wool, and the flax, and the coverings of tapestry, or the trusting heart of her husband and the earned admiration of her children?

Again, shall the early churches’ practice of greeting one another with a “holy kiss” make me fair game for any man in our congregation? This is where I echo the words of Paul: “We have no such custom”! That’s exactly what I’m talking about here: customs. As my husband says, “Customs are not commands.” And, frankly, I have found it to be the case that those who focus on the former tend to let the latter slide. You know, “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel”?

God’s moral commands are timeless, as we know time. They are binding in any culture. Customs change, however, and when they do, as long as they don’t impinge upon God’s laws, they can be good—sometimes better—than what they replace. But, one way or another, it isn’t the way it was then; and it wasn’t the way it is now. And if you and I cannot get hold of this truth, we’ll spend our lives as a Pharisee or a hypocrite—probably both.       

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"The Energies of a Glorious Optimism"

“And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.” – Acts 13:52

I’ve finally reached that age of expectation in Scripture: “threescore years and ten” (Psl. 90:10). I must say, it came sooner than I expected and with less flourish than I might have hoped for. J As I look back, I find so many wonderful memories to which I could cling, but I can truthfully say, for me, anticipation outweighs nostalgia. I agree with the man who said: 

Expect the best! It lies not in the past.
God ever keeps the good wine till the last.
Beyond are nobler work and sweet rest.
Expect the best!

My title comes from an excerpt in a wonderful little essay by the great preacher, John Henry Jowett (1864-1923), entitled “The Power of the Holy Spirit,” which can be found in his book, Things That Matter Most: Devotional Papers. He gives three dynamics of Holy Spirit power in men as found in the book of Acts: 1)“an extraordinary power of spiritual apprehension” 2) “a magnificent force of character” 3) “the energies of a glorious optimism.” Allow me to share with you something he says about the last one:

And what is an optimist? He is a man who can scent the coming harvest when the snow is on the ground. He can “feel the days before him.” He can live in the distant June in the dingy days of December. That is an optimist, a man who can believe in the best in the arrogant and aggressive presence of the worst. He can be imprisoned in the desolations of Patmos and yet can see “the Holy City, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” He can look at a poor, wayward, sinful Samaritan woman whose life is scorched like a blasted heath, and He can say, “The fields are white already unto harvest.” And this power of optimism is always operative in the apostolic life. I find it in the springiness of their soul…These men could not be held down. The spirit of optimism was ever present.

Someone has said, “You can tell how old you are by all the things you’ve done; and you can tell how young you are by all the things you still want to do.” Maybe that’s why I don’t feel so old. I’m not speaking physically, of course; my body would tell you a different story. But, praise the Lord, holy enthusiasm for the future isn’t dependent upon that! It’s my spirit that says to Jesus what the ruler of the bridal feast in Cana said, “Thou hast kept the good wine until now” (Jno. 2:10). I’m looking ahead for “nobler work,” and finally, “sweet rest.” And that, my friend, can infuse the world’s most lethargic pessimist with “the energies of a glorious optimism”!